The Franciscan Embrace of ‘the Other’

Describing the early experience of St. Francis as his former friends struggled to understand the change in him, Henri d’Avranches describes his outreach to the lepers:

What spread his good name in the first place was his patience

In virtue of which he is given the care of the lepers, no one

Was more zealous than he in looking after them, even if

At one time he could not bear to watch their houses even

At a distance. Now he makes beds, wipes away venom, soothes ulcers,

Touches mouths, washes feet, strokes corroding,
rotten limbs,

And forces to the task his fugitive feelings.

—The Versified Life of St. Francis, by Henri d’Avranches, 125, 126 (see p. 456 in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Volume 1)

It is easy for us to romanticize this early experience of Francis—his first embrace of a leper. We speak of it often as emblematic

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