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I’ll become a great prince

Francis of Assisi lived 44 years, from winter 1181/82 to the dusk of Saturday 3rd October 1226. The biographer who knew him, Thomas of Celano, began his First Life thus: “In Assisi in the Spoleto valley there lived a man called Francis”. St. Bonaventure in his Major Legend mimics this beginning: “There was in the town of Assisi a man called Francis…”. There is no historical reference, because the life of a Saint is told through events and themes. He was christened Giovanni (John), but his father Pietro da Bernardone, who travelled back and forth to France to trade “Franciscan cloth”, named him Francis. He grew into an engaging, humane, credible person. He did not pass suddenly from the “darkness of sin” to the “dazzling light of perfection”, but arrived there after a normal life of dreams, carefree experience, fun and work, developing within him the signs of an intense Christian experience. He was a particularly cheerful youth, but not superficial. He was extremely generous and sensitive, but not irresponsible. He was a bit flirtatious and liked being the centre of attention, but rather because he was aware of his gifts than out of excessive narcissism. He felt he was destined for great things and was not ashamed of declaring it: I know I’ll become a great prince. Moreover in Assisi there was a simple-minded man who, whenever he met him on the streets, would take off his cloak and spread it at his feet, proclaiming that one day he would perform wondrous deeds. Was this the innocent, grateful gesture of a poor man treated with generosity and humanity, or the message of a prophecy?

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