The feast of St. Francis got a boost of national attention this year when NPR broadcast a live video of the animal blessing at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C.. The clip, posted on Facebook on Saturday, a few days before the feast day, showed 17 minutes of pets and of people — visitors who came to the annual commemoration in the nation’s capital in honor of the Franciscans’ patron saint.
The video attracted attention of more than 312,000 people who watched and got to know an aspect of the message of the beloved Francis of Assisi, whose feast is Oct. 4. The coverage gave viewers a glimpse of what many people appreciate about the saint and patron of the Order who died in 1226 — Francis’s love for all creation.
A reporter, Parth Shah, strolled the grounds of the monastery in northeast Washington, talking with animal owners who described why the feast is important to them.
This holiday transcends religion, according to the reporter, who described one of the most notable stories of Francis being about “the wolf.”
“It’s really special the way this event brings people together,” said a visitor.
Fr. Greg Friedman, OFM, of St. John the Baptist Province, who is stationed at the monastery, said the blessing “was better” than he had expected. “It was a good turnout, given the rainy weather of this morning.”
Two days later, more attention was given to the feast when the Transitus — the commemoration of Francis’s passage from earthly life to everlasting life — was presented at the Franciscan Monastery and broadcast by Catholic News Service.
A story on CatholicPhilly.com described the homily given that Monday evening by Fr. Thomas Washburn, OFM, of Immaculate Conception Province, and the popularity of St. Francis.
“The moment of his death can touch on the somber as much as the Franciscans, popularly known for their joy, can make it,” said the article. “But in Washington this year, St. Francis was very much alive to those gathered at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land as many spoke of a revival of sorts taking place in the Franciscan Order and one they owe to the world’s most famous Jesuit of our day.”
“We have to acknowledge a renewed Franciscan spirit in our world precisely because of this new Francis who has shaken up the Church, shaken up the world and hopefully, shaken up all of us,” said Fr. Tom Washburn, referring to Pope Francis during the ritual known as the Transitus.
According to the article, “Fr. Jim Gardiner, a Franciscan Friar of the Atonement who is stationed at the monastery, said some in the general public find comfort and sweetness in the cute and popular notion of St. Francis surrounded by birds or other animals, but if you study his life and think about it, ‘he was subversive, really, in terms of the values of the world. He wanted to turn the world upside down.’ That message is one that is affecting a modern world that finds itself surrounded by a reality and values that may not be as great as they seem,” he said.
“Deep down inside, they’re uncomfortable with the superficiality of today, the ramped-up consumerism, the racism, the stratification of society,” Fr. Gardiner said. “The spirituality Francis set out offers freedom from that.”
A group of HNP friars and postulants from Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., attended the Oct. 3 prayer service commemorating the day 790 years ago when Francis died.
As described by the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition, Francis’s “health had been sharply declining and several months previously, he had asked to come home to Assisi. Francis was being nursed in the bishop’s residence in the city, but aware that his death was imminent, “he asked to be carried to St Mary of the Portiuncula so that he might yield up the spirit of life where he had received the spirit of grace.” After exhorting and consoling his brothers, “he asked that the book of the Gospels be brought and the Gospel according to John be read from the place that begins ‘Before the Feast of Passover’ (Jn 13:1). He himself, insofar as he was able, broke out with the Psalm: ‘I have cried to the Lord with my voice’ (Ps. 142). . . At last, when all God’s mysteries were fulfilled in him, the blessed man fell asleep in the Lord” (Bonaventure, “Major Legend,” 14.5-6).
The traditional Oct. 3 service in Washington was one of many held around the country in honor of the feast of St. Francis.
Photos of feast day observances –— the Transitus, pet blessings and other feast celebrations — that took place around Holy Name Province can be found on the websites and social media pages of HNP ministries. Facebook pages that show commemorations include those of Sacred Heart Parish in Tampa, Fla., St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md., St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City and St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J. Commemorations held at the Province-sponsored schools can be found on the websites of Siena College and St. Bonaventure University.
— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “General Minister Shares Feast Day Message” — Oct. 4, 2016, HNP Today
- “Reflection: The Appeal of St. Francis” — Oct. 4, 2016, HNP Today
- “‘Laudato Si’ Inspires Francis Feast Celebrations” — Sept. 30, 2015, HNP Today
- “Anniversary of St. Francis as Patron of Ecology” — Nov. 4, 2014, HNP Today
- “Urban Hermitage Offers Sanctuary of Silence in Nation’s Capital” — Aug. 15, 2014, HNP Today