Francis sure knew how to communicate

I am attached in a most unFranciscan way to a battered copy of The Francis Book. You can see a picture of it here. I bought this 800th Anniversary collection in the early 80s from the Episcopal Book Club. The Francis Book is a collection of poems, short stories, photos and line-drawings about the saint of Assisi. Its cover is a still from the Zeffirelli hippie movie, Brother Sun and Sister Moon. The Francis Book was a post-modern book before its time, illustrating in the pieces chosen its central thesis that Franciscans use every means possible to communicate.

The star witness of The Francis Book is Gene Pelc’s Marvel Comics version of the life of St Francis. Pelc writes how Fr Roy M. Gasnick ofm approached him after the success of The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man. Gasnick prompted Gene Pelc to take the risk of making a superhero out of Francis in the belief that a comic book approach would broaden the audience. Some were outraged by a comic and others loved it.

Gasnick was building on the example of World War 2 martyr Maximilien Kolbe. In the 1930s, Kolbe used a radio station and a magazine printed on early roneo machines as his podium. Like Gasnick, he also knew how much importance Franciscans place on communication.

This instinct for the widest possible audience goes back to St Francis himself. Francis preached wherever he could get a pulpit. He composed prayers and songs and was one of the first to use Italian as a language for poetry. Francis was influenced by Sufi poets from the Muslim world and Idres Shah suggests that his travel to Egypt and Spain and his plans to go to Syria and Morocco, all centres of Sufism, were to investigate more deeply the songs of the Sufis to learn more effective ways of communicating the love of Jesus using popular songs.

If we look back over this aspect of our Franciscan heritage it seems entirely appropriate for Franciscans to explore the Web as a means of communication. Uploading to a web-site or a blog is a simple way of reaching a potential global audience. It’s as easy to read this is Albany, Western Australia as it is in Albany NY. If one writes with search engines in mind, it’s not hard to construct Web pages or blog entries which can be easily found by anyone interested in Franciscanism.

Secondly, the Web offers opportunities for conversation. Readers can place comments on blogs. Web-sites can link to other web-sites. Film or comics, however attuned to mass markets, are a one-way communication. They represent a ‘power-over’ style of communication. The web, on the other hand, is much more democratic. Knowledge can genuinely be shared, unsound opinions can be challenged, and all in a matters of hours and days – not the months or years and millions of dollars it takes another powerful communicator to respond to print or film.

I hope that Franciscans and others will be prepared to use this website as it is intended: to provide information about the Third Order and also – and probably in the end more influentially – to make available a space where lovers of Francis can discuss a wide range of topics and so deepen our understanding of and attachment to the Christian faith, because despite my intense attachment to books, deep down I know that what will save me is another attachment: not so much my attachment to Jesus Christ, but his to me.