Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the Footsteps of Francis and Clare

By Roch Niemier, O.F.M., St. Anthony Messenger Press, 205 pages.

Father Roch Niemier, with extensive experience as a pilgrim leader to Italy, writes a geography of Franciscan holy places. His generous use of near-eyewitness accounts of the saint's life enlivens the ancient chapels, cities, woods, and mountains, which is important since tradition associates St. Francis with the beauty and holiness of the natural world and his time in Rome and Assisi.

Niemier also associates geography with the saint's famous love for lepers, as near the Maddalena chapel: “One day he was riding his horse near Assisi, when he met a leper. And, even though he usually shuddered at lepers, he made himself dismount, and gave him a coin, kissing his hand as he did so.”

The author uses these stories to argue that Francis came closer to any other human being in imitating Christ. These near-eyewitness accounts reflect the powerful character of Francis, just as the New Testament's stories show Jesus' powerful character. Thus when Francis' fasting became too much for a young friar in the middle of the night, the saint “encouraged all the friars to eat together so as not to embarrass the one who awoke with the complaint. Throughout the night they ate and laughed and told stories, as they were often given to do, transforming that hovel of Rivotorto into a veritable banquet hall.”

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