St Francis of Assisi
St Francis was born in Assisi around 1182 and died in 1226. He was revered as a Saint in his lifetime and was officially canonised in 1228, just two years after his death. Francis was the Son of Pietro Bernardone, a cloth trader, and the lady Pica, who it is thought came originally from France. He had one brother, Angelo. Francis’ life is one of stark contrasts. As a young man he dreamed of being a Knight and of fighting in the many local wars of the time. Assisi in the 12th Century was a brutal, violent, corrupt and bloody place in which the poor and marginalised suffered greatly at the hands of the rich. Francis was caught up in this world and was very much part of it. However, following his imprisonment in a prison of war camp, things began to change. He returned to Assisi a broken man, who was seen as a failure by his father and the local community. He began to lose interest in the good life he had and the fine clothes he wore, which he started to see as symbols of the prevailing culture of violence and oppression. He was searching for deeper meaning, authenticity and truth.
Francis conversion took time. One day while riding through the Umbrian countryside, he encountered a leper. Lepers were seen as non-persons, and were forced to live in abject poverty, humiliation and isolation. They were both hated and feared by the locals. Customarily, on encountering a leper, you would cover your face and make for a hasty retreat. This encounter, for Francis, was to be different and life-changing. On seeing the leper he got off his horse and embraced him. This simple act of human kindness was to open Francis eyes to the presence of God, not only in the lepers, but also in all of God’s wondrous Creation. His journey to become the great Saint, and the inspiration of millions, that we know today, was underway.