Skip to main content

St. Francis of Assisi: 'A great, great figure in the church'

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • St. Francis of Assisi is a patron saint of Italy and founder of brown-robed Franciscans
  • "Who doesn't know Francis of Assisi," Vatican spokesman says
  • St. Francis "was also rightly spoken of as 'another Jesus Christ,'" Pope Pius XI said
  • He renounced the inheritance of his rich cloth merchant father

(CNN) -- St. Francis of Assisi, after whom Pope Francis has taken his name, captures the spirit of many Catholics because church history regards him as the pre-eminent figure passionate about imitating Christ's life.

He is known also as a patron saint of Italy, the founder of the Franciscan order of the Friars Minor, an admirer of nature and a servant to poor and destitute. The brown robe of the Franciscans is iconic.

"Who doesn't know Francis of Assisi, who abandoned everything from wealth and prestige and who became poor himself," Vatican deputy spokesman the Rev. Thomas Rosica said Wednesday, explaining how the saint inspired Pope Francis' name.

"Francis of Assisi is a great, great figure in the church but known especially for connecting with fellow Christians and many people outside the Christian family," Rosica said.

Why the pope chose 'Francis'
Who is Pope Francis?
Pope will bring church 'back to basics'
A smoky day for pope coverage

Many popes have written and spoken of St. Francis of Assisi, according to the Vatican's website.

In an encyclical, Pope Pius XI stated that "there has never been anyone in whom the image of Jesus Christ and the evangelical manner of life shone forth more lifelike and strikingly than in St. Francis."

St. Francis "was also rightly spoken of as 'another Jesus Christ,'" Pius XI said.

He was born in Assisi in 1181 or 1182, the son of a rich cloth merchant, and he enjoyed a carefree adolescence and youth, particularly with troubadours.

He went to war at age 20 and was taken prison for almost a year. He was released and became seriously ill, which began a major turn in his life.

When he returned to Assisi, a spiritual change commenced, and Francis abandoned his worldliness.

He met with lepers and extended a kiss to one.

In rags, he lived among beggars at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

And in one renowned episode, he went to the tattered small church of St. Damian, where Christ on the cross came to life and told him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins," recounted Pope Benedict XVI in a 2010 address, according to the Vatican website.

"The ruinous state of the building was a symbol of the dramatic and disquieting situation of the church herself," Benedict said. "At that time the church had a superficial faith which did not shape or transform life, a scarcely zealous clergy, and a chilling of love."

Francis' father questioned his son's generosity and servitude to the poor. While standing before the bishop of Assisi, Francis stripped off his clothes and renounced his paternal inheritance, Benedict said.

Francis lived as a hermit. He went to Rome in 1209 to propose to Pope Innocent III a plan for a new form of Christian life, Benedict said.

The Franciscan order was born.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Not a jot of doctrine has changed in the year since Francis became Pope. But there's more than one way to measure his impact. Just ask some of the faithful in the country's most Catholic city.
updated 10:01 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony in the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica -- the first such appointments since he was elected pontiff last March.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
"The spring evening in which Pope Francis was elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow," writes Fr. Joel Camaya.
updated 11:05 AM EST, Fri February 14, 2014
In a gesture toward the romance of Valentine's Day, Pope Francis gave his advice on how to have a happy marriage before thousands of young engaged couples.
updated 2:12 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
A senior Vatican official acknowledged Thursday there is "no excuse" for child sex abuse, as he and others were grilled by a U.N. committee about the Catholic Church's handling of pedophile priests.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Take a look at Pope Francis' first year in photos with our gallery.
updated 4:22 AM EST, Wed December 25, 2013
Pope Francis rang in his first Christmas at the Vatican with a Christmas Eve Mass preaching a message of love and forgiveness.
updated 6:43 PM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
It was the embrace that melted hearts worldwide.
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Mon July 8, 2013
On the first pastoral visit of his papacy, Pope Francis shunned protocol and politics on a visit to the tiny island of Lampedusa off the coast of Sicily.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis kisses and hugs disabled boy lifted up in the crowd.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Thu April 11, 2013
With the new pope himself a trained scientist, could the timing could be right for a new era of cooperation between the Vatican and science?
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sat March 16, 2013
Pope Francis is being painted as a humble and simple man, but his past is tinged with controversy.
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
One of the first questions many people ask when they start a new job is: What type of car will I get?
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
Call him Pope Francis, the pontiff of firsts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina is known as a humble man, a capable administrator and -- as expected of a new pope -- a man of great faith.
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
Catholic faithful from Latin America cheered the historic election of the first pope from the region Wednesday.
updated 6:41 PM EDT, Thu March 14, 2013
St. Francis of Assisi, after whom Pope Francis has taken his name, captures the spirit of many Catholics.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT