St. Francis of Assisi is known for loving and celebrating creation and for being a man of peace and poverty, Pope Francis said.
"When I chose to call myself Francis, I knew I was referring to a saint who is very popular, but also very misunderstood," he told members of the Coordinating Committee for the Franciscan Eighth Centenary.
Very often people do not understand the "root" and "source" of everything the saint loved and did, which was Jesus Christ, the pope said. St. Francis "is one in love with Jesus Christ and, who in order to follow him, is not afraid to make a fool of himself but goes forward. The source of his whole experience is faith."
Pope Francis spoke about the saint Oct. 31 during an audience at the Vatican with members of the committee in charge of coordinating the preparation and celebration of a series of anniversaries of important events in the final years of St. Francis' life.
The events commemorate the 800th anniversaries of: the Rule of St. Francis and Christmas at Greccio (2023); the stigmata (2024); the "Canticle of the Creatures" (2025); and "the Easter of Francis" (2026), according to a press release from the ministers general of the different men's orders within the "Franciscan Family."
Pope Francis told the committee members that people today can discover more about St. Francis by "finding in his evangelical life the way to follow in Jesus' footsteps. Concretely, this means listening, walking and proclaiming to the peripheries."
St. Francis listened to the voice of Jesus say, "go and repair my house," and the young Francis responded "promptly and generously" by "putting himself at the service of the church, loving it and working so that the face of Christ might be reflected more and more in it," the pope said.
St. Francis "never stood still, walking through countless towns and villages in Italy, never failing to be close to the people," he said. The Christian community today must have the same ability to "'go out to meet,' rather than to 'wait in the wings'" and "retreat into itself."
Proclaiming the Gospel to the peripheries is a way to bring the faith needed to "breathe" the Holy Spirit back into "a closed and individualistic world," the pope said.
"With this additional breath, huge current challenges, such as peace, care for the common home and a new model of development, can be met without buckling under facts that seem insurmountable," he said.
The pope said he hoped the "spiritual and cultural journey" of their centennial events can be combined with the Holy Year of 2025 "in the conviction that St. Francis of Assisi still urges the church to live out her fidelity to Christ and her mission today."