Blessed Odoric of Pordenone

On January 14, Franciscans honor the memory of Blessed Odoric of Pordenone (c. 1274-1331), one of the most prominent missionaries of the later Middle Ages. A native of the Friuli region of Northern Italy, Odoric spent most of his friar life as missionary. He ministered in both the Balkans and among the Mongols in Southern Russia.Odoric 2

He is most famous, however, for a long missionary journey he made to Asia, when, as he tells us: “according to my wish, I crossed the sea and visited the countries of the unbelievers in order to win some harvest of souls.” Leaving Venice about 1318, he spent some years traveling through what is now Armenia and Iran, and arrived in India in 1322. Afer a short time there, He travelled east, passing though Sumatra and Vietnam to China, where he spent three years (1324-27).

His companion for at least part of his travels was a Brother James of Ireland. They returned to Italy in 1330; Ordoric intended to travel to Avignon to get permission from the Pope to recruit a larger contingent of friars, when he fell ill; he dictated a fascinating account of his voyages, with many interesting details about the cultures of Asia, dying at Udine in January, 1331.

Over 100 manuscripts of his account survive, illustrating its popularity and influence. The Rule of the Friars Minor is the first religious rule to mention missionary activity among non-believers. There Francis told his brothers: "'The Lord says: Behold I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves.' Let any brother, then, who desires by divine inspiration to go among the Saracens and other nonbelievers, go with the permission of his minister and servant. . . For the Lord says in the Gospel: 'Whoever acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.'" (Earlier Rule, 16).

Odoric’s own journey seems to have been very much spontaneous and un-programmed. He was known for his zealous, austere way of life, and so most likely was part of the “Spiritual” faction in the Order who shared Peter of John Olivi’s belief that the “fullness of time” was upon them, and so they were called to leave their homelands to bring the Gospel to unbelieving nations and help usher in an age of world peace.

Written by : Dominic Monti

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