FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Patron Saint of Animals
by Pastor Richard E. Edmonds
Francis had a dream in which he believed that God was calling him to repair his church and interpreted this to mean that he was to repair the church in San Damiano near Assisi. Francis was soon to renounce all of his possessions and his family treasures including his clothes – a decision which disturbed his family deeply. Dressing as a beggar, he was joined by companions who were called brothers. They rebuilt the church of San Damiano and traveled throughout central Italy preaching for people to turn from materialism to Christ. They worked or begged for their food. When there were eleven brothers, Francis gave them a short Rule and received approval from the pope to form a brotherhood which Francis called the Friars Minor.
Francis called for simplicity of life; poverty and humility before God. With the brothers, he worked to care for the poor. One of his first actions after his conversion was to care for lepers. Thousands were drawn to his sincerity and joy.
Francis is known as the patron saint of animals. There are many stories about the life of Francis that deal with his love for animals. Two are noted here:
One of the most famous stories speaks of a time in which Francis walked by a tree filled with birds and begged them to listen to the word of God:
My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you. God made you noble among his creatures and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part.
One of his companions reported that the birds stretched their necks and extended their wings as Francis walked among them touching and blessing them. Francis believed that all creatures can praise and love their creator.
A second story tells of a wolf which was terrifying the city of Gubbio near Assisi. Having compassion for the frightened residents, Francis went up to the hills to find the wolf. Walking alone because all of his companions had fled in fear, Francis eventually found the wolf, made the sign of the cross, and instructed the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. He said to the wolf:
Brother wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you. But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.
Francis led the wolf into town. Surrounded by the startled citizens, he made a pact between them and the wolf. He explained that the wolf had terrorized the people because he was hungry. He told the people to feed the wolf regularly and the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. This legend exemplifies his love for animals and the natural world.
Every year on the Sunday nearest his October 4th feast day (the day of his death in 1226,) many people of faith around the world host services where animals are blessed. These occasions celebrate both Francis’s and God’s compassionate concern for all creatures.