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Francis of Assisi came from a wealthy family. Like many young men of his time, he had various experiences: parties, pranks, and even war, during which he was taken prisoner and became deathly ill. While he was recovering, he realized he was profoundly dissatisfied with his life.

One day, as he was listening to a Gospel passage, he suddenly understood the importance of love. He changed his way of life, became poor, and was seized with an urgent need to proclaim the messages of joy, hope, and love found in the Bible, and to bring peace to people and to all creation.

Francis gave up the life he had been leading (wealth, parties, popularity, and so on) and began to care for lepers. He also spent time with the rejects and marginalized people of his time. For two years, he lived as a mendicant, restoring three dilapidated churches in the area of Assisi: San Damiano, San Pietro, and Santa Maria Degli Angeli.

In the early days, many people found him eccentric; some even thought he was mad, but gradually, men began to join him and embrace his lifestyle of poverty and prayer. The first was a rich and influential man named Bernard of Quintavalle. Sometime later, Peter Catani joined them. Before long, another nine came to be part of the “folly” of Assisi. They became the 12 “penitents” of Assisi, with no home or property. At the beginning, a few rules for living given by Francis were enough, but as the group grew bigger, a more specific rule for living was needed. In 1208, the Pope authorized the founding of the little community (verbally, at first); later, Francis wrote the Rule of the Order of Friars Minor, which was approved in 1223.

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