On October 4 the Church celebrates the liturgical memory of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), one of the most well-known saints in the world, which deeply marked not only the life of the Church, but also the society of his time. Few saints have exercised such a decisive influence on the civil and ecclesiastical history of their time as St. Francis, considered the “perfect servant of Lady Poverty.”
What qualities of Francis are closely linked to the Vincentian practice? We can identify several, among them the practice of unconditional charity, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the poor. Everything in the life of Francis revolved around these attitudes, which marked the foundation of the Franciscan Order and characterize thousands of devotees (lay people, priests and religious) in the current times.
Francis was intelligent, jovial, gentle, affable, detached, cheerful and a lover of life, as his biographers report. However, even being young, he never let himself be carried away by the ardor of the passions that dominate young people of any time and place. He decided, as an attentive listener of the Gospel, to be generous with those who asked him for alms, especially those who ask “for the love of God,” even to give up part of his clothes, if he did not have money.
Despite preaching above all to the poor and identifying with them, Francis used to alert his disciples, exhorting them not to condemn and despise those who live in opulence and dress luxuriously. He said that they also have God as their Lord, and God can, at any time, call them, like others, and make them just and holy.
Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to be like Christ, who lived poor all His life. To all those who expressed the desire to follow him, Francis told them: Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Bring nothing with you and follow only the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ. One of the most beautiful sentences of Saint Francis is this: “poverty is the way of salvation.”
From Saint Francis of Assisi we learn a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharistic Christ was the center of his life. Of Jesus Christ, three aspects excited him especially: the Christ in the Bethlehem (the incarnation of the Son of God), the Christ on the Cross (the passion of the Lord) and the Christ in the Altar (or Eucharistic Christ).
Francis lived a profound process of conversion throughout his life. Even after having attained a high degree of perfection, in his deep humility of life, he even said, in the last moments of his life: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord: until now we have done little or nothing.” The Vincentians tirelessly seek the path of conversion and personal sanctification, the central reason of Vincentian mysticism. That is why the Vincentians also have the feeling that we have done nothing and that there is still much to be done.
Therefore, every Vincentian is a little Franciscan, because the virtues of this Italian saint permeate our day-to-day. The way of dealing with poverty, the awareness of the missionary and baptized vocation, the certainty of the resurrection and its renewing force are the main characteristics of Saint Francis, who teaches us today to see Christ in the faces of the most disadvantaged, as also preached by St. Vincent and Ozanam.
 Cf. Albano Butler, Vidas de los Padres, Martires y otros principales santos, tomo X, Valladolid: Viuda e Hijos de Santander, 1791, pág 109.
 Cf. Tomás de Celano. Vida primera de San Francisco, 103.
 Frederic Ozanam became a Franciscan tertiary a few months before he died. He wanted to be shrouded with the Franciscan sackcloth: this also expresses his veneration for Saint Francis of Assisi.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul