“When I was in sin, it seemed too bitter to me to see lepers. But then God drew me near them, and I felt loving kindness for them. Then after some thought, I left the world.”
This paraphrase of Francis’ Testament helps us to understand the primacy of the scorned and rejected in his experience of God. Most of his biographers do not highlight the centrality of how Francis came to find God (and, concurrently, to grow toward his own authenticity as a person) in this space of profound tenderness. (In fact, the famous Giotto fresco cycle in the upper basilica of San Francesco eliminates this central moment in the narrative of Francis’ life entirely, whitewashing, as it were, the lepers from viewers’ understanding of Francis’ story.
Consequently, most visual and textual sources do not capture the centrality of encounter and of relationship with god, known through the marginalized, that is the core of the Franciscan charism. But those of us who enter this tender space, the church built over one of the leper colonies in the valley below Assisi, honor God’s invitation to poverty, simplicity, and the joy of living together in love.