Francis of Assisi, our founder, showed us that in order to follow
Jesus and live the Gospel; we must care for the poor and marginalized, advocate for human
rights, be peacemakers and respect and care for all of creation. It is these values that
motivate us to become active in the many issues addressed on our JPIC pages. Francis modeled
this for us and examples from the life of Francis below inspire us to be about the work
of justice, peace and care for creation.
Option for the Poor
“After the example of Saint Francis, whom the Lord led among lepers,
each and every friar is to give preference to the ‘marginalised’, to the poor and oppressed,
to the afflicted and infirm; rejoicing when they live among them, they are to show them mercy.”
(OFM General Constitutions,
Francis was the son of a merchant who prior to his conversion had
experienced the “good life.” An encounter with a leper changed everything.
Francis recognized that he, too, was a poor man, totally dependent on God. He chose to
leave the ways of his youth behind and to live among the lepers, owning nothing.
Francis had a deep love of and respect for the poor, seeing them
as the image of Christ. He resolved to never refuse anything that was asked of him in the
name of God. He often asked the wealthy for material assistance for the poor. If he could
not offer material assistance, he lavished his affection on the poor and affirmed their
right to beg alms.
Francis called his brothers to live as he did, helping them see
that in meeting the poor, they met Christ, and that living simply helped free them to better
receive God and one another.
“The friars are to live in this world as promoters of justice and as messengers
and agents of peace, overcoming evil and doing good. The friars shall proclaim peace by word and cherish it so
deep in their hearts that no one is stirred to anger or scandal, but rather that everyone is called back to
peace, meekness and kindness through them.” (OFM
General Constitutions, Article 68)
Francis greeted everyone with, “May the Lord give you peace.” The
peace he wished came from his own inner peace and his deep reverence for all of God’s
creatures. He allowed the God within to bring peace to those he met. He urged the friars
to be gentle, peaceful, unassuming, courteous and humble in their dealings with others.
Francis was able to challenge and confront injustice, but he did
it non-violently, respecting all those involved. He negotiated peace between the people
of Gubbio and the wolf who was terrorizing them and between the bishop and mayor of Assisi.
The Sultan of Egypt treated him kindly because he was seen as a man of peace.
Care for Creation
“Following closely in the footsteps of Saint Francis, the
friars are to maintain a reverent attitude towards nature, threatened from all sides today,
in such a way that they may restore it completely to its condition of brother and to its role
of usefulness to all [humankind] for the glory of God the Creator.” (OFM
General Constitutions, Article 71)
Francis’ profound love for God and for all God’s creation
is powerfully expressed in the Canticle of the Creatures. Stories abound of how Francis
commanded his friars not to cut down a tree entirely; to set out honey and wine for bees
in winter; to call animals brother and sister. A bird once rested in Francis’
hands (2Cel 167) and a falcon announced the times to pray (2Cel 168). On Christmas Francis
wanted extra grain and hay given to oxen and asses while corn and grain were being scattered
on the roads to feed birds (2Cel 199).
One of the most significant marks of Saint Francis’ spirituality
is his acute sense of the presence of God in creation and in human history. Every being,
everything is a gift from God. Everything speaks to us of God and sends us back to God.
The universe in its unity and its diversity is a sacrament of God. For Francis, loving
the works of God and loving God was the same thing.
This spirituality guides Franciscans today to work to see that
creation is not reduced to the economic interests of humanity, to restore the dignity and
intrinsic value of the created world and to support sustainable practices that will preserve
the planet for future generations.
“Since a large part of [humankind] is still in bondage to need,
injustice and oppression, the friars, along with all people of good will, are to devote
themselves to establishing a society of justice, liberation and peace in the Risen Christ.
They are to investigate carefully the causes of each situation, and take part in undertakings
of charity, justice and international solidarity.”
(OFM General Constitutions,
Article 96, 2)
Human Rights protect and promote the wellbeing of all citizens,
their liberty, lives, security, and conditions of education, health and work. Francis encouraged
respect and equality within his fraternity first, and then among those the brothers served.
The most marginalized members of any society are at the greatest
risk of having their human rights pushed aside. It is here that Francis wanted his brothers
to be. Francis called the brothers to live the Gospel, to do as Jesus did, to help the
poorest, neediest and marginalized to lift up their heads and obtain their dignity by securing
He cautioned that the servants of God should not be perturbed or
angered because of injustice of others but should place themselves in solidarity on the
side of the weak and poor so that these gain a human position in society. According to
the model of Francis, the brothers do not live for themselves but for others within and
outside of the institutional church.