THE subtitle sets the tone of this judicious little book. It makes clear that these accounts of the saints’ lives and those of their many followers are about following Christ, not imitating the founders’ personal sanctity. Eighty-eight of these individual followers are listed in the index, and that is before the reader even makes contact with the founding charism through the inspiration of the religious orders, both Anglican and Roman Catholic.
Sister Helen Julian is ideally equipped to write this book, as Minister General of the Anglican Community of St Francis. Founded in 1905 by Rosina Eleanor Rice, the Community has Sisters in England, San Francisco, and South Korea, and forms what is known technically as the Second Order of Franciscans, the first being the male religious, and the Third Order being their lay followers. There is also a group known as Franciscans International.
Yet the scope of the book’s appeal should go wider than members of the Franciscan family; for here is an unsentimental story of the many and varied ways in which the spirit of Francis and Clare has led people to simple heroism.
The human face of this heroism is demonstrated through channels which the reader might readily have anticipated: good works, a commitment to social justice, care of others, and the witness of living simply. Intriguingly, Sister Helen Julian takes her remit further and tells us about the vocations of thinkers and writers and the pursuit of learning. She is equally interested in the mystics and spiritual writers, missionaries and preachers, martyrs and pastors who have all found inspiration in the Franciscan way of life.
Many of these accounts are historical: she starts of by telling the stories of Francis and Clare themselves, then of the Anglican founders who emerged in the early 20th century to carry the flame forward. But the book’s real impact comes from the many stories that bring it right up to date. Memories of the recently dead sit seamlessly alongside accounts from earlier centuries.
The result: a sense that Francis and Clare’s heritage is in good hands and that the charism deserves to survive. After all, it has served its purpose: it has enabled many to follow Christ.
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster.
Franciscan Footprints: Following Christ in the ways of Francis and Clare
Helen Julian CSF
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