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Pope marks 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi’s stigmata

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The wounds of Christ’s passion and death and the stigmata given to some Christians over the centuries are reminders of “the pain Jesus suffered in his flesh out of love for us and for our salvation,” Pope Francis said.

But, the pope said, the stigmata also is a reminder that through baptism Christians participate in Christ’s victory over suffering and death because “it is precisely through his wounds that the mercy of the Risen, Crucified One flows to us as through a channel.”

With a visiting group of Italian Franciscan friars from La Verna and from Tuscany April 5, Pope Francis joined celebrations of the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi receiving “the gift of the stigmata” after he had withdrawn to the hills of La Verna to pray and do penance in 1224.

The friars also brought to Pope Francis a reliquary containing blood from the stigmata of St. Francis, a reliquary that is making a pilgrimage to different Franciscan communities.

The stigmata, or sharing the wounds of Christ, Pope Francis told the friars, is a reminder that a Christian is part of “the body of Christ,” not in name alone but in reality.

In the “communion of love,” which is the church, he said, “each of us rediscovers who he or she is: a beloved, blessed, reconciled son or daughter, sent to give witness to the wonders of his grace and to be artisans of fraternity.”

Pope Francis said that is why “Christians are called to address themselves in a special way to the ‘stigmatized’ they encounter: to those who are ‘marked’ in life, who bear the scars of the sufferings and injustices they have endured or the mistakes they have made.”

St. Francis of Assisi can be a “companion on the journey,” the pope said, supporting Christians and helping them “not to be crushed by difficulties, fears and contradictions, ours and those of others.”

The stigmata for St. Francis was a call to return to what is essential, he said, and the celebrations of the eighth centenary should be a similar call to Franciscans today: “To be forgiven bears of forgiveness, healed bearers of healing, joyful and simple in fraternity; with the strength of the love that flows from the side of Christ and that is nourished in your personal encounter with him, to be renewed every day with a seraphic ardor that burns the heart.”

Franciscans, he said, are called to bring to the church and the world “a little of that immense love that drove Christ to die on the cross for us.”

At the end of his speech, Pope Francis offered a prayer to “St. Francis, man wounded by love” and “decorated with the holy stigmata.”

“May our wounds be healed by the heart of Christ to become, like you, witnesses of his mercy, which continues to heal and renew the life of those who seek him with a sincere heart,” the pope prayed. “O Francis, made to resemble the Crucified One, let your stigmata be for us and for the world resplendent signs of life and resurrection, to show new ways of peace and reconciliation.”

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service