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San Francesco and Sta Chiara of Assisi

(Part II)  

The first week of October celebrated two feast days: St. Francis of Assisi and the Guardian Angels. Having written about The Brotherhood of Angels and Men last week, I shall now recall the extraordinary life of San Francesco. To the Italians St. Francis is affectionately called “il poverello,” for he glorified in giving up all his earthly wealth to be filled instead with God’s assignments. He is also the Father of Ecology, named patron of the World Wild Life foundation.

The young San Francesco

Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) is the most famous citizen of the province of Umbria that many children have been named Francesco or Francesca in his honor. His belief in poverty and self-denial has been absorbed into the Umbrian ethic where simplicity is considered a virtue, even if voluntary poverty is excessive. His Holiness Pope Francis embodies it. Francis’ mysticism and his wonder at nature are enduring values in Umbria. His love of birds and trees remain legendary, and when you visit Assisi you will see why. The setting looks almost exactly as it did 700 years ago. Umbrians are among the most environmentally conscious of all Italians, and much of the “health food” consumed in Italy is grown in the region.

St. Francis was the only child of a wealthy linen merchant. As a typical young troubadour, he played the flute and was quite a good singer. Growing up in this amber-colored hill town of stone villas and palazzos, Francesco had a fat expense account, which he used generously to treat numerous male and female friends, building a reputation as a society leader of his generation.

Something was missing still, and Francesco was restless. Always well dressed and bejeweled, he would feel guilty seeing the beggars in streets. One time, he met the lepers from the colony outside town. His heart so reached out to them that he gave his cape away and rushed home to empty the cash box of their family business to help the needy.

The message of the Crucified Lord of San Damiano

The major turning point in the life of St. Francis was when he joined the town warriors to battle with the neighboring provinces. He fell sick and had to come home. Before arriving in Assisi, he fell asleep in the old abandoned church of San Damiano. The icon of the Lord Jesus Crucified appeared in his dreams with the message, ”Francesco, go and repair My house which as you can see is falling into ruins.”  Francis took this literally. Immediately he sold his horse and some cloth from his father’s store to raise enough money for this purpose.

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This upset his father so much that he consulted a family friend, the bishop. When summoned, Francesco readily went to the bishop’s palace, and faced his perplexed and angry father. Completely detached from material wealth including his future inheritance, he let his father disown him.  Upon returning to the town, he worked for the next two years on restoring several churches. Among these was the Porziuncula, a little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels just outside town. Later on he founded the Franciscan order, which made him realize that he was building the real church of God.

St. Claire, the helper of St. Francis

In July 1194, Claire was baptized over the same baptismal font as Francis 12 years earlier. Both were born into feudalism, a rigid authoritarian military society. Claire’s father, the feudal Lord Favorino Offreduccio di Corano raised his family in the Sasso-Rosso Castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. Her mother, Lady Ortolano was a woman of character. She dared to join two crusades to the Holy Land in spite of the danger of piracy and kidnapping. 

Claire grew up nourished on ideas of loyalty and service. Firsthand stories from her mother of crusades and knights filled her and her two sisters with a passion for truth, justice and peace. With her aunt, Claire often conferred and learned directly from St. Francis about his order of Minor Friars, who imitated Our Lord’s life on earth. Ultimately, Claire followed by her sister Catherine and their other friends from noble families, left their homes to join the Franciscans. This decision startled their families. Against all odds, including fighting evil and ecclesiastic authorities, they started the second order of Poor Claires.

The “Magic Garden” of St. Francis at Ristorante La Dolce Fontana

Upon entering the door of the former Ristorante la Dolce Fontana, now a social events place on the ground floor of O.B. Montessori along Annapolis, Greenhills, the magical garden of St. Francis and St. Claire greets the customers. The three by six meters white wall is covered with a very charming fresco type of painting used by Etruscans during the early civilization of Europe to the Renaissance era. St. Francis looks like a typical handsome, 24-year-old, blue-eyed Italian man with wavy hair and well-trimmed beard.  In the background are 200 animals St. Francis addressed as “brothers and sisters,” including a giant humming bird with a basket of fruits in her beak and the penitent wolf of Gubbio.

The holy ones, through the late mystic-artist Punay K. Fernandez, mentally telepathized the technique of using small jet paint-spray used by our psychic-sculptor Pempe Floriano. The images on the fresco are sacred with each detail and their symbolism being interpreted by Punay who said that St. Francis calls it his “magic garden.” It depicts the many vignettes of his life and that of St. Claire’s, all described in the famous book, “I Fioretti di San Francesco” (Little Flowers of St. Francis) translated by W. Heywood.

Why San Francesco wishes to look handsome as his painting in Greenhills

On Sept. 27, 1997 two earthquakes hit central Italy registering 5.5/5.7 in the Richter scale sending down 10-feet of debris when the vaulted inner roofs of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi crashed to the ground, damaging the 13th-century panoramic frescoes of the life of St. Francis on its walls and ceiling.  Cimabue painted the saint looking stooped and aged beyond 45 years old. At the same time then, our ristorante fresco was being completed by Pempe. As the Assisi earthquake filled the news, Punay received a message from St. Francis himself, “I do wish that as they restore my frescoes the painters would make me look as young and handsome like you are painting me the Ristorante La Dolce Fontana.”

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