"I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:58).
To visit the Italian city of Assisi is to know the difference between being a tourist and pilgrim. The preserved sites of the life of the 13th century saint draw the visitor into an encounter with this extraordinary individual who was determined to follow Jesus in a radical and almost literal way. St. Francis uncovered the mystery of Christ in his brief life, and it was like exposing a light buried under centuries of historical accretion and distortion. In Francis, Jesus was again fully visible.
St. Francis was called in an encounter with an image of the crucified Christ hanging in the sanctuary of an abandoned and broken down church, saying to him, " Repair my church." In his fervent idealism, the young Francis first thought he was to restore the physical building, but soon realized that Jesus was asking him to rekindle the radical gospel of poverty and peacemaking in a church corrupted by wealth and power.
The example of his simple life, compassion for the poor and mercy for all caught on among the young people of his time, creating a flood of vocations into the mendicant orders. The papacy rushed to get these new orders of uncloistered, itinerant preachers and servants under ecclesiastical control, recognizing that a fundamental shift in culture and perception was taking place that would eventually open the door to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. A feudal and monastic model of centralized control could no longer contain society.
Pope Francis has recovered all of the ideals espoused by St. Francis by taking his name: The call for a church of the poor for the poor, the care of our common home, the Earth, and the demand for justice and peace as the only way the world can go forward. The pope has also lived in the spirit of St. Francis by his simplicity, joy and compassion. We will honor and celebrate the feast of this great saint for our time by doing the same.