Someone wrote to me recently, ‘Why we say that St Francis is the patron saint of Jesus Youth? What do we imply by that?’ Quite a number of memories and thoughts were awakened by that question. One of them was an evening discussion we had a long time ago.

That evening, as an ice-breaker we were asked to share on a question, ‘Who is your favourite saint and what do you like about him/her?’. This was in early 1980’s and we had come together at Snehanilayam in Ernakulam for the First Line Gathering. We were an assorted bunch of youth and married, men and women, but all actively involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and passionately dedicated to accompanying young people.

Francis of Assisi was a saint that I knew quite well and had so much of admiration for. While I was quite small, during the vacation time, my auntie used to gather the children together and read to us nice books. One of her favourites was the life of St Francis of Assisi. So many interesting anecdotes from the life of this holy person stuck in my memory: his birth in a manger, his bringing up in the affluent home of a silk merchant, his transformation during his quest for worldly glory, his encounter with a leper, the call to build the church, embracing of utter poverty in life, how he build a band of dedicated poor friends, and so on. When the question about the favourite saint came I had no doubt about mine.

During our discussion I readily opted for St Francis. The senior most one among us was Miss Alicekutty and her birthday was on the 4th of October, the very feast day of St Francis. She too was much in love with him. That day one after the other most of us in the First Line Group declared their love for this humble yet fascinating holy man. Though there was no official declaration, from that day on we would say that St Francis of Assisi is our heavenly patron. I don’t think we ever had his statue or picture placed in the midst of us or composed any special prayers or novenas invoking the intercession of St Francis, but we often mentioned his challenging qualities and cited him as the best model for us to follow the Lord.

In this way from the beginnings of Jesus Youth movement St Francis had a special place in it. As a song, a prayer and fuel for reflection – “Lord, make me a channel of your peace” has been on the lips of most Jesus Youth. Later when the beautiful film on Francis, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” by Franco Zeffirelli was introduced that became inevitable ingredient of most of the training programs. The famous song by Donovan, “If you want your dream to be” turned out to be the best loved song in school and college groups. At the turn of the century Jesus Youth Prayers were collected into a book form, among the thirty one ‘Saints’ Prayers’ two were from St Francis. It is obvious that a love for Francis has been steadily growing in Jesus Youth movement ever since its inception.

Why Jesus Youth love St Francis?

St Clare of Assisi the famous disciple of Francis had this to Say: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become”. To get challenged by a saint like St Francis is indeed a transforming experience for any Jesus Youth. No wonder the movement takes special care to introduce him to the younger ones that come to be part of its fellowship. And what are some of the significant aspects of the person and life of Francis that the movement wishes to highlight?

Firstly, his radical following of Jesus, loving Him passionately as his friend and master. He dared to imitate Christ thoroughly and lived the Gospel with uncompromising courage.

He lived a life of the joy of the Lord in its fullness. The resulting joyful and creative life of the saint turned out to be the best example of the Good-News for the onlookers and became the foundation of a life in communion with God, with the men and women around and even with the ecosystem around.

He loved poverty and simplicity which helped him soar up from material bondages. For the sake of attaining the fullness of life in the Lord and following Jesus, Francis forsook everything and espoused ‘beautiful poverty’.

He was so very creative: a wonderful poet, loved singing, had surprisingly novel ways of talking, acting and sharing the message of salvation. His creativity and radical ways fascinated everyone, especially those young in spirit. He truly lived ‘via pulchritudinis’ or the path to reach God contemplating beauty.

Francis had a unique approach to the evangelistic mission. He was so good at reaching out to others and bringing them to an active life in Christ. “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary”: these highly challenging words rightly or wrongly attributed to the saint speak abundantly of the Franciscan approach to sharing the message of Christ with others.

Francis was born around 1181 in a little town of Italy and died in 1226, but in all subsequent generations and in every nation, whoever has come across this radically poor and joyfully creative ‘little humble man’ has drawn out of his example, immense inspiration and ever-renewing creativity. In Jesus Youth this joy-filled Mirror of Christ is a constant challenge to live a fervent and radical discipleship. He is also a scarcely explored model for superb mission styles relevant for contemporary times. More than a pious devotion to the saint, the movement should strive to promote among the young a deeper understanding and continuous reflection on this radiant model of vibrant youthfulness.

Dr. Edward Edezhath, Cochin,India
Dr. Edward Edezhath, Cochin,India

Dr Edward Edezhath, is one of the pioneering leaders and animators of the Jesus Youth movement. A senior lecturer in St. Albert’s College, Ernakulam, India, he lives with his wife is Audry in Cochin, India. They have three children, Ralph, Nicole and Aidan.