SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI
Francis Bernardone was born the son of Pietro di Bernardone, a rich cloth merchant in Assisi in Italy. He led a wealthy and privileged life, wearing clothes made of the best materials and was well-educated. With a future guaranteed in his father's business, some of his youth was mis-spent. His experiences as a soldier, during which time he was a prisoner of war, led him to a more sombre and religious life. He undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and returned to Assisi following spiritual visions and mystical experiences. He decided to devote his life to the Christian faith and renounced all of his wealth preferring to lead a life of poverty. His evangelical preaching inspired others to follow him and in 1209 Francis and his first followers went to Rome to ask permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. The pope agreed and Francis of Assisi became the founder of the Franciscan Order. In his love for God, he was said to have preached to birds and animals which explains his association with nature and all of God's creatures. Francis of Assisi is also famous for the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. Saint Francis of Assisi died in 1226 of natural cause.
SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI
On Palm Sunday, March 17, 1212, the Bishop of Assisi left the altar to present a palm to a noble maiden, eighteen years of age, whom bashfulness had detained in her place. This maiden was St. Clare. Already she had learnt from St. Francis to despise the world, and was secretly resolved to live for God alone. That same night, she escaped, with one companion, to the church of Our Lady of the Angels - the Portiuncula - where she was met by St. Francis and his brethren. At the altar of Our Lady, St. Francis cut off her hair, clothed her in a habit of penance, a piece of sack-cloth, with a cord as a girdle. Thus she was espoused to Christ. In a impoverished house outside Assisi, she founded her order, and was joined by her sister, fourteen years of age, and afterwards by her mother and other noble ladies. They went barefoot, observed perpetual abstinence, constant silence, and perfect poverty. While the Saracen army of Frederick II. was ravaging the valley of Spoleto, a body of infidels advanced to assault St. Clare's convent, which stood outside Assisi. The Saint caused the Blessed Sacrament to be placed in a monstrance, above the gate of the monastery facing the enemy, and kneeling before it, prayed, "Deliver not to beasts, O Lord, the souls of those who confess to Thee." A voice from the Host replied, "My protection will never fail you." A sudden panic seized the infidel host, which took to flight, and the saint's convent was spared. During her illness of twenty-eight years the Holy Eucharist was her only support and spinning linen for the altar the one work of her hands. She died in 1253, as the Passion was being read, and Our Lady and the angels conducted her to glory.
SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE
The Inspiration of the Marian way of Franciscan Life.
Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan. He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, remained frail all his life. Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Militia of the Immaculata devoted to our Lady. After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the movement through a magazine entitled "The Knight of the Immaculata" and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.
Maximilian went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the movement. In 1936 he returned home because of ill health. After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time. But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for the escape of a prisoner, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father. He was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast day is August 14th.
SAINT PIO OF PIETRELCINA
Francesco, named in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, was born to Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione, peasant farmers, in the small Italian village of Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887. From his childhood, it was evident that he was a special child of God. Francesco was very devout even as a child, and at an early age felt drawn to the priesthood. He became a Capuchin novice at the age of sixteen and received the habit in 1902. Francesco was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 after seven years of study and became known as Padre Pio.
On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion, making him the first stigmatised priest in the history of Church. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds. Upon his death in 1968, the wounds were no longer visible. In fact, there was no scarring and the skin was completely renewed. He had predicted 50 years prior that upon his death the wounds would heal. The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio.
The blood from the stigmata had an odour described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers, and the gift of bilocation was attributed to him. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession which he heard for ten or twelve hours a day. Padre Pio used the confessional to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. Even before his death, people spoke to Padre Pio about his possible canonisation. He died on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one. His funeral was attended by about 100,000 people.
On June 16, 2002, over 500,000 Padre Pio devotees gathered in Rome to witness Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. The Padre Pio Foundation and many benefactors traveled to Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, Pietrelcina, Piana Romana and many other holy places to celebrate Padre Pio's canonisation.