Saint Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 in the Italian hilltop town of Assisi. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a prosperous silk merchant, and his mother Pica de Bourlemont, was a noblewoman from Provence. Saint Francis was originally called Giovanni, but his father later renamed him Francesco because of his successful business dealings in France and his admiration for all things French.
After leading the ordinary (somewhat dissolute) life of a wealthy young man of that period, Saint Francis underwent a religious conversion, following which he renounced his inheritance and embraced a life of poverty and service. Although not ordained as a priest, he began teaching what he believed to be the true Christian message. He soon acquired a small group of followers, and he traveled with them to Rome to ask Pope Innocent III for permission to found a new religious order. During his life, Saint Francis founded three religious orders.
Saint Francis continued to preach, and is even said to have preached to birds and animals, whom he regarded as his sisters and brothers. His attitude towards nature can be seen in his “Canticle of the Sun”:
Canticle of the Sun
“Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.
“Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
“Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
“Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.
“Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.
“Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
“Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.
“Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
“Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.
“Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility”.
Pope Gregory IX canonized Francis on 16 July 1228. Along with Saint Catherine of Sienna, he was designated Patron saint of Italy. He later became associated with patronage of animals and the natural environment, and it became customary for Catholic and Anglican churches to hold ceremonies blessing animals on his feast day of 4 October.
A prayer of Saint Francis
“Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
lessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others
behave well toward him”
Saint Francis, friend of all life on earth, friend of the earth itself, true interpreter of Christian ethics, we need your voice today!
John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. http://www.fredsakademiet.dk/ordbog/aord/a220.htm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org