Pope Francis recently stated,  ‘When I chose to call myself Francis, I knew I was referring to a saint who is very popular, but also very misunderstood.’  He continued, ‘Francis of Assisi is known for loving and celebrating creation and for being a man of peace and poverty.

Yet very often people do not understand the root and source of everything the saint loved and did, which was Jesus Christ. St Francis is one in love with Jesus Christ and, who in order to follow him, is not afraid to make a fool of himself but goes forward. The source of his whole experience is faith.’

The Pope was speaking to the members of the Coordinating Committee for the Franciscan Eighth Centenary on 31 October. This committee, from all the various branches of the Franciscan Family, is in charge of coordinating the preparation and celebration of a series of anniversaries of important events in the final years of St Francis’ life.

The events will commemorate the 800th anniversaries of the Rule of St Francis and Christmas at Greccio (2023); the Stigmata (2024); the ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ (2025); and his death – ‘the Easter of Francis’ (2026).

The Pope said he hoped the ‘spiritual and cultural journey’ of these Franciscan events can be combined with the Church’s Holy Year in 2025 ‘in the conviction that St. Francis of Assisi still urges the Church to live out her fidelity to Christ and her mission today.’

Pope Francis told the committee members that people today can discover more about St Francis by ‘finding in his evangelical life the way to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Concretely, this means listening, walking and proclaiming to the peripheries.’

St Francis listened to the voice of Jesus say, ‘Go and repair my house,’ and the young Francis responded ‘promptly and generously by putting himself at the service of the Church, loving it and working so that the face of Christ might be reflected more and more in it.’

Francis ‘never stood still, walking through countless towns and villages in Italy, never failing to be close to the people,” he said. ‘The Christian community today must have the same ability to ‘go out to meet,’ rather than to wait in the wings and retreat into itself.

Proclaiming the Gospel to the peripheries is a way to bring the faith needed to ‘breathe the Holy Spirit back into a closed and individualistic world. With this additional breath of the Spirit, huge current challenges, such as peace, care for the common home and a new model of development, can be met without buckling under facts that seem insurmountable.’

The Holy Father emphasised the need to ‘jointly interpret the imitation of Christ and the love for the poor’ and not to let the celebrations be ‘mere ritual occasions’.