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St. Francis’ story is one of missionary discipleship

The opportunity to share the story of one of my favorite saints is always a blessing. So, when I was invited to be a guest reader at the Saturday, Feb. 3, “Kid’s Catholic Story Hour” at Cathedral Book & Gift in Green Bay, I selected the book “Francis: Poor Man of Assisi” by Juliette Luvivier.

This beautiful story covers St. Francis of Assisi’s entire life, from his father Pietro di Bernardone’s joy about his son’s birth after returning home from a business trip to Francis receiving a visit from the angel with six wings near the end of his life.

While the book is designed for children, the messages in the story resonate with all ages. If you look at Francis and study his life, which I first began doing as a sophomore in high school, he was a mirror image of Jesus. 

As I told the young audience (and their parents) at Story Hour, Francis was a “little bit of a wild kid,” but events in his life, including war, imprisonment, illness and, ultimately, encountering Christ, changed him forever. God became first in his heart. We all can learn from his example and strive to always make God the center of our lives.

One tale told in Luvivier’s book that parallels Jesus’ life is when Francis meets a leper. I asked the children if they knew about lepers and was very impressed with their knowledge. Francis, who used to run away from lepers, kissed the man. This exchange reminded me of when a leper came to Jesus for help, which we read about in last Sunday’s Gospel from Mark.

Francis’ meeting with the wolf in Gubbio seemed to intrigue many of the children. He was so close to God and nature that he was able to speak to and calm the wolf. Just as he converted the wolf’s heart, he also converted human hearts through his preaching and, especially, through his simple way of life. 

The book shares how Francis and the Friars Minor “traveled far and wide to preach the Gospel,” even preaching to the Sultan of Egypt.

During Story Hour, I felt the need to pause at that point in the story and ask a question: “What would you call Francis today? A missionary disciple.” This is someone who brings others to Jesus. If you want to know how a missionary disciple lives, study St. Francis.

I hope that the children have had the opportunity to see a live Nativity. St. Francis of Assisi created the first-ever live Nativity scene when he asked a friend to build a grotto, which is depicted in the book.

Following the reading of the text on each page in the book, I shared the illustrations with the audience. I forgot a page at one point and was immediately informed of that by a young lady seated in front, which brought a moment of laughter. I told her, “If I do that again, you remind me.”

Following reading of the book, the children were invited to ask questions. A child asked me when I was called to be a bishop. I explained how I was first called to be a priest. I enjoy telling that story because maybe it will plant the seed for a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. 

I shared how all of my first-grade classmates knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, but I had no idea at age 6. Then, one day at Mass with my family, kneeling in the front pew, a newly-ordained priest came down from the sanctuary to give us holy Communion. “David, that’s what you’re going to be when you grow up” is the message I heard in my heart. I knew from that moment. You are never too young for the call. 

Thank you to the large group of children, along with parents and grandparents, who gathered for the Story Hour. I hope you enjoyed our time together as much as I did.

Bishop David Ricken reads the book “Francis: Poor Man of Assisi” at “Kid’s Catholic Story Hour” on Feb. 3 at Cathedral Book & Gift in Green Bay. Following the reading, Bishop Ricken answered questions from the children. (Jeff Kurowski | On Mission)
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