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The deathbed verse of a great saint

india Updated: Mar 16, 2013 23:35 IST

Perhaps it’s time to cast our mind back to medieval Europe, to the 13th century in Italy. A young boy, born to a rich merchant whose trade links stretched from Italy to Egypt to Constantinople, grew up with the best of everything. He was selling velvet one day, when a beggar came up to him for alms. Distracted by customers just then, the boy ran after the beggar and gave him everything he had in his pockets, for which he was soundly chastised by his family.

The boy became a soldier, a prisoner of war for one whole year and took to soldiering again. He had strange dreams, fell prey to inner yearnings and took to begging. When his family protested, he publicly renounced his father and his patrimony, discarding even the clothes given him at home.

He created the first-known manger scene of Christ’s birth in 1223. Though never ordained a priest, he formed religious orders devoted to serving the poor, for both men and women. He became known as the champion of animals, the environment and social service, achieving sainthood as one of the most venerated figures in Europe. His international fan-following included, in later centuries, a determined young lawyer called MK Gandhi. The saint died listening to Psalm 140 that he asked to be read aloud as he slipped out of life on an October evening in 1226.

It says in part (King James Version), “Keep me, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from the violent man…I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications… O Lord, the strength of my salvation, thou hast covered my head in the day of battle. Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves… As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them.

Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again. Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him. I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor. Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.”

The saint was Francis of Assisi, a fighter for his cause.

Renuka Narayanan writes
on religion and culture