St Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis

(By Fr. José Lobatón)

October 4 is the celebration of the Feast of the great Saint and the first to experience the sores or Stigmas of Our Lord, none other than SAN FRANCISCO DE ASIS.

Because the current Pope took the name of Francis, many people returned to be interested in this singular figure, perhaps one of the brightest that Christianity and the west has produced: Some call it the “last Christian,” or “the first after the One,” that is, of Jesus Christ.

Surely we can say that when Cardinal Bergoglio chose this name he wanted to indicate a project of the Church in line with the spirit of Saint Francis. This was the opposite of the project of the Church of his time, which was expressed by the temporal power over almost all of Europe to Russia, by immense cathedrals, sumptuous palaces and grand abbeys. San Francisco chose to live the pure gospel, literally, in the most extreme poverty, with an almost naive simplicity, with a humility that placed it next to the Earth, on the same level as the most despised of society, living among the lepers and eating with them in the same bowl. He never criticized the Pope or Rome. He just did not follow his example.

That’s why I look appalled as Pope Francis has now been betrayed by one of his closest collaborators, none other than Archbishop Vigano, whom I read and think does not agree with the reforms that Pope Francis has introduced in his way to guide the Church, and the evangelical spirit that is breathed in those changes.

Archbishop Vigano forgets that God, through all the Sacred Scripture, does not stop working with imperfect people, from Jacob and Saul to King David, from Solomon and Samson to the great apostle Peter, fallible and human people, capable of attitudes of heroism and greatness, as well as capable of incomprehensible errors. Let’s not forget who offered his forgiveness to Peter whom he later left in charge of his Church to keep her on the right path.

For that type of Church and society, St. Francis of Assisi also confesses explicitly: “I want to be a novellus pazzus, a new madman”: crazy for the poor Christ and for “the lady poverty” as an expression of total freedom: nothing to be, nothing to have, nothing to be able to, nothing to pretend. This phrase is attributed to him: “I desire little, and what little I wish, I desire little.” Actually, it was nothing. He stripped of any title. He considered himself “stupid, mean, miserable and vile.”

Unlimited humility and radical poverty allowed him an experience that comes to meet our questions: Is it possible to recover attention and respect for nature? Is it possible to have a universal brotherhood that includes everyone, as he did: the sultan of Egypt who met in the crusade, the gang of assailants, the ferocious wolf of Gubbio and even death?

Francis showed that this possibility is achievable through a practice lived with simplicity and passion. Having nothing, he maintained a direct interaction of coexistence and not of possession, with each being of creation. Being radically humble, he placed himself on the same earth (humus = humility) and at the foot of each creature, which he considered his sister. He felt himself brother of the water, of the fire, of the skylark, of the cloud, of the sun and of every person he met. He inaugurated a fraternity without borders: down with the last, sideways with his fellow men, regardless of whether they were popes or serfs; upwards, with the sun, the moon and the stars. All are brothers and sisters, children of the same Father of goodness.

The poverty and humility thus practiced have nothing of self-righteousness.

They suppose something previous: the respect without restrictions to each being. Full of devotion, remove the worm from the road so that it is not trampled, hold a broken branch so that it recovers, in winter it feeds the bees that fluttered lost.

He placed himself in the midst of the creatures with deep humility, feeling his brother. He fraternized with the “sister and Mother Earth”. He did not deny the original humus and the dark roots of where we all come from. By renouncing any possession of property, rejecting everything that could put him above other people and things, and possessing them, he became a universal brother. He went to meet the others with empty hands and a pure heart, offering them only courtesy, friendship, selfless love, full of confidence and tenderness.

Universal fraternity arises when we place ourselves with great humility in the bosom of creation, respecting each being and all forms of life. This cosmic brotherhood, founded on unlimited respect, is the necessary prerequisite for human fraternity. Without this respect and this fraternity, the Declaration of Human Rights will hardly be effective. There will always be violations by reason ethnic, gender, religion and other.

In the celebration of October 4, as a Franciscan and as a priest, but above all as a simple Christian, I hope that very soon and without delay, bishops from all over the world will utter their voice to affirm their commitment to Pope Francis, support their fundamental ideas that have deep evangelical and Franciscan roots.

It is the least you can ask for. But it requires courage and coherence.

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