COI Gazette – 4th May 2012

Royal visit to St George’s, Belfast

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are pictured arriving at St George’s church, Belfast. Looking on are the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson MP (centre), and the Revd Brian Stewart, rector of St George’s (right). (Photo: Harrison’s)

During their visit to Northern Ireland last week, the Prince of Wales and the duchess of Cornwall visited st George’s parish church in Belfast, on Thursday 27th April, some 21 years on from a visit to the same church by the Prince in very contrasting circumstances in 1991.

Then, Prince Charles had seen the toll taken on the building following 18 bombs during the troubles. Now, however, he and the Duchess saw the historic church handsomely restored.

The Prince and Duchess were met at St George’s by dame Mary Peters, Lord Lieutenant of Belfast; the First Minister, Peter Robinson MLA; the Secretary Of State for Northern Ireland, Owen Paterson MP; and Alderman Ruth Patterson, Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast, as well as local politicians and dignitaries.

ST FRANCIS OF ASSISI (c.1181-1224)

Francis, whose original name was Giovanni, was born into the family of a wealthy cloth merchant of the town of Assisi and had, through his mother, links with nobility. His early life showed little sign of the saint he was to become. No one, it is said, loved pleasure more than Francis; he had a ready wit, sang merrily, delighted in fine and showy clothes and was a favourite with his peers.

Following a skirmish in which he was involved with a nearby region, he was imprisoned for a year. This, together with an illness, may have helped to turn his mind to more serious things, but a decisive turning point in his life came in 1208, when he heard a Gospel reading in church which told how the disciples of Christ were to renounce possessions and preach to sinners about the kingdom of God. He took this literally as addressed to himself and attracted companions who also believed that they must forsake everything and follow Christ. He drew up a simple Rule of life and had this approved, apparently verbally, by Pope Innocent III in Rome.

From 1211, his order was based in the little chapel of St Mary of the Angels, or the Porziuncola in Assisi, from which the members went out, two by two, preaching the Gospel. They gained an immense following and men of different grades of life and ways of thought flocked to join him. A significant development was the adherence of a young woman, Clare, who wished to follow his way of poverty and devotion to Christ and became established with her companions at St Damian’s, a church which Francis had restored with his own hands. To this day, the Second Order of Franciscans (for women) is known as the ‘Poor Clares’. He also founded a Third Order for those still living ‘in the world’. Francis had a burning desire to preach to the (Muslim) Saracens, but his efforts in this direction, which included a visit to Syria and to Palestine, were not very successful. However, his evangelistic tours in Italy itself aroused huge enthusiasm through his vernacular preaching and the winsomeness of his personality.

The rapid growth of his order required organization, a task to which he was not particularly well suited, and he turned this over to others, although he remained the driving spirit. A more elaborate Rule, drawn up by him, remains significant even for Franciscans today.

Francis’ devotional life found its peak in the bestowal of the stigmata – the signs of the crucifixion – physically on his hands and feet. His very positive attitude, not least to nature, found expression in his remarkable, Canticle of the Sun. He remains one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church.

This editorial is one in a series of occasional reflections on figures in Church history, following a chronological sequence as they appear.

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