Saint Francis, c. 1910, wood, Parish Church of Saint Ulrich,
Gröden- Ortisei, Italy Sculpted by Johann Baptist Moroder – Lusenberg
Saint Francis of Assisi (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone; (born in Assisi in Umbria in 1181/1182 – died there October 3, 1226) is the founder of the Catholic Order of Friars Minor, more commonly known as the Franciscans.
He is known as the patron saint of animals, the environment, and of Italy itself. Faith communities the world over celebrate his feast day on or around October 4 with services of blessing of animals, renewing the call of God to care for the creation. It might be said that St. Francis is also the patron saint of Lake Oconee Community Church, as the “Prayer of Saint Francis” has long been the weekly benediction at all LOCC services.
Saint Francis is also considered the first Italian poet by literary critics. He believed commoners should be able to pray to God in their own language, and he wrote often in the dialect of Umbria instead of Latin. His writings, both secular and sacred, are held in great esteem.
It was during Christmastide of 1223 that Francis conceived the idea of celebrating the Nativity in “in a new manner,” by reproducing inside the church the environment in which Christ was born, inclusive of straw, and live animals. Thus the “Live Nativity” was born.
Christmas appears indeed to have been the favorite feast of Francis. He attempted to persuade the Pope and Emperor to enact a law that animals were to be provided for as well as the poor.
Legend tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and so he went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil,” said Francis. All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” Then Francis led the wolf into the town. Surrounded by startled citizens, he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had done evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. Finally, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, Francis blessed the wolf.
The entire community is invited each first Sunday of October for the Lake Oconee Community Blessing of the Animals. Donations of pet food are encouraged, which will be given to local humane societies and Putnam and Greene County food distribution centers.
Click to see pictures of past Blessings of the Animals