Hazard Zet Forward: St. Francis of Assisi

Named Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone and known as “Francesco” in his ministry, Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic Friar, deacon, mystic, and preacher. Born in 1181 and passing away in 1226, Francis was the son of Pietro Di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant and Pica, a French noble woman. Francis’ passion for the church, dedication to poverty, charity, and charm increased his popularity by the thousands in Italy. Today he is remembered as a Saint who went from living a life of pleasure to listening the voice of God and dedicating himself to Christianity.

Saint Francis of Assisi grew up a lucky individual and spent his early years enjoying different foods, wines and partying.  Once he reached his teenage years, he quit school and created a reputation for himself as a wayward and charismatic young man. Many expected him to be just like his father by working in the textile business, but this never interested Francis. His family’s wealth afforded him the opportunity of learning archery, wrestling, and horsemanship. These skills would prove to be useful as Francis’ dream of becoming a knight grew more serious.

At the age of twenty-one, Francis joined the cavalry during the 1202 war between Perugia and Assisi, one of Perugia’s territories.  Assisi would find itself in trouble as Perugia got off to a great start in the war.  Francis, unlike many of his fellow soldiers, was captured instead of being put to his death. The Perugia soldiers concluded Francis was wealthy because he had the wardrobe of an aristocrat and agreed they could get a good ransom for holding him. Spending close to a year in squalid hostage conditions, Francis started to receive visions from God.  His father eventually paid the ransom, and Francis was released from capture in 1203.

After he returned home, Francis was riding on his horse one day when he ran into an outcast. Francis’ behavior had changed prior to coming home from the war and he decided to approach the leper. He viewed the encounter as a moment of moral conscience and thought the leper was possibly Jesus in disguise. Scholars believe that Francis hugged the leper and kissed him. This was a watershed moment in Francis’ life as he recognized that the ways of his old life were no longer fulfilling him.

Shifting his focus to the Church, Francis began to spend his time at a secluded mountain area and in old churches in search of answers and also assisted in taking care of outcasts. While praying in front of an old Byzantine crucifix at the church of San Damiano, Francis heard the voice of Christ, who instructed him to recreate the Christian Church and spend his life living in destitution. Canonized as a saint two years after his death in 1228, Francis also established a legacy based on his profound love of animals and nature. Every October, animals everywhere are blessed on Francis’s feast day because of his love for them.

Saint Francis of Assisi embodied everything about what makes a devout Christian. It would have been easy for him to continue living off his family’s wealth, but he chose the word of God instead. Saints like Francis are part of what paved the way for the following generations of saints and still have impact on the lives of Christians today.