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Pope offers St. Francis as model for spiritual renewal

Catholic World News - January 27, 2010

In his series of weekly talks on the history of the Church, Pope Benedict XVI has reached St. Francis of Assisi, and he devoted his Wednesday public audience of January 27 to that “true giant of sanctity who continues to enthrall many people of all ages and religious beliefs.”

The Holy Father called attention to the “profound symbolism” of the vision that St. Francis experienced in the hermitage of St. Damien, saying that the ruined hermitage mirrored “the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church at that time.” The “interior decay” of the faith called for a renewal, and St. Francis was a main instrument of that spiritual revival, the Pope said.

Pope Benedict also reminded his audience that in the same year, 1207, Pope Innocent III had a dream that the basilica of St. John Lateran was collapsing, and was saved only by a small friar. Later, when the two met for the first time, the Pope would recognize St. Francis as the friar in that dream.

St. Francis wanted to follow the Gospel “in all its radical truth,” Pope Benedict said. The great saint did not originally want to found a religious order, but he was persuaded that “everything must have its order and the law of the Church is necessary to give form to renewal.” So he accepted the requirements of canon law as a means of maintaining communion with the Church hierarchy. Pope Benedict next recalled the saint’s travel to Egypt with the Crusade, and his bold effort to preach the Gospel to the Sultan. The Pontiff remarked that at a time that was marked by a worldwide conflict between Islam and the West, St. Francis took up his part, “armed only with the faith and his personal gentleness.” His effort is a model for inter-religious dialogue today, the Pope said. The Holy Father also recalled that St. Francis might have reached the Holy Land during his journey, and the Franciscans today maintain their custody of the shrines in the region.

St. Francis was famous for his love of poverty as well as his “sense of universal fraternity and love for nature,” the Pope continued. His reverence for nature reminds today’s environmentalists that “Creation reflects the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator.” Finally, the Pope called attention to the joy that was so evident throughout the life of St. Francis, making him so attractive to so many different people and underlining the “intimate and indissoluble bond between sanctity and joy.”

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