Friday, November 29, 2013


St. Francis of Assisi by Cimabue (detail) c. 1280

This Pope in Rome continues to cause a ruckus by speaking out about the heretofore Unspeakable matters of inequality, money and greed, destruction of the planet for profit, and so on. Matters best left to those who Rule us, not to those who merely Reign.

This Pope is a Jesuit who took the regnal name of Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint for whom I have long expressed a certain affinity.

Now that I'm in New Mexico full time, I discovered it was sometimes difficult to find images of the Umbrian saint for devotional or decorative purposes, for he seemed often to be absent from shops and museums. Even at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis in Santa Fe, where we often go -- though not generally for religious purposes -- it's surprising how low-key representations of the Saint are. There are a few statues of St. Francis and a ceramic tile mural, but they are off to the side, out of the view of parishioners and tourists who come up the steps to the magnificent bronze doors of the Cathedral. There are a handful of statues of St. Francis scattered around the city of Santa Fe, but unless you're eagle eyed, you may miss them.

One finds San Pasquale, San Ysidro and of course the Virgin of Guadalupe practically everywhere, but St. Francis? Not so much.

It took me a while to realize some of the reasons why.

St. Francis, and particularly the Franciscan missionaries who came to New Mexico with the Conquistadores, have at best a mixed reputation in these parts. At best. In some respects they are widely admired, but just as surely, they are likely to be despised and held in contempt. The Catholic order in charge of my local parish is Carmelite. Franciscans tend to be almost in the shadows.

Part of the reason has to do with the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 triggered in part by abuses committed by Franciscans against the Pueblo Indians, abuses which I won't catalog here but which were too frequent, too horrifying, too often inexcusable. Franciscans did this to the Native Peoples? Yes they did, and they were rewarded with massacre when the revolt came. A monument to the martyred Franciscans stands on a height above the city to this day.

But after the reconquest of the territory from 1691 to 1695 or so, the Franciscans, while returning to minister to their savage flock, stayed out of the spotlight and ultimately lost power over the Natives, as their continued resistance and the mood of the Spanish Crown toward the Franciscans led to their decline and near-demise in the New World, not just New Mexico.

Other saints were far more immediate for the Spanish colonists, and the Indians had little regard for Francis thanks to the depredations of the Franciscan missionaries. Only fairly recently have Franciscans returned to New Mexico in significant numbers. Most of them serve the poor and dispossessed.

We pass by a Franciscan friary in Albuquerque practically every time we go to town, so today I made a modest donation to their work. The least I could do.

Meanwhile, His Holiness continues to ruffle Vatican feathers and American bishops face a dilemma.

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