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September 7, 2005
 
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Celebrating St. Francis
 
 
Dominicans taught me in high school, Jesuits in college and Marianists in graduate school, but for the last 15 years Franciscans have been my teachers. The friars I’ve worked with in parishes—and now at St. Anthony Messenger Press (SAMP)—have helped me to understand and appreciate Franciscan spirituality. I am finally able to balance the theology of atonement, with which I grew up, with a theology of joy and hope. (But that’s another topic.)
October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, so Joan, Chuck and I thought it would be a good idea to spend this month’s newsletter helping you get ready to celebrate and appreciate this great saint’s feast in your parish.
I’d like to share with you what we are doing in my home parish. As I have mentioned before, we use Generations of Faith (Center for Ministry Development) for intergenerational faith formation. We pick a theme every year. This year’s theme is “Following Francis” (the patron saint of our parish). Our first activity, “The Many Faces of Francis,” will be held on the last Sunday in September.
One of the things we hope to accomplish this year is to help parishioners see Francis as more than a lover of birds who spent all his time talking to animals. We have invited a Franciscan friar to speak to the adults and teens about the various facets of Francis’ life:
  • Francis, the mystic who spent almost equal amounts of time praying alone in mountain caves as he did preaching in the marketplace, was the first saint to receive the stigmata;
  • Francis, the peacekeeper, spent days with an Arab sultan trying to negotiate a peace to end the Crusades (Click here for more information.);
  • Francis, the troubadour, always joy-filled, sang his prayers, begged for his food and courted Lady Poverty;
  • Francis, the ecologist, saw Jesus at the center of all that is love and found God in all of creation.
The preschool and primary children will listen to a storyteller talk about some of Francis’ adventures while they create posters to illustrate “The Canticle of the Sun” for the closing prayer. Older children will have a choice of illustrating that same Canticle or choosing one of the Francis stories to act out. (We have a great collection of fabric, costumes and props.)
All the youngsters will spend time making bird feeders for their families to take home. They will also be making extras, one for each household whose members attend the Mass on October 4 to celebrate the feast day.
Finally, we’ll send home with every household a packet that will include material for various age levels for at-home learning about Francis. Check the column below to see some of things we’ll be putting in the packet.
 
     
 
 
St. Francis Stories
 
 
Here is my funny St. Francis story: When I was a DRE, a parent was trying to talk her son into taking St. Francis’ name for Confirmation. The little darling was adamantly against it. He asked, “Why would I want to take the name of saint who was a sissy?” He was probably putting us on, but once we had stifled our laughter, he was given a 10-minute talk on the brave and humble Francis.
St. Francis is a saint honored and respected not only by other Christians but also non-Christians. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of just how great a saint Francis was. We picture him often talking to wolves and playing his violin for birds, but rarely do we envision him being led to the sultan by armed guards.
Perhaps you might have catechists read some of the exciting stories of Francis’ life (Francis and the robbers or Francis and the sultan) to their students during October. Below, Chuck mentions in his column a number of books that can be read to children.
Consider sending home a note to parents with some attached materials families can use to celebrate St. Francis’ feast day. You might provide a simple prayer service (Click here for a sample prayer service from The Blessing Cup.) and/or a blessing they can say for their pet. (Check out animal blessings at AmericanCatholic.org.)
 
     
 
 
Electronic Media About St. Francis
 
 
A friend of mine is expecting her first child on October 4. When I learned the due date, I immediately exclaimed, “That’s the feast day of St. Francis!” While this friend isn’t very familiar with this saint who has factored so significantly in my life, she does recognize him as “the guy with the birds” as he is so often depicted in garden statuary.
That “guy with the birds” is certainly one of our most familiar saints. Many who themselves find God in nature relate to Francis’ recognition of God in all of creation. Others who struggle to live lives of simplicity in this consumer age turn to him as a model of one who chose a life of poverty over one of wealth. Many are drawn to him because of the Peace Prayer he is believed to have prayed: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace….”
As a child from a large, hardworking yet poor farm family in a Franciscan parish, I came to know of and appreciate Francis early on. I knew that the Franciscans who staffed our parish and school had chosen a life of poverty in imitation of St. Francis’ response to the gospel call. I decided that there must be something valuable about being poor. I certainly didn’t know what it was, but it helped me build a positive sense of self. As I matured, my appreciation of Francis did as well. I came to see that the benefits gained from my “poor” upbringing far outweighed anything I had to do without during my childhood years.
In 1997, after ministering in a school, retreat center and parish, I came “home” to work for the Franciscans at St. Anthony Messenger Press. Three years ago I was blessed with the opportunity of a lifetime: I spent nearly two weeks in Assisi and Rome on a Franciscan pilgrimage, learning more about the spiritualities of Sts. Francis and Clare in some of the very places where those spiritualities developed.
In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council calls us a “pilgrim Church” (48). As pilgrims, we are on a journey to a sacred place; ultimately our destination is heaven and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. We can be assisted, motivated and inspired along that lifelong pilgrimage by making smaller pilgrimages to sacred places here on earth. My pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome definitely did that for me. I consider it two weeks of grace that forever changed me. It wasn’t just something I did once; it has become part of who I am.
I’ve selected a clip from the video Franciscan Holy Ground: Where Francis and Clare Found God to share with you (RealMedia | Windows Media). Use this video for your own reflection on these popular saints. Also, share it with small groups, within an adult faith-formation offering on St. Francis near his feast day or with youth who are learning about St. Francis/saints/pilgrimage. This would also be a great tool for introducing RCIA participants to the saints as real people, particularly a saint whose story involves a process of conversion and radical lifestyle change. This video also introduces the tradition of pilgrimage.
Remember, we’re all pilgrims. You don’t have to go to Italy in order to get to our ultimate destination as Christians. But if you ever get the chance…
 
     
 
Celebrating St. Francis of Assisi
 
 
As a Franciscan publishing house, St. Anthony Messenger Press offers a variety of print resources related to St. Francis, materials intended for everyone from children to adults, to gratify a passing interest in Francis or sustain a lifelong fascination with the life and message of this great saint.
Francis of Assisi: Activities and Coloring Fun for Children is a wonderful activity book/coloring book that parents can share with their younger children. Word searches, puzzles, paper figures to cut out and even poetry-writing exercises make this book a source for hours of sharing about St. Francis. And if you’re looking for stories to share, try The Wondrous Adventures of Saint Francis of Assisi, where you’ll find such charming stories as “The Miserable Leper,” “The Wicked Wolf of Gubbio” and “Miracles of the Manger.” Our own Friar Jack Wintz has written a delightful story, St. Francis in San Francisco, that follows St. Francis as he makes a visit to modern-day San Francisco.
Another popular introduction to St. Francis can be found in Francis of Assisi: The Song Goes On, or, for a more scholarly portrait of the saint, St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Omer Englebert.
Finally, for a story of how St. Francis can change the lives of people even today, you might want to read Gerard Straub’s award-winning personal journal, The Sun and Moon Over Assisi: A Personal Encounter With Francis and Clare. Straub, a Hollywood filmmaker and television producer, tells how he was moved and transformed by his encounter with Francis.
 
     
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