St. Francis was born to wealthy cloth merchant Pietro Bernadone c. 1181. He grew up in the lap of luxury and indulged in drinking and partying as a youth. When Assisi and Perugia went to war, he joined the army and fought in defense of his home. Captured by the enemy while dressed as an aristocrat in fine clothing, his captors guessed that he must have come from a family that would pay his ransom. While in jail for a year while ransom negotiations were made, he became severely sick and began to receive visions from God.
After being freed, Francis returned to Assisi a different man. Riddled with physical and mental scars, the young Francis began spending much of his time in old churches around Assisi. One day while visiting the ruins of the Church of San Damiano, he heard the voice of God tell him, “Francis, rebuild my Church.” Thinking that Christ was telling him to rebuild San Damiano, he first began to repair the dilapidated building and devote himself to Christianity. While preaching and nursing lepers, he attracted several followers, beginning what would later become the religious Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans).
His group was unique for their time and place in that they lived in extreme poverty, relying on donations and living in base simplicity. Devoted themselves to serving the poorest of the poor and to preaching the Gospel, Francis and his identified with Christ’s self-description, “The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In order to be recognized as an official religious order, they traveled to Rome and met with Pope Innocent III. Though the Curia at the time saw Francis with suspicion, Innocent received a vision in which the universal Church was represented by a collapsing building, with Francis holding it up himself. After being authorized by the Pope, Francis withdrew from external affairs and later, while praying, received the wounds of the stigmata.
Our beloved Pope Francis chose his papal namesake during the papal conclave, when it became clear that he had been elected to the See of Peter. He said that his friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes “embraced me and kissed me and said: ‘Don’t forget the poor’… and that struck me… the poor…Immediately I thought of St Francis of Assisi. Francis was a man of peace, a man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation.” St. Francis of Assisi’s model of tender service to the poor and neglected has proven to be a guiding light in Pope Francis’ time at the head of the barque of the Church.