St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226 CE)
St. Francis is known primarily as the patron saint of animals. He is often portrayed with a bird perched on his hand and surrounded by rapt forest creatures. This caricature does Francis little justice. Francis was born during a time of significant social, economic, and political change marked by a rising middle class, the shift toward a currency-based economy, and constant wars between rival city-states.
Francis was the son of an affluent family. Francis is reputed to have been an easygoing student who preferred socializing with friends to study. However, Francis became aware of the social and economic injustice around him, particularly the suffering of the poor and people living with leprosy (Hansen ’s disease). His sincerity and selflessness attracted other men and women to join his work of caring for the poor and the sick. This small community vowed obedience to the Gospels, poverty, and chastity. They supported themselves through manual labor and, when necessary, begged for their food and other needed supplies. Whatever resources they had were shared by all. They cared for the sick, especially those living with leprosy, and worked alongside the poor laborers to whom they ministered and preached.
Francis’ teaching centers on a belief in, and love for, the God of Abraham. It seeks to build a peaceful world through self-awareness, selfless behavior, respect for the physical world, fraternal love, and service to others. His teaching focused on seeking out and alleviating the suffering of others.
Peacemaking is the ultimate goal of Francis’ teaching. Peacemaking is a process to which Franciscans are expected to commit and re-commit daily. In the Peace Prayer, Francis articulates peace as the replacement of negative emotion with positive action; the peacemaker is a conduit through which those in need receive healing and succor. The peacemaker acknowledges his or her own needs, but intentionally defers to the needs of others. Peacemaking is a redemptive act for both the giver and the receiver, and becomes a circular process of relationship building: each person works to meet another’s needs, and ultimately, all needs are met.