Feast of St Francis: The saint an inspiration for these times
By Joseph Tulloch
4 October is the Feast of St Francis, Patron Saint of animals, merchants, ecology and – since 1939 – the Republic of Italy. The day offered an occasion to highlight how the saint’s message of fraternity and peace is relevant in today’s war-torn world.
The President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, celebrated Mass in Assisi with Sergio Mattarella, President of Italy, in attendance.
In his homily, Cardinal Zuppi referenced the war in Ukraine and the COVID pandemic. He underlined the importance of making sure that the experience of the pandemic leads to lasting change: “May it not have been yet another serious historical event from which we were unable to learn.” The way forward, he stressed, citing Fratelli tutti, the Pope’s recent encyclical letter on fraternity and social friendship, is recognising our interdependence, and rejecting the “heavy and unbearable yoke of individualism.”
The Cardinal also described how St Francis can serve as an inspiration for these times:
“St. Francis – in a world that was and is fraught with wolves and violent or fearful citizens, by towers and swords, by knights and brigands, by wars and enmity, polluted by so much hatred as to make it impossible to speak of peace – lays out a plan for a fraternal, unarmed world where there is room for everyone, beginning with the poorest and most fragile.”
Pope Francis added on Twitter: “Saint Francis of Assisi, who saw himself as brother of the sun, the sea and the wind, sowed seeds of peace everywhere, and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm, the outcast, the least. Let us follow his example!”
After lighting the candle which stands by the tomb of St Francis, as part of a ceremony performed on his feast day every year, President Mattarella addressed the Italian nation.
“The figure, life, and witness of Francis hold profound significance, not only for believers,” he said. “The Parliament of the Republic has chosen to recognize Oct. 4th as a moment dedicated to the universal values of which St. Francis and St. Catherine, patron saints of Italy, are an expression, marking out this day as a ‘civil solemnity and a day of peace, fraternity and dialogue between members of different cultures and religions.’”
Mattarella placed particular emphasis on St Francis’ commitment to dialogue, stressing its importance in a Europe once more at war.
“Eight hundred years have passed since the meeting between Francis of Assisi and Malek al-Kamel,” he said, referencing the saint’s meeting with Sultan of Egypt in the midst of the Crusades. “And it is the sincere desire for dialogue which countries and institutions are called to first of all, in order to secure the future of humanity. Peace is a right inscribed in consciences, and represents the deepest aspiration of every person, as soon as they look beyond their present.”