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Saint Francis of Assisi

The paradox

Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of San Francisco and there is something paradoxical about this since The City was born out of the Gold Rush and its frenzied search for wealth. More recently, Silicon Valley was boasting about its capacity to create millionaires by the minute and the biotech industry is pointedly focused on the new pharmaceutical gold; social networks, which were created to help us connect (so we were told) turned out to be very successful as new addictions and new marketing strategies; and lastly, financial experts decided more recently to bypass the old gold and silver standards and created a new precious material called "bitcoin"; all of these industries just mentioned were practically born in the Bay Area and are EXTREMELY profitable to some of us… So the paradox is still alive in the City between the current enormous wealth of some inhabitants, the homeless population in the streets and the poverty of its patron saint.

His essential embrace of "Poverty"

Francis himself embraced poverty as the true answer to our problems in this world and his radical challenge is forever calling us to re-examine ourselves and re-align our intentions towards the common good. This part of Francis call has been ringing especially true for a few years now with ecology activists embracing a life where energies would be 1) used more sparingly and 2) shared more generously, both of these directives being very Franciscan at heart! Not only they are good for the planet and our ecological responsibilities, but it makes sense to me that they would be beneficial for the common good in terms of economic realities. How to practically put them into place is the challenge of our day in our western democracies. Francis call to poverty might seem so extreme to us nowadays since he shed not only his clothes but any type of personal property or material profit, but in between his approach and our current western liberal consumerist form of capitalism, there is got to be a large range of possibilities. I hear it as a call to simplicity and sobriety. How to articulate it clearly so it will resonate not only with individuals but with big business and big government is the crux of the challenge. I I am not sure that the ability to explain the practical means of this call should be left to politicians (who are easily demagogs and manipulators of facts and data just to win elections), I see it more as the domain of philosophers and religious leaders, of intellectuals or artists as long as they care about the common good more than their own fame and celebrity status. Just as Francis cared about God and the common good more than anything else.

Saint Francis of Assisie statue in front of City College

Statue by the sculpter (Bene) Bufano in front of City College in SF, statue made of melted guns and roses, this is a beautiful statue, combining modern elements with tradition in a very elegant, stylised and eternal way. It is such a valuable tribute to the gifts of Saint Francis and to the works of his life and there are numerous works of Bufano in the City and I like this one, in this location, a lot. Bufano was a controversial character - which is quite fitting with The City...

Francis as a Peace Worker

He worked tirelessly for peace between people, for building bridges between different groups, pacifying even one bad wolf! He worked encouraging a true brotherly love between all the creatures of the whole world, as he so lovingly left us in his most famous prayer “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is sadness, joy …”. Peace and solidarity are noble and critical goals, and the City of San Francisco was instrumental in the making of the United Nations charter in 1945; it is also known to this day for its vocal peace movement. There are within the city many associations of volunteers helping out the most needy among us, all of them putting the spirit of Francis into pratical actions. The Bay Area is also at the forefront of Ecology and Green Technology movements which are today’s beautiful answers for exercising the proper care of the world. So the beloved Francis, the poor man of Assisi, the universal friend, the fool for God, is indeed the proper guide for the City and I know this because I can see the hope bubbling in the midst of it all and I’ve got my camera to prove it!

saint Francis of Assisi statue on the Wharf

Saint Francis of Assisi statue in the Wharf in San Francisco, also made by sculpter Bufano.

His love for God

Francis is the champion of poverty and universal love for one reason: for the love of God, the love of Jesus Christ, as it is known in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as the communion of saints and martyrs can testify. He understood it so well that he was willing to meet Muslim leaders of the time and tell them about the Good News. His whole life was a testimony to include everyone, and in that sense, the call to diversity so used today is a proper branch from the tree of the Good News, as long as it is used with charity and honestly for the common good, to build up and not to destroy and deconstruct. The essential center of Francis life was the love of God and the love of neighbor, the Good News as we can share it and especially as we can live it out even without words, just by our own example. As mentioned above, there are (surprisingly sometimes) many churches in The City, many religious orders thriving, an army of volunteers serving the poor and the needy, in soup kitchens and free clinics and more, there are cloistered orders living right here in our midst and constantly praying, there is a very strong arts and crafts culture even if its bohemian days are gone, and there is definitely an acceptance of what could be called “bizarre” or "lunatic" people. But then, think about it, wasn’t Francis himself called “a fool”…

The Nueva Purzunciola chapel

The Nueva Purziuncola chapel, nestled right next to Saint Francis Church, in North Beach in The City. Visit both!

The text and photos are taken from my own book of "San Francisco in black and white" published over 10 years ago, and bought by a few dozens of my friends; book which also sat for a while in a bookshop in North Beach. Obviously I'm not very good at promoting or marketing. But I have lovely friends! Anyhow, I revised and fleshed it out more since I am currently revising my site.


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