Saint Francis of Assisi: A Pilgrim’s Saint
Every October 4th, Catholic faithful the world over celebrate the life, works and miracles of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan orders whose name is forever associated with charity, poverty, love of the environment, dedication to the Church, contemplative prayer and much more.
Our beloved Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of many places, professions, religious orders and causes, from his hometown of Assisi in the province of Perugia in central Italy to the city of San Francisco who bears his name, but he also has a special connection to the act of pilgrimage.
A Life of Privilege Given Up
Born into a prosperous merchant family in Assisi in the late 12th century, Francis lived a life of privilege and excess in his youth, but slowly became disillusioned with worldly pleasures. After fighting in a military campaign between Italian principalities and being taken a prisoner of war for a year, his interest in pursuit of a more meaningful Christian life accelerated until he began to renounce his wealth and distribute his goods to the poor, causing the anger of his father and ultimately leading to his formal renunciation of his inheritance. He began a life of a hermit-pilgrim, wearing the coarse brown-hooded tunic of the poor, begging in the same streets he once strode through in fine garments and with well-to-do friends, family and acquaintances.
Rebuilding the Church
After receiving a vision from Jesus Christ to go and rebuild the ruined church of San Damiano on the outskirts of Assisi, Francis began his difficult task by begging for donations of building materials and performing the difficult construction work himself. But upon its completion, Francis realized that his true calling would be to rebuild not just one church, but the entire Catholic Church. For the remainder of his life, Francis did just that, founding several orders with a special purpose of care for the poor, sick, infirm and pilgrims across Europe, spending much of his time in Italy, Dalmatia and other places in the Mediterranean. In 1208, the Office of Friars Minor became an official religious order within the Catholic Church. By 1220, Francis had journeyed to Egypt during the Fifth Crusade, befriended the Sultan and received his permission to travel freely in the Holy Land (now under Muslim rule), and even engage in ministry to the remaining Christians. This pilgrimage ultimately led to the establishment of the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, the primary caretakers of Christian places of pilgrimage under the stewardship of the Catholic Church.
Francis Declared a Saint
In 1226, Francis, barely middle-aged but infirm; physically exhausted from his austere life of self-imposed poverty and service, and ready for his departure from the world after receiving the Stigmata a few years before, passed away into God’s glory. Within two years, Francis was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX, who immediately commissioned a Basilica on a hillside above the city of Assisi in memory of the city’s most beloved son.
The Pilgrimage to Assisi
The relics of Saint Francis are still to be found in this beautiful basilica, formerly known as the Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Along with Rome, the basilica is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in not only Italy, but the entire world. Pilgrims from many Christian traditions journey to this holy place as well as the city itself and neighboring San Damiano to retrace the footsteps of Saint Francis, and to ask for his blessing in their lives. With its beautiful panoramic view, classical architecture and ornate frescos, the Basilica attracts visitors from across the world, yet the true treasure of the Basilica are the relics of Saint Francis, which millions of faithful have venerated for centuries.
The Prayer of St. Francis
A prayer by Saint Francis, composed when at Saint Damino in Assisi, is helpful when discerning a major decision in life, or beginning a long, significant journey:
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen.
Whether it is a simple trip to your neighborhood church or a pilgrimage halfway across the world, perhaps to Assisi itself, remember Saint Francis in your daily devotions and ask for his intercessions to see the beauty of the world around you.
Good Shepherd Tours offers independent and group pilgrimages to the extraordinary places associated with the life of Saint Francis, including Assisi, San Damiano, Rome and the Holy Land. Contact us for more information on how to book your next pilgrimage.
You can also ask us about our special offer for obtaining a Nativity crèche made of Holy Land olive wood, hand-crafted by artisans of Bethlehem! Have the Franciscan tradition of the Nativity crèche in your home this Christmas, as well as a piece of the Holy Land.