One of the most beloved saints of the Middle Ages and now is Francis of Assisi, patron of animals and the environment. Here’s his story:
Francis was born in Italy in the twelfth century to a wealthy family. He loved parties and fine things like the beautiful brocade and silk fabrics his father bought and sold, and he dreamed of adventure. He became a knight and went off to fight, but he was captured and put in prison. After a year, his father paid a ransom and he was freed. Francis knew then that he would not become a cloth merchant like his father. He found himself in a church that was falling down, and as he prayed, Francis heard God tell him to rebuild it. He sold a bale of his father’s silk to pay for the repairs, which made his father very angry. The bishop told Francis that God would give him what he needed, so Francis gave his father his purse of gold coins—and all the fine clothes Francis was wearing! From that time on, Francis wore only rough burlap and gave up all his belongings to live among and serve the poor and the sick. Francis followed Jesus in his actions, not just his words, and soon he had followers of his own who wanted to live simply and serve God and others as he did. He took special notice and care of God’s creation. He helped people and animals live together peacefully. One of the stories told about him is that he helped a village make friends with a wolf that had been attacking their animals. Even the birds flocked around him as he told them of God’s love. Some churches hold a blessing of the animals on his feast day, October 4. Francis may even have staged the first Christmas pageant, with real animals to warm the Christ child in the stable. Francis died in the same little church that he rebuilt with his own hands. He still inspires others with his generosity, his joy in God’s creation, and his simple, peaceful ways.
In honor of Francis, your family could make dog biscuits or cat toys to give away in your neighborhood or donate to a local animal shelter. Even toddlers can string Cheerios onto chenille stems that can be fastened into circles and hung on a tree branch to feed the birds. You can also make a bird feeder by spreading peanut or soy butter onto a pinecone or ice cream cone and rolling it in birdseed.
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents