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«Questo fratello Francesco...»

A visit to the Franciscan sanctuaries Fonte Colombo and Greccio.

The cave of Fonte Colombo

During a Sunday visit to the places where the saint of Assisi lived, we were guided by some texts from the Franciscan Sources.

At Fonte Colombo where St Francis received the rule:

When blessed Francis was on a mountain with Brother Leo of Assisi and Brother Bonizo of Bologna to make the Rule, because the first, which he had written at Christ's instruction, was lost. A great many ministers gathered around Brother Elias, who was the vicar of blessed Francis. «We heard that Brother Francis is making a new rule», they told him, «and we fear that he will make it so harsh that we will not be able to observe it. We want you to go to him and tell him that we refuse to be bound to that Rule. Let him make it for himself and not for us». Brother Elias replied to them that he did not want to go because he feared the rebuke of Brother Francis. When they insisted that he go, he said that he refused to go without them; so they all went. When Brother Elias, with those ministers, was near the place where blessed Francis was staying, he called him. Blessed Francis responded and, seeing those ministers, he said: «What do these brothers want?» Brother Elias answered: «These are ministers, who heard that you are making a new rule. They fear that you are making it very harsh, and they say, and say publicly, that they refuse to be bound by it. Make it for yourself and not for them.»
Then blessed Francis turned his face to heaven and spoke to Christ in this way: «Lord! Didn't I tell you they wouldn't believe you?» The voice of Christ was then heard in the air, saying «Francis, nothing of yours is in the Rule: whatever is there is all mine. And I want the Rule observed in this way: to the letter, to the letter, to the letter, and without a gloss, without a gloss, without a gloss.» And He added: «I know how much human weakness is capable of, and how much I want to help them. Those who refuse to observe it should leave the Order.» Then blessed Francis turned to the brothers and said: «Did you hear? Did you hear? Do you want me to have you told again?» Then the ministers, confused and blaming themselves, departed. [Leggenda perugina, n.1672]

In Greccio, where St Francis invited the living nativity scene 800 years ago:

The day of gladness drew nigh, the time of exultation arrived. The brethren, were summoned from many places; the men and women of that town with exulting hearts prepared tapers and torches, as they were able to illuminate that night which with its radiant Star has illuminated all the days and years. At length the Saint of God came, and finding all things prepared, beheld them and rejoiced. The manger had been made ready, the hay ass were led in. There Simplicity was honored, Poverty exalted, Humility commended; and of Greccio there was made as it were a new Bethlehem. The night was lit up as the day, and was delightful to men and beasts. The people came, and at the new Mystery rejoiced with new rejoicing. The woodland rang with voices, the rocks made answer to the jubilant throng. The brethren sang, yielding due praises to the Lord, and all that night resounded with jubilation. The Saint of God stood before the manger, full of sighs, overcome with tenderness and filled with wondrous joy. The solemnities of Mass were celebrated over the manger, and the priest enjoyed a new consolation.
The Greccio nativity grotto
Francis was vested with Levitical ornaments, for he was a Levite, and with sonorous voice chanted the holy Gospel: an earnest, sweet, clear and loud sounding voice; inviting all to the highest rewards. Then he preached to the people who stood around, and uttered mellifluous words concerning the birth of the poor King and the little town of Bethlehem. And often, when he would name Christ Jesus, aglow with exceeding love he would call Him the Child of Bethlehem, and, uttering the word "Bethlehem" in the manner of a sheep bleating, he filled his mouth with the sound, but even more his whole self with the sweet affection. Moreover, in naming "the Child of Bethlehem" or "Jesus" he would, as it were, lick his lips, relishing with happy palate, and swallowing the sweetness of that word. There the gifts of the Almighty were multiplied, and a vision of wondrous efficacy was seen by a certain man; for in the manger he saw a little child lying lifeless, to whom the Saint of God seemed to draw near and (as it were) to rouse the child from the lethargy of sleep. Nor was this vision incongruous; for the child Jesus had been given over to forgetfulness in the hearts of many in whom, by the working of His Grace, He was raised up again through His servant Francis and imprinted on a diligent memory. At length the solemn vigil was ended, and each one returned with joy to his own place. [Celano - Vita prima, n. 469-470]


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