Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the tomb of St Francis in Assisi in 2020 Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the tomb of St Francis in Assisi in 2020  (Vatican Media)

Pope: Jesus is source of St Francis’ unique holiness

Pope Francis receives members of the Ecclesial Coordination for the 800th Anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi, who are beginning a three-year period of preparation that will culminate in 2026. In his address, the Holy Father emphasized that Jesus, and faith in Him, was the source of St Francis’ life of holiness.

By Christopher Wells

Pope Francis on Monday welcomed members of the group coordinating the 800th anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi, which will take place in 2026.

At the beginning of his address, the Holy Father said that when he chose the name “Francis” at the beginning of his pontificate, he recognized that Francis of Assisi was a popular, but also misunderstood, saint. The source of the saint’s devotion to peace, to poverty, to creation was Jesus Christ, and St Francis’ faith in Him. “From this source, [Francis] received an abundance of the Holy Spirit, who urged him to imitate Jesus and follow the Gospel to the letter.”

Franciscan 'places'

The Pope said that the upcoming anniversary will not be just a ritual commemoration if it is able to understand together both the imitation of Christ and love for the poor. This will be possible, he added, “thanks to the atmosphere that emanates from the different Franciscan ‘places’” that will be at the centre of the celebrations.

The first of these places is Fontecolombo, near the Italian city of Rieti, which is associated both with the Franciscan “Rule” and, along with Greccio, with the Nativity scene. These places call us to “rediscover the Incarnation of Jesus Christ as the ‘way’ of God.”

The second place, La Verna, recalls the Stigmata received by St Francis, which assimilated the saint “to the crucified Christ,” and allowed him to enter intimately into the “human story, radically marked by pain and suffering.”

Finally, Assisi itself, where St Francis died and where his earthly remains reside, “reveals the essence of Christianity: the hope of eternal life.”

In the school of the Poverello

Pope Francis insisted that the Little Poor Man of Assisi remains, even now, a mystery. To find an answer to this mystery, he said, “one must put oneself in the school of the Poverello, finding in his evangelical life the way to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”

“In concrete terms, this means listening, walking, and proclaiming to the peripheries.”

Saint Francis, the Pope explained, listened to Jesus speaking to Him, responded generously, and gradually came to understand what the Lord was asking of Him.

The Saint was also a “wayfarer,” who travelled throughout Italy and beyond, drawing close to the people and reducing the distance between the Church and the people. This, the Pope said, is “the style of a Christian community” that wants to draw near to all and not withdraw within itself.

“This teaches us that those who follow St Francis must learn to be steadfast and walking: steadfast in contemplation, in prayer; and then moving forward, walking in witness, witnessing Christ.”

Finally, the Pope said that, in preaching to the peripheries, there is a need not only for justice, but for trust. “Only faith restores the breath of the Spirit to a closed and individualistic world,” he explained. But with this breath, he said, we will be able to face “the great current challenges, such as peace, care for the common home, and a new model of development.”

Living the anniversary fully

Pope Francis concluded his address by encouraging his listeners to live the upcoming Franciscan centenary “to the full,” expressing his hope “that this spiritual and cultural journey may be combined with the Jubilee of 2025, in the conviction that St Francis of Assisi still urges the Church to live its fidelity to Christ and its mission in our time.”

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31 October 2022, 11:10