National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi

The NATIONAL SHRINE OF SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI bears witness to Christ within the beautiful city named for the poor troubadour of God. The contemporary ministry of the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi invites pilgrims, visitors, and all people of faith to encounter God's love in its sanctuary of quiet and prayer.

Moreover, the Shrine offers a rich experience of the sacramental life of the Church for the Catholic faithful who come seeking spirituality, faith, and grace.

Mission: The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi, as with The Archdiocese of San Francisco, has a mission that is rooted in the Gospels and the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Central to that teaching is the inherent dignity and sacredness of each human being. We educate and advocate on this dignity in relation to the unborn child, the prisoner on death row, the homeless and hungry person on our streets, the elderly, the ill and disabled faced with the threat of assisted suicide, the stranger in our midst, and the poor and marginalized in our society and throughout the world. We are neither right nor left, Republican nor Democrat, but we formulate our agenda by the standard of human dignity that is reflected in our faith tradition. 1. It is the purpose of the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi to provide more abundant means of salvation, through the rich liturgical and devotional life of the Roman Catholic Church for the Christian faithful, including those who come as pilgrims from around the world to the City of San Francisco and the greater San Francisco Bay Area, who seek to encounter the living God through religious worship and special devotion to St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan saints. 2. It is the further purpose of the National Shrine to welcome, share and extend this same spiritual experience and devotion to St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan saints to pilgrims and visitors of all faiths, religions, denominations, and nationalities. 3. The Capuchin Franciscan Friars (OFM Cap.) and Staff of the National Shrine, therefore, provide a pastoral (i.e., welcoming and prayerful) environment with the hope that in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, spiritual nourishment healing and reconciliation will be found by all who visit the Shrine.

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St. Peter Baptiste and companions, Pray for us.

On February 6, Christians celebrate the memory of the first Japanese martyrs--26 Franciscans and Jesuits crucified at Nagasaki in 1597.

Although in the larger Church they are honored under the name of one of the Jesuits as St. Paul Miki and Companions, most of these martyrs were Franciscans. As you can see from the Japanese painting, six were Franciscan friar missionaries, headed by the Spaniard, Peter Baptist; besides 3 other friars from Spain, the group included a native Mexican friar, Felipe de Jesus, and a native of Portuguese India, Gonsalvo Garcia. The other Franciscans were 17 native Japanese Secular Franciscans, including two young boys (12 and 13 years of age). The general liturgical calendar singles out Paul Miki, who as a Jesuit in training, was the "highest ranking," ecclesiastically speaking, of the native Japanese, but in the Franciscan family we honor them under the name of Sts. Peter Baptist and companions.

These Franciscans and Jesuits all suffered for being Christians. Jesuits had been in Japan longer--since Francis Xavier arrived in 1549-- and generally pursued a strategy of strategic inculturation--trying to reach out first to the more educated Japanese elite. Then, in 1593, some Franciscan friars of the Discalced Reform had also arrived in Japan from the Philippines. The group was headed by Pedro Bautista Blasquez, a native of Avila, Spain, who had first worked as a missionary in Mexico before going to the Philippines in 1584 where he ministered for some years. Upon arriving in Japan the friars immediately reached out to lepers and other marginalized people at the bottom of Japanese society and preached openly. Both of these strategies -- the Jesuit and the Franciscan -- were effective in drawing large numbers of people to become Christian. By the late 1500s there were perhaps 300,000 Catholics in the country.

Philip of Jesus, the Mexican friar, had an unusual story. He entered the Discalced Franciscan friars in Mexico as a young man; however, he left the Order after a few months, going to the Philippines where he became a merchant. There he once again determined to devote his life to God and rejoined the Order in 1590. After some years of formation, he was ready to be ordained, and left the Philippines on a Spanish ship bound for Mexico. But the ship was driven off course, landing in Japan in July, 1596; unfortunately, the ship was also found to be carrying some soldiers and cannon, heightening fears among the Japanese rulers that foreigners were planning to invade their country. This soon precipitated the arrest of the missionaries.

After being rounded up, the missionaries and their lay coworkers were taken to the court of the military dictator Hideyoshi in Miyako (Kyoto), where they were condemned to death on January 3, 1597. They were then led on a month march through various towns until they reached Nagasaki where there was a large Christian population. Along the way they had to endure cold weather, lack of food, and the jeering of the crowds. When they got to Nagasaki, the exhausted prisoners were bound to crosses with chains and ropes; then executioners ran the body of each one through transversely with two spears.

The deaths of these martyrs were the first in a series of large-scale persecutions that lasted to 1640, killing missionaries and thousands of native Japanese, and driving the few remaining Christians in Japan underground for more than 200 years. The Japanese martyrs were canonized in 1862, just as Japan was opening up to trade with Western nations. The hidden Christians began to emerge in 1865, declaring themselves Catholic. Full freedom of religious expression was granted in 1871 allowing the Christian message to spread once more. Franciscan missionaries returned to Japan at the turn of the 20th century.

Today, let us remember the encouragement of St. Francis to his brothers and sisters who bring the Gospel to others: "All of them, wherever they may be, should remember that they gave themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. And for love of him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, because the Lord says, 'Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. . . and blessed are those who suffer persecution for the sake of justice, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs'" (Earlier Rule, 16.10-12).

Pray for us.

On February 4, Franciscans recall the memory of St. Joseph of Leonessa (1556-1612), a Capuchin friar noted for his zealous popular preaching, especially among marginalized peoples.

He was born Eufranio Desideri in 1556 in Leonessa, a town not far from Rieti, Italy, in the Apennine mountains. He was orphaned at the age of twelve and raised by a priest uncle. Against his wishes, Eufranio joined the Capuchin friars in his hometown in 1572 and made his novitiate in Assisi, where he was given the name Joseph. As a young friar, he was known for his zealous religious practice, especially rigorous fasting and being content with the poorest accommodations.

Carrying only a preaching cross tucked into his cord, Joseph spent his early years preaching throughout the more remote mountainous areas of central Italy to neglected populations. In 1587, he and several companions were sent by the Capuchin General to Istanbul to minister to over 4,000 Christian galley slaves confined in the Kasımpaşa quarter. The Capuchins tried to bring what charitable relief they could to these men languishing in inhumane conditions. Joseph devised a plan to approach the sultan to seek full freedom of conscience for the slaves but was arrested and condemned to death by being hung on hooks suspended from a gallows. After three days, he was cut down and allowed to go.

Returning to Italy, he resumed the life of an itinerant preacher. In the wake of the Council of Trent, Joseph spent much time and energy catechizing. He began a ministry of evangelization among shepherds who lacked even rudimentary knowledge of the faith. As he travelled about the region, he established hospitals, food banks, and homeless shelters. He went into the midst of conflict situations, trying to bring peace and reconciliation.

He died in Amatrice on 1612, not far from his hometown, following surgery (without anesthesia) to have a cancerous tumor removed. He was canonized in 1746. Devotion to him remains strong in central Italy.

“The Gospel and the good news of our Lord’s coming into the world through the Virgin Mary is not a matter for recording primarily on writing materials but in our hearts and souls. . . imprinted on peoples’ hearts through the infusion of grace by the Holy Spirit. . . Every Christian, then, must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the Gospel. This is what Saint Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart.’ Our heart is the parchment, through my ministry the Holy Spirit is the writer because ‘my tongue is nimble as the pen of a nimble scribe.’” St. Joseph.

St. Marianne Cope, Pray for us.

On Jan. 23, Franciscans celebrate the feast of St. Marianne Cope, the first American Franciscan woman to be canonized.

Barbara Cope was born in 1838 to Peter and Barbara Koob of Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany. Two years later the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York, where the name was eventually Anglicized to Cope. When her father became an invalid, Barbara, 14, as the eldest child at home, went to work in a textile factory to support her family. Upon his death in 1862, the younger children now being old enough to work themselves, she joined the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York with the name Marianne.

After profession the next year, Marianne began teaching in the congregation’s parish schools. She held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, in 1870 she founded the first public hospital in Syracuse, St. Joseph’s which she directed for seven years. Elected general superior in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881.

Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to staff a receiving station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were approached. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. Marianne wrote at the time: "I am hungry for the work and I wish with all my heart to be one of the chosen Ones, whose privilege it will be, to sacrifice themselves for the salvation of the souls of the poor Islanders... I am not afraid of any disease, hence it would be my greatest delight even to minister to the abandoned 'lepers.'"

On October 22, 1883, 'Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Kakaako Receiving Station outside Honolulu; they also opened a hospital and a school for girls on the island of Maui. In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Moloka'i – the leper “colony” where afflicted people were forcibly segregated. There they opened a home for “unprotected women and girls” in Kalaupapa. On Moloka'i she also took charge of the home that Saint Damien de Veuster had established there for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Moloka'i by introducing cleanliness, pride, and fun to the colony.

Mother Marianne continued her work on Moloka'i faithfully until the end of her life. Despite her long exposure to working with lepers (now called Hansen’s disease) she never contracted it. She died on August 9, 1918 and was beatified in 2005 and canonized seven years later.

The noted poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, visited Hawaii in 1889; impressed by Sister Marianne and her sisters, he penned the following lines:
"To the Reverend Sister Marianne,
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa."

"To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God."

"He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breasts of pain!
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores."

Holy Franciscan Martyrs, Pray for us.

On January 16, Franciscans celebrate the feast of St. Berard and four friar companions, the first martyrs of the Order, who were beheaded in Morocco on this date in 1220.

At the general chapter of the Friars Minor in 1219, the decision was made to send brothers to preach the Gospel in Muslim lands—this at a time when the Church had launched a new Crusade. Francis himself and a dozen other friars went east to the Holy Land, and Brother Giles and some companions, south, to Tunis. Berard and six other friars, Peter, Otho, Vitalis, Accursius, and Adjutus, were sent west, to territories ruled by the Almohad caliphate in Southern Spain and Morocco.

Little is known about the previous background of these friars; Berard, a native of Umbria, was the only one who knew Arabic. When they reached Aragon, Vitalis, the leader of the expedition, fell ill; he begged the other friars to continue without him under Berard's guidance. After visiting Portugal, they crossed into Muslim territory and headed for Seville. There Berard and his companions took a bold, confrontational approach in their preaching, calling their hearers to convert, even though any attempt on the part of Christians to evangelize in a Muslim county was considered blasphemy, carrying a penalty of death.

Both the Muslim rulers and local Christians in Seville thought the friars' approach was insane and tried to dissuade them from preaching in this fashion. After admonishing them, however, the ruler of Seville, seeing they were still convinced of their mission, let them go on to Morocco. There too the friars continued to characterize Mohammed as a false prophet; finally, in Marrakesh the caliph Yusuf II had them tortured; afterward, he tried to induce them to embrace Islam, but the friars remained steadfast. Enraged, the young caliph personally beheaded them with a scimitar. The bodies of the martyrs were ransomed and brought to Coimbra, Portugal; the ceremonies around this event inspired a young Portuguese religious to join the Franciscans. He would become famous as Anthony of Padua.

Following his own experience of going among Muslims, Francis in 1221 included the following prescription in the earlier version of the Rule of the Friars Minor, encouraging his brothers when they lived among people of other religions, to first take a path of humble presence, and to preach openly only when they saw it was opportune (chapter 16):

"As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among the Saracens and nonbelievers in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake (Ti 3:2 2 Tm 2:14) and to acknowledge that they are Christians (1 Pt 2:13). The other way is to announce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord, in order that [unbelievers] may believe in almighty God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, the Son, the Redeemer and Savior, and be baptized and become Christians because no one can enter the kingdom of God without being reborn of water and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5). . . ."

"And wherever they may be, let all my brothers remember that they have given themselves and abandoned their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ. For love of Him, they must make themselves vulnerable to their enemies, both visible and invisible, because the Lord says: Whoever loses his life because of me will save it in eternal life. (Lk 9:24 Mt 25:46)."

There is a video of these martyrs available at:

#saintberardandcompanions #firstfranciscanmartyrs

Franciscan Intellectual-Spiritual Tradition

On December 12, Catholics in the Americas celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Franciscans were there at the beginning of this story.

As the late Dr. Gary Francisco Keller, Director of the Hispanic Research Center of Arizona State University says, “The Franciscans and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe go together hand in hand. Franciscans were the first missionaries to come to Nueva España, beginning with Pedro de Gante in 1523 and, in 1524, the Twelve Franciscan Apostles of New Spain . . The work of these Franciscans marked the beginning of the systematic evangelization of the indigenous peoples of Mexico."

Dr. Keller’s Center has available on its website an important source document: the "Nican Mopohua," which narrates the apparitions of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (“Talking Eagle”), on December 9, 10, and the culminating day, December 12, 1531. As Dr. Keller continued: “The Franciscan order was the one on watch during those days. Bishop-designate, and subsequently the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, OFM (1468 – 1548), after a couple of days of hesitation, accepted the authenticity of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the humble, devout 'macehualtzin,' Juan Diego, who had agonized about going to the bishop: “Because I am really (just) a man from the country, I am a (porter's) rope, I am a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance: I myself need to be led, carried on someone's back; that place you are sending me to is a place where I'm not used to going to or spending any time in, my little Virgin, my Youngest Daughter, my Lady, Beloved Maiden.”

As Dr. Keller concludes: “Juan Diego doubted his ability to carry it off with the bishop but placed his faith in the Holy Mother, ‘my little Virgin,’ and Juan de Zumárraga at first was doubtful and skeptical. Ultimately, they both succeeded. The rest is history.”

To read this fascinating source for yourself- the "Nican Mopohua" - in four languages - Náhuatl (mexicano), and Spanish, English, and Italian translations - go to this website:çoltica-and-nican-mopohua

For a beautiful reflection by Pope Francis three years ago on the significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, see (Spanish text first, then English translation):

Franciscan Intellectual-Spiritual Tradition

On November 26, as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., Franciscans around the world also honor the memory of St. Leonard of Port Maurice (1676-1751), famous preacher of parish missions.

Leonard was born in the town of Porto Maurizio on the Italian Riviera, then in the Republic of Genoa, where his father was a ship captain. At the age of 13, he was sent to live with an uncle in Rome where he attended the Jesuit college and the Gregorian University to prepare himself for a career in medicine. However, he discerned a religious vocation instead and entered the Reformed Friars Minor of the Strict Observance in Rome in 1697. When he was ordained in 1703, he hoped to spend his life preaching the Gospel in China, but was refused due to his frail health. Instead, he devoted his life to the ministry of evangelization in his homeland.

For 40 years Leonard tirelessly preached parish missions, Lenten sermons, and retreats throughout Italy to draw people to a life of true conversion. For the first decades of his ministry, he was based in Florence, preaching throughout Tuscany, but after 1736 he was stationed in Rome, although he branched out from there for tours in other regions. Enormous crowds would turn out to hear him, leading St. Alphonsus Liguori to call him "the great missionary of the the (18th) century."

Throughout his preaching, he promoted devotion to the Way of the Cross; he erected over 500 sets of "Stations" throughout Italy, most famously in the Roman Coliseum. Exhausted by his long labors, he died in the friary where he had entered the Order, San Bonaventura on the Palatine Hill in Rome, in 1751.
Leonard left many writings: sermons, letters, and devotional treatise. He was beatified in 1796 and was canonized in 1867. Pius XI declared him the patron of all those preaching parish missions. Since 1996, his remains are in the cathedral of his home town, Porto Maurizio.

"In a hundred places in Holy Scripture, God tells us that it is truly his desire to save all people. 'Is it my will that a sinner should die, and not that he should be converted from his ways and live?... I live, says the Lord God. I desire not the death of the sinner. Be converted and live.' When someone wants something very much, it is said that he is dying with desire; this is a hyperbole. But God has wanted and still wants our salvation so much that he died of desire: he suffered death to give us life. This will to save all people is therefore not an affected and superficial will in God; it is a real, effective, and beneficial will; for God provides each of us with all the means most proper for us to be saved."

"What salutary insights will continuous meditation on the bitter passion of the Son of God stir up in the soul! Daily experience has taught me that by the devout prayer of the Way of the Cross people's lives are quickly changed for the better. . . "

"If the Lord at the moment of my death reproves me for being too kind to sinners, I will answer, 'My dear Jesus, if it is a fault to be too kind to sinners, it is a fault I learned from you, for you never scolded anyone who came to you seeking mercy."

St. Leonard of Port Maurice

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