This is a big weekend for us at St. Francis as we celebrate our patron saint, Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in 1182 and died in 1226, and nearly eight centuries after his death remains one of if not the most beloved of saints. A good book about his life is Reluctant Saint by Donald Spoto which our staff is reading together.
We have received, a generous gift of a series of twelve framed prints which shows the life of St. Francis as portrayed by the Italian painter Giotto, who lived in the fourteenth century. The originals of these prints are found in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Last weekend we had two of them on display around the altar. Within the next few weeks, we will have the twelve prints mounted in the area around our gathering space. They tell the story, in pictures, of the life of St. Francis. We are grateful for the gift.
As I write this, the pope is on the last day of his visit to the United States, with mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, and more than a million people expected to attend. A friar I know in Philadelphia was at the mass at the cathedral there, got a seat in the fourth row, and told me that at one point he was five feet away from the pope. The pope’s visit to this country and his talks, were filled with a sense of gentleness, kindness, and a focus on something that we friars learned when we were studying theology: the dignity of the human person, in all stages of life.
In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis spoke about “three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams.” The four Americans he named are Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. Two of those names are famous, two not so famous. I encourage you to learn more about Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, two major figures of American Catholicism who were active in the mid-20th century. Since the pope’s mention of them in his speech, sales of their books have skyrocketed. Merton’s autobiography is called The Seven Storey Mountain and Day’s is called The Long Loneliness.
This Sunday of course is FrancisFest, with all kinds of games and activities for children and adults. There are new features this year, including a Franciscan Tasting Area with fair trade beer, wine, coffee, olive oil, chocolate, and other tastes; also a Catholic Culture exchange with the St. Sharbel Maronite mission and with the Our Lady of La Vang Vietnamese community (recall they will be moving into the Bethany Hills Baptist Church building next door to us next spring). We will also have fourteen food trucks and what I expect to be very popular, photo opportunities with Pope Francis. All are welcome – blessings on your week!