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St. Francis of Assisi, from riches to rags, offering himself to God

The Bishop of Antipolo, Most Reverend Ruperto Cruz Santos, D.D. led the celebration of the 37th National Migrants Sunday on September 24, 2023, at the International Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage (ISOLPGV), Antipolo City. (Photo Dot Daisy Dose)

Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy, was a poor little man who astonished and inspired the Church by adopting the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but joyfully, without limit, and without a sense of self-importance, following all that Jesus said and did.

A serious illness caused the young Francis to realize the emptiness of his carefree existence as the youth leader of Assisi. Long and difficult prayer led him to a self-emptying similar to that of Christ, which culminated in his embrace of a leper he encountered on the road.

It represented his total submission to what he heard in prayer: “Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh is your duty to despise and hate if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself into great sweetness and exceeding joy.”

From the cross in the neglected field chapel of San Damiano, Francis heard Christ tell him, “Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down.” Francis became a completely impoverished and lowly laborer.

He must have surmised there was a deeper meaning behind "build up my house." But he would have been content to spend the remainder of his life as an impoverished "nothing" man laying bricks in abandoned chapels. He surrendered all of his possessions, including his clothing, in front of his earthly father, who demanded restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the impoverished, so that he would be completely free to say, "Our Father in heaven."

Once upon a time, he was regarded as a religious fanatic, begging door-to-door when he was unable to pay for his work, provoking sorrow or disgust from his former friends and ridicule from the unthinking. 

But sincerity will be revealed. A few individuals began to understand that this man was attempting to be Christian. He truly believed Jesus' words, “Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold, silver, or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff” (Luke 9:1–3).

Francis' first rule for his disciples was a collection of Gospel texts. He had no intention of founding an order, but once it was established, he protected it and adopted all the necessary legal structures. During a time when various reform movements tended to fracture the Church's unity, his devotion and fealty to the Church were exemplary and unwavering.

Francis was divided between a life dedicated solely to prayer and a life of active Good News proclamation. He chose the latter option, but always retreated to solitude whenever he could. He desired to serve as a missionary in Syria or Africa, but both a shipwreck and illness prevented him from doing so. He did attempt to convert the Egyptian Sultan during the Fifth Crusade.

Francis was half-blind and gravely ill during the final years of his relatively brief life; he died at 44. Two years prior to his demise, he received the actual and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet, and side, known as the stigmata.

Francis repeated over and over on his deathbed the final line of his Canticle of the Sun: "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the conclusion, he asked his superior's permission to have his clothes removed at the end of his life so that he could imitate his Lord by dying naked on the ground.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.