St. Francis of Assisi
Born: 1181 in Assisi, Italy
Died: October 3, 1226
Canonized: July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX
Feast Day: October 4
Patron Saint of: animals, ecologists, merchants
Francis was born of a wealthy family. At the age of 20, he left his family and forfeited his wealth for a life of poverty serving God. He was known as "The Little Poor Man." During his lifetime, he established the Franciscan Order and refurbished Saint Damaino and the Portiuncula. Francis was also known for receiving the gift of the stigmata from God; he physically retained the wounds of Jesus Christ in hands and feet. Francis of Assisi was also very fond of nature, a fondness and understanding that was apparent to nature itself, as wild animals were tamed in his presence; he is often pictured and remembered surrounded by nature.
It was the bitter winter of 1223, and Francis was living in a little rock-hewn cave, close to the village of Greccio, in the Italian province of Umbria. Here, he was very much alone, praying and meditating. As it was drawing near Christmas, he pondered over the wonderful story of the Incarnation. A great desire took possession of him, to bring this message home to the hearts of the villagers, and so all were asked to come to the village church at midnight on Christmas Eve. Full of curiosity, they obeyed. All came from far and near, picking their way by the light of lanterns, up the steep hillside to the church.
There they found a comer of the Church which had been transformed unto a stable, strewn with clean, dry straw, and in a crude little wooden crib, lay a tiny sleeping figure of the bambino, wrapped in swaddling clothes, much like the Holy Child must have peacefully slept, on that first Christmas Eve, twelve hundred years before.
In awestruck remembrance, the Peasants knelt in adoration. After mass was sung and Francis himself had read from the Gospel, the little congregation streamed out into the frosty night air, and took their way homeward, their hearts filled with a mysterious wonder and the song of the angels still ringing in their ears - "Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to men of goodwill."