Making his first pilgrimage as pope to the birthplace of his papal namesake, Pope Francis called on the whole church to imitate St. Francis of Assisi, embracing poverty and stripping itself of the “spirit of world.”
“A Christian cannot coexist with the spirit of the world,” he said. Worldliness “leads us to vanity, arrogance, pride. And this is an idol, it is not of God.”
The pope spoke on Oct. 4, the feast of St. Francis, in the “stripping room” of the residence of the archbishop of Assisi, where the saint himself set aside his rich clothes and embraced a life of poverty. “This is a good occasion for inviting the church to strip itself,” the pope said, adding that he directed his invitation not merely to the hierarchy, but all the church’s members and that he sought renunciation of spiritual complacency as well as material riches.
“It is so sad to find a worldly Christian, who thinks he enjoys the security of the faith and of the world,” Pope Francis said. “One cannot have it both ways.”
The pope’s morning in Assisi culminated in a Mass in the square outside the Basilica of St. Francis. In his homily, the pope disputed what he characterized as popular misconceptions of St. Francis and his legacy. “Many people, when they think of St. Francis, think of peace,” he said. “Very few people, however, go deeper.
“What is the peace which Francis received, experienced and lived, and which he passes on to us?” the pope asked. “It is the peace of Christ, which is born of the greatest love of all, the love of the cross.” He added: “Franciscan peace is not something saccharine. Hardly. That is not the real St. Francis. Nor is it a kind of pantheistic harmony with the forces of the cosmos. That is not Franciscan either; it is a notion some people have invented.”
Pope Francis called his namesake a “man of harmony and peace” and drew attention to those “who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to St. Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world.”
At the archbishop’s residence Pope Francis addressed a group of people who receive assistance from local Catholic charities. “Many of you have been stripped by this savage world, which doesn’t provide work, which doesn’t help, to which it makes no difference that children die of hunger,” he said. The pope also mourned the African immigrants killed in the previous day’s sinking of a boat near the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, where in July he made his first trip as pope outside Rome.
Earlier in the morning, he addressed a group of disabled children and their caregivers at a church-run rehabilitation center. Pope Francis spent about 45 minutes personally greeting the young patients, many confined to wheelchairs.
“We are among the wounds of Jesus,” the pope said. “Jesus is hidden in these kids, in these children, in these people.” The pope noted that Jesus’ body after the resurrection was unblemished except for the five wounds he had received during his crucifixion.
“He wanted to preserve only the wounds, and he took them with him into heaven,” the pope said. “We treat the wounds of Jesus here and he, in heaven, shows us his wounds and tells all of us, all of us: ‘I am waiting for you.’”