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By LEONARDO BOFF*

No one was as radical as he was: the last real Christian

October 04th is the day of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis, as the friars used to affectionately call him. He was someone who took Jesus' project so far that he ended up identifying with him. For this reason, it is called firstthe one after the One, Jesus Christ or also the Last one Christian. The Tradition of Jesus generated countless followers, among men and women. But no one was as radical as he was: the last real Christian.

According to historian Arnold Toynbee, and philosopher Max Scheler, professor of Martin Heidegger, Francis was the greatest man the West produced. He overflows the Franciscan Order and no longer belongs to the Catholic Church, but to humanity. He became the universal brother. He inspired Pope Francis to write two encyclicals on integral ecology: On caring for our common home (2015) and All brothers and sisters (2020). Movingly, he says, Francisco “is the example for taking care of what is fragile; any creature was a sister, united to him by bonds of affection, because he felt called to take care of everything that exists” (n. 10 and 11).

Francis is also called the Poor thing the poor thing from Assisi or also from Fratello, the little brother of every creature. Among others, three characteristics mark him as a person: poverty, fraternity and minority.

A poverty for Francis it is not an ascetic exercise. It's a way of life. It consists of removing everything that might distance me from the other: possessions, knowledge and, above all, interests. As the word suggests, “interest” is what stands between (inter)me and another. I wanted to get rid of it all. Get on your knees, level with each other, to be eye to eye and face to face. Without distance, you feel the other as your brother or sister, their skin, their eyes and the beating of their hearts.

A fraternity results from this poverty. To be poor in order to be more brother and sister and to form a human and also cosmic community. With deep humility he welcomed the dark humus from which we all originate in his words, “mother and sister Earth”, also all beings of nature. The earthworm who struggles to dig a hole in the hard ground of the path, he carefully takes it to a damp place. He sees a broken branch and runs to bandage it so it can revive. He hears the cotivas singing and asks leave to join them in their psalms. He sought the unity of creation between human beings and all creation. In full crusade against Muslims, he crosses the front and go and talk to the Sultan of Egypt. It wasn't to convert him. It was to fraternize with him and pray together. They become great friends. Even Gubbio's ferocious wolf is made a brother and makes him reconcile with the whole city.

A minority born of poverty and universal fraternity. There were, in his time, the “bigger" the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy with the Pope at its head, the rich merchants of the Communes, like his father, who were forming and leaving feudal hierarchies behind. And there were the “minor”, the servants of the gleba, the employees of the fabric dyeing factories, living in miserable conditions. And there were also the lepers (the lepers), rejected and isolated, outside the city.

They are the powerless. It is with these that Francisco will live and live together. He joins the leprosy people, eats from the same bowl as theirs, cleans their sores and embraces them like brothers and sisters. He disowns all power. He knows that power is the greatest human temptation, because it makes us seem like “little gods” who define the destiny of others. Well did Hobbes watch in his Leviathan: "the power to secure itself seeks more and more power and it ceases only with death". The sages of all traditions warn us: where power reigns, there love disappears and tenderness disappears; competition prevails, tension arises, conflict erupts and even the murder of the other may occur. To be a “minor” for Francis is to join the powerless, to participate in their marginalization and resolutely refuse to assume any power. He did not devise any institution to assist them. He did more. He went to live with them and share their lot.

Finally, it is worth mentioning his deep love for Clara. Rarely in Christian history has there been so much harmony between the animus and encourage. They did not run away from the most rewarding and profound experience of human love nor from its subtleties. In the real and true love between them, they found the Greater Love that united them more deeply and also with all creatures.

*Leonardo Boff is a philosopher and ecologist. Author, among other books, of Francis of Assisi: tenderness and vigor (Voices).

 

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