The following letter by IAF Chairman S. Acunto is part of the Frate Francesco: Traces, Words, Images exhibit co-sponsored by the Italian Academy Foundation, Inc. For more information, please visit the website.
When the Holy Father selected Francis for his Papal name, he presented to a world in conflict the image of one of history’s great healers, one of the few figures who can easily be identified and characterized universally as a sainted apostle of peace, St Francis of Assisi. The Saint journeyed East and West to bring his message of peace, love and respect for all God’s creations.
Writing in London, 1885, Margaret Oliphant, in her popular Biography of the Saint, underlined again and again his bridge-like presence between East and West, notably in her chapter ”The Expedition to Syria”. Her words:
“…Francis set out on his long cherished mission…He went as he had planned to go among the Moors … thus accomplishing a more effectual crusade than could be undertaken by the arms of the Western powers.”
Today as rarely before, while bitter contention reigns far and wide among peoples of the Occident and Orient alike – spurred to a continuous gallop of anxious rhetoric by electronic news and communications – a shared visceral understanding of our common purpose as human beings and fellow travelers on this earth has never demanded such a strong emphasis. Through the guiding hands of Francis, may peace and humility knock at the door gently, as if to awaken us to the simple, ever present possibility of a new world inspired by peace, under the supreme guidance of Divine love.
No less a poet than Dante points to the example and the heavenly presence of St. Francis, in the 11th Canto of Paradiso:
Però chi d’esso loco fa parole,
non dica Ascesi, ché direbbe corto,
ma Oriente, se proprio dir vuole.
Non era ancor molto lontan da l’orto,
ch’el cominciò a far sentir la terra
de la sua gran virtute alcun conforto;
ché per tal donna, giovinetto, in guerra
del padre corse, a cui, come a la morte,
la porta del piacer nessun diserra;
e dinanzi a la sua spirital corte
et coram patre le si fece unito;
poscia di dì in dì l’amò più forte.
Questa, privata del primo marito,
millecent’anni e più dispetta e scura
fino a costui si stette sanza invito;
né valse udir che la trovò sicura
con Amiclàte, al suon de la sua voce,
colui ch’a tutto ‘l mondo fé paura;
né valse esser costante né feroce,
sì che, dove Maria rimase giuso,
ella con Cristo pianse in su la croce.
Ma perch’io non proceda troppo chiuso,
Francesco e Povertà per questi amanti
prendi oramai nel mio parlar diffuso.
La lor concordia e i lor lieti sembianti,
amore e maraviglia e dolce sguardo
facieno esser cagion di pensier santi;
The present exhibit fills out further the brilliant picture of one of the brightest, paradigmatic icons in history, wed to poverty, humility, and love of all God’s creations.
The message of St. Francis surely will not be lost upon the thousands of visitors to this exhibit nor upon the world.
May the spirit of Francis figure forcefully into a new equation of light and love that will add up to peace in our time!
– S. Acunto