St Francis and His Care for the Environment
Considers the importance of the environment, with reference to St Francisí Day on 4 October
by Laurence Chilcott (revised, originally published in 2010)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider that St Francis was thinking about our relationship with the environment long before the awareness of recent years.
Preparation and materials
You will need images of statues of St Francis and the means to display them during the assembly.
You may also wish to display a Green Flag award for your school, or another environmental award if attained.
Note: St Francis was born in 1181 or 1182 and died in 1226 at the age of 44. He was the founder of the Franciscan Order of Friars. His feast day is held on 4 October. More information is available at: http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/st-francis-assisi-feast
By the end of this assembly, you will be able to see a link between a man who lived 800 years ago and the efforts that our school makes to save energy and care for the environment.
People have only recently begun to realize that we need to take care of our world so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy it. Our natural resources (coal, oil and gas, for example) will not last forever, and we know that we need to reduce waste and reuse or recycle what we can.
Today, scientists are working hard to develop more efficient ways of producing the energy that is so essential for our factories, for transport and for heat and light in our homes.
We can use power from the wind, sunlight and water to provide energy. These are known as renewable sources of energy because they can be used over and over again, and their power doesn’t get used up.
Schools have become more aware of the environment, and many have worked to gain environmental awards such as the Green Flag award. Often, children have helped to teach their parents how they can save energy and reduce waste.
St Francis lived 800 years ago. He believed that we all have a duty to protect our world and care for the creatures that live in it. He was thinking of conservation and sustainability long before the world realized their importance, so it is not surprising that he is the patron saint of animals and the environment.
Francis as a young man
In his youth, Francis didn’t have much time for the environment – he was too busy enjoying himself. He came from a wealthy family and made the most of the good times that his family money could buy. He loved sport, wore the most fashionable clothes and enjoyed feasting on the best food and wine with his friends.
In his early twenties, Francis became a soldier, but things did not go well for him – he was captured and spent a year as a prisoner of war. Around that time, either in prison or soon after his release, he became seriously ill. He began to see the emptiness of his life and became dissatisfied with the way money had become so important to him. He began to think about what he would do with the rest of his life.
Francis set out for war again, but then he felt that God told him to stop. Francis turned back, risking being called a coward. He decided to serve God in any way he could.
Francis the wandering preacher
Francis began by restoring churches that had become derelict. He also helped the sick and poor. He spent a lot of time walking in lonely places, praying that God would make it clear how he could serve him best.
Eventually, Francis realized that his wealth was holding him back from serving God, so he decided to give up all his possessions and money.
Francis’ father was very angry about this decision, and tried to persuade Francis that he was making the biggest mistake of his life. Also, his friends made fun of him and thought he had gone mad, but Francis had made up his mind and could not be persuaded to change it.
Wearing a rough cloak and barefoot, he walked from place to place telling people about God’s love and forgiveness.
The Franciscan brothers
After a few years of living and travelling alone, Francis was joined by others who helped him in his work for God. They lived in a deserted house near Francis’ home town of Assisi in Italy.
Francis called those who joined him ‘brothers’ and set them one very simple rule: ‘Follow Jesus and walk in his footsteps.’
In those days, you needed a licence from the Pope in Rome if you wanted to preach, so Francis went there with his first brothers and was granted a licence. In this way, the Franciscan Order, as it became known, was officially recognized.
More and more people joined the Franciscan Order and more organization was needed, but one thing remained most important – the brothers did not keep possessions or money for themselves. Francis believed that money and possessions would stop people from worshipping God because often, this was all they thought about.
Animals and the natural world
Respect for nature and animals was very important to Francis. It is said that he had a special way with animals, who did not seem to be afraid of him. We are told that one day, he even preached to the birds around him as he walked in the woods.
Another story tells of how Francis spoke to a wolf that had been killing animals and attacking people in a village. The wolf sat at his feet and Francis warned him to stop his attacks and make peace with the people. Francis led the wolf into the village and made a pact that, if the villagers fed the wolf, he would never attack again – and that’s just what happened.
There are still people who belong to the Franciscan Order and follow the rules and teaching of St Francis. They often live in small groups, helping people who are in need. They always try to make people aware of the environment and how important it is for us to care for our world and all living things.
In many ways, St Francis was ahead of his time. He should have been the first saint to earn his own Green Flag award!
Time for reflection
We all think about recycling and saving energy, but what can we do to help animals and small creatures?
St Francis let go of his interest in money and possessions. What things do we enjoy that cannot be bought?
We thank you for our world and for all the animals that live in it.
Help us to care for the world.
Help us to care for the animals.
Help us to care for the people.
So that the world can be enjoyed by those who come after us.
‘The prayer of St Francis (Make me a channel of your peace)’ (Come and Praise, 147)