Occasionally in the Church some spirit is raised up who proves to have a universal significance that endures through the ages. Such a one was Francis of Assisi, whose life continues to inspire countless thousands of Christians, and even people of other faiths and none.
When the present pope chose the name Francis, the Church thrilled with a sense of something new, radical, focused on Jesus and the poor. The name Francis alone symbolizes a way of life that challenges and offers hope. It returns us to the basic message of Christianity, the love that is ever ancient, ever new, and demands a response on our part.
Francis was born in 1182. It was the era of the crusades, which heralded enormous changes in the Christian West. During his lifetime Francis himself was to go to the East, not as a fighting Crusader, but as one who wanted to bring peace through dialogue and understanding.
It was also a new era of lay holiness. There was a reaction to the wealth of the Church and its distance from the ordinary person.
People flocked to the growing cities, but for most it was a life of misery and squalor. They were uprooted from the land they had lived on for years, and there was little provision in urban areas for their spiritual welfare or material well-being.
Elizabeth Ruth Obbard was born into an army family and educated in England and Germany. After completing her schooling, she entered the Carmelite Order where she has been a contemplative nun for many years and is currently living in the Carmelite monastery in Quidenham, Norfolk. She has written and illustrated many books, particularly on the lives of saints.