Who was St. Francis of Assisi?
Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone was born in Italy circa 1181, in Assisi, duchy of Spoleto, Italy. St. Francis of Assisi, though revered today, began his life as a confirmed sinner. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant who owned farmland around Assisi, and his mother was a beautiful Frenchwoman. Francis was not in want during his youth; he was spoiled, indulging himself with fine food, wine, and wild celebrations. By age 14, he had left school and become known as a rebellious teenager who frequently drank, partied and broke the city curfew. He was also known for his charm and vanity.
In 1202 war broke between Assisi and Perugia, and Francis eagerly took his place with the cavalry. Little did he know at the time, his experience with war would change him forever." After being captured and spending a year in prison his father paid a ransom and he returned to Assisi in very poor health. A chance encounter with a beggar, he began to focus on God.
According to legend, began receiving visions from God. After his release from prison, Francesco heard the voice of Christ, who told him to repair the Christian Church and live a life of poverty. Consequently, he abandoned his life of luxury and became a devotee of the faith, his reputation spreading all over the Christian world.
In 1224 Francis reportedly received a vision that left him with the stigmata of Christ — marks resembling the wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified, through his hands and the gaping lance wound in his side. This made Francis the first person to receive the holy wounds of the stigmata. They would remain visible for the rest of his life. Because of his earlier work treating lepers, some believe that the wounds were actually symptoms of leprosy.
During his life he also developed a deep love of nature and animals and is known as the patron saint of the environment and animals; his life and words have had a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. Each October, many animals the world over are blessed on his feast day.
"Some regarded Francis as a madman or a fool, but others viewed him as one of the greatest examples of how to live the Christian ideal since Jesus Christ himself. Whether he was really touched by God, or simply a man misinterpreting hallucinations brought on by mental illness and/or poor health, Francis of Assisi quickly became well-known throughout the Christian world.
Francis' embrace of Christ-like poverty was a radical notion at the time. The Christian church was tremendously rich, much like the people heading it, which concerned Francis and many others, who felt that the long-held apostolic ideals had eroded. Francis set out on a mission to restore Jesus Christ's own, original values to the now-decadent church. With his incredible charisma, he drew thousands of followers to him. They listened to Francis' sermons and joined in his way of life; his followers became known as Franciscan friars. In 1219, he went to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan to put an end to the conflict of the Crusades. By this point, the Franciscan Order had grown to such an extent that its primitive organizational structure was no longer sufficient.
He returned to Italy to organize the Order. Once his community was authorized by the Pope, he withdrew increasingly from external affairs.
Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226, at the age of 44, in Assisi, Italy. Today, Francis has a lasting resonance with millions of followers across the globe. He was canonized as a saint just two years after his death, on July 16, 1228, by his former protector, Pope Gregory IX. Today, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint for ecologists — a title honoring his boundless love for animals and nature."