HOW MANY TIMES during this Jubilee Year have we heard people speak of peace.... It therefore seems right and proper that in the month of October we speak of one of the saints who was most committed to making peace reign: Saint Francis of Assisi.
The choice of Francis as a prophet of peace is not a recent discovery. Saint Bonaventura had previously defined him as an angel of peace and before him, Thomas of Celano had testified: For all of us who saw it know what quiet and peaceful times passed while the servant of Christ lived and how they were filled with such an abundance of all good things.
This is witnessed to by the cities of Arezzo and Siena, which were torn by great internal strife: Francis brought reconciliation to both.
We may be distressed today when we read in the newspapers that rival bands spill each other’s blood in several cities. More or less the same thing happened in 1222 in Bologna, when Thomas of Spoleto was moved to write: irreducible fury and inveterate hostility had exploded to the point that blood was spilled. The arrival of Francis and his words succeeded in placating the hostilities and building the foundation for new pacts of peace.
For Francis the essential condition for peace is forgiveness, and it was certainly the strategy of forgiveness that opened the doors to his action in favour of peace.
At the beginning of their evangelistic adventure, when Francis and his companions inspired more questions than admiration, they were often mistreated and covered with insults; and they forgave them with all of their heart, saying ‘May God forgive you’, recounts The Legend of the Three Companions. In 1226, just a month before he died, he finally succeeded in reconciling the Bishop and the Podestà of Assisi, thanks to a strophe of his Canticle of Brother Sun: All praise be yours, my Lord, through those who grant pardon for love of you. The episode of the wolf of Gubbio, told by the Little Flowers of St. Francis, also helps us understand that peace is the fruit of forgiveness: in fact the Saint asks the inhabitants of the city to forgive Brother Wolf of all the evil he had procurred them.
For Francis, the gift of peace is not something that comes of good will, but is the fruit of divine revelation; thus, he states in his Testament: God revealed a form of greeting to me, telling me that we should say ‘God give you peace’. Francis gave the same charge to his friars that Jesus gave his apostles: Go, my dearest brothers, two by two into the various parts of the world, announcing to men peace and repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. Then he added: Since you speak of peace, all the more so must you have it in your hearts. We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.
Brother Thomas of Celano recounts a curious episode which took place at Collestrada near Perugia: Francis met a peasant, whom he already knew, and asked him: ‘Brother, how does it go with you?’ Full of hate, the man answered: ‘Thanks to my Lord, whom I pray the Almighty Lord to curse, I am in a bad way’. Francis was disturbed by the strength of the hate the man felt in his heart and exhorted him to forgive. ‘I cannot forgive him completely - answered the man - unless he first gives me back what he has taken’. Francis could find no other words to convince him, so he made a gesture of love, giving the man his cloak. The Saint’s biographer concludes: softened and moved by his kindness, he took the gift and forgave the wrongs that had been done him.
As a young cavalier, Francis wanted to have a career in arms; he dreamed of conquesting an identity and playing a role on the fields of battle, defeating the enemies. After his conversion a completely new and different road opened up for him and he succeeded in reaching results which, had he been brandishing the arms of war, he would never have been able to imagine. And so he became the Saint of peace.