“We are all called to be poor, to strip us of ourselves; and to do this we must learn how to be with the poor, to share with those who lack basic necessities, to touch the flesh of Christ! The Christian is not one who speaks about the poor, no! He is one who encounters them, who looks them in the eye, who touches them. I am here not to “make news”, but to indicate that this is the Christian path, the path St Francis followed. St Bonaventure, speaking of the renunciation of St Francis, writes: “Thus, then, the servant of the Most High King was left despoiled, that he might follow the Lord Whom he loved”. And adds that in this way Francis was saved from “the shipwreck of the world” (FF1043)”.
These are the words of Pope Francis, spoken during his meeting on 4th October with the poor assisted by the Caritas of Assisi. They are strong words of encouragement and motivation for us all, but especially for those whose mission is to take care of and be near to the poor every day.
We are receiving reports from Syria, where the friars of the custody have chosen – not by coincidence – to re-start their educational work with the children on 4th October, Saint Francis’ date of birth. It’s a day which, even through times of great hardship, can still fill the heart with joy. In Syria, as in all the Holy Land, the devotion to the Little Poor Man of Assisi dates back almost 800 years to when, in 1219, after the fourth – and disastrous – crusade, Saint Francis came to the Holy Land, and was granted permission to speak with Sultan Malik Al-Kamil. The style of their encounter, of their exchange and of openness to each other is a fundamental part of the charism of those who take the legacy of Francis and live it out daily in Syria.
The Custody is still present today, and is at the service of all – both Christians and Muslims – through times of great difficulty. The friars continue, tirelessly, to pay rent on homes and cure the sick. Sometimes, however, it becomes more of a business. One of the friars in Damascus tells us: “We’ve been told about one parishioner who died the other day from a high fever followed by a fractured femur. There was no medicine in the house, and nobody had been able to get any for a number of days. We are now equipping ourselves, and we’ve started to produce home-made medicine to be able to handle emergencies”.
In order to help the friars meet these needs, we’d like to remind you of the invitation to participate in fundraising for Emergency Syria. It only takes a little to show solidarity with these brothers, as Pope Francis said again during his homily on 4th October at Assisi:
“We turn to you, Francis, and we ask you: Teach us to remain before the cross, to let the crucified Christ gaze upon us, to let ourselves be forgiven, and recreated by his love. (…) Teach us to be “instruments of peace”, of that peace which has its source in God, the peace which Jesus has brought us.
(…) Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world.”