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Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was born around 1182, one of seven children in a wealthy family. His French mother had named him after John the Baptist, hoping he would grow up to be a great religious leader, but his father preferred to call him Francesco (Francis in English). They lived in the town of Assisi in Italy, where Francis’ father was a wealthy merchant. He lived an extravagant lifestyle, spending his time and money however he wanted.

One day, when Francis was joking and laughing with his friends, a beggar came along. Francis gave what he had in his pocket to the beggar. His friends laughed at him for his charitable act, but the sight of the beggar set him thinking about poverty and misery in which so many people lived. He started to give money to the poor, but his father, thinking this was a waste, criticised him.

Sometime after, Francis suffered a serious illness and thought he was going to die. But the Lord saved him as he had a mission in life. Francis’ nature was changed completely. He saw a vision of Jesus and prayed for light and guidance about his future. He vowed to renounce his old way of living and to dedicate his life to the service of humanity.

As soon as Francis got well, he informed his parents of his intentions, but they became angry with him for dishonouring the family and turned him out of the house. His friends laughed at him too, and even pelted him with stones and mud, but Francis was determined to give up his old ways and serve God. He distributed his clothes, goods and money to the poor.

Francis lived in a cave in the mountains of Assisi and spent his time in prayer and meditation for two years. He wore a coarse robe and lived a humble existence, often going hungry. He loved all God's creatures, treating the birds, beasts and all beings as brothers and sisters.


One of the best-known stories about St. Francis is about the time he lived in the city of Gubbio. A large wolf appeared in the area, so terrible and fierce, that it not only devoured other animals, but people too; and since it often came near the town, everyone was terrified and dared not go out beyond the city walls. St. Francis, feeling sorry for the people of Gubbio, and despite the danger to himself, resolved to go and meet the wolf. Putting all his confidence in God, he went out from the city, his brethren following at a safe distance.

The wolf ran towards St. Francis with his jaws wide open. As he approached, the saint, making the sign of the cross, cried out: “Come here, brother wolf; I command you, in the name of Christ, neither to harm me nor anybody else.” At this, the wolf closed his jaws, and, coming gently up to St Francis, lay down at his feet as meekly as a lamb. Francis said to him: “Brother wolf, you have done evil in this land, destroying and killing God’s creatures without his permission; and not only animals, you have even dared to devour men, made after God’s own image. You are an enemy to the inhabitants of this city; but I will make peace between you, O brother wolf, so that you will no longer offend them, and they will forgive you all your past offences.”

Having listened to these words, the wolf bowed his head and made signs that he agreed to what St Francis said. On this St Francis added: “As you are willing to make this peace, I promise that you will be fed every day by the people here as long as you live among them; you will no longer be hungry, as it is hunger which has made you do these things; but you must promise not to attack any animal or human ever again.” Then the wolf, bowing his head, made a sign that he consented. Said St. Francis again: “Brother wolf, will you keep this promise?” and putting out his hand he received the pledge of the wolf; for the wolf lifted up his paw and placed it in the hand of St Francis. Then St Francis said: “Brother wolf, I command you, in the name of Christ, to follow me, so that we can go together to make this peace,” and the wolf, obeying him, walked meekly by his side, to the great astonishment of all the people.

The news of this miracle spread quickly through the town, and all the inhabitants flocked to the marketplace to see St Francis and the wolf. The saint got up to preach and told the people about the pledge the wolf had made and the pledge they had to undertake. Then all the people promised to feed the wolf to the end of his days.

This event caused great joy in all the people, and a great devotion towards St. Francis, because of the miracle and their peace with the wolf; they lifted up their voices to heaven, praising and blessing God, who had sent them St Francis, who had saved them from such a savage beast. The wolf lived two years at Gubbio; he went familiarly from door to door without harming anyone, and all the people received him courteously, feeding him with great pleasure, and no dog barked at him as he went about. At last, after two years, he died of old age, and the people of Gubbio mourned his loss greatly; for when they saw him going about so gently amongst them all, he reminded them of the virtue and sanctity of St. Francis.


St. Francis travelled from village to village preaching the love of God. He invited people to join him in his life of service if they were willing. Bernard, a rich man of Assisi, was inspired by the saintliness of Francis, and became his first follower, offering all his wealth to God. Eleven others joined them, distributing all their wealth to the poor. St. Francis and his followers went all over Italy preaching, teaching, healing and blessing wherever they went. His gospel of kindness and love soon spread all over Europe. He had many followers and founded the Order of Mendicant Friars or Franciscans. The members of this Order have to take a vow of poverty, chastity, love and obedience. Following his death in 1228, his followers built a church in his honour, in the hills of Assisi that he loved.


The Prayer of St. Francis shows us how to treat in our daily lives:

"O Lord, make me an instrument of Thy Peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light, and
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved
as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."

Do you know a hymn based on this prayer?

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