Dialogue and communication. 400 years after his death, Francis de Sales is ever more current

A painting depicting Saint Francis de Sales, who died 400 years ago

A painting portraying Saint Francis de Sales, who died 400 years ago – Archive

“Our God is the God of joy.” «Walk in peace: put your hand in God’s and do everything together with Him». “I recommend above all the spirit of sweetness, which enraptures hearts and conquers souls”. “Do everything for love, nothing by force.” Thus taught St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), the great doctor of the Church who died in Lyon exactly four hundred years ago, on December 28, 1622. Of noble origins, he renounced the brilliant career that his father wanted for him as a lawyer and senator of the Savoy duchy, to give himself entirely to God. Ordained a priest on December 18, 1593, he asked to be sent to preach precisely where everyone feared to go, in the Chablais area.

In France devastated by the wars of religion, he stood out for his meekness and willingness to dialogue with Protestants and with Theodore of Beza himself, John Calvin’s successor. A tireless missionary, he spread his meditations by writing them on leaflets that he himself spread, posting them in public places and slipping them under the doors of houses. For this advertising activity he was proclaimed patron saint of journalists.

Appointed bishop of Geneva, he was a zealous and generous pastor. An intelligent exponent of Christian humanism and a profound connoisseur of the human soul, he has left us a large number of writings, collected in twenty-seven volumes. Through his teachings and his example, he left an indelible mark on the history of spirituality, ingeniously anticipating some themes of the Second Vatican Council, such as that of the universal call to holiness set out in the fifth chapter of Lumen gentium.

Together with Saint Jeanne Frances Frémiot of Chantal (1572 – 1641), in 1610 he created the Congregation of the Visitation of Saint Mary. In the Basilica annexed to the Visitandine monastery of Annecy, today the closing of the Jubilee Year proclaimed to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founder’s death is being solemnly celebrated. At 10 the bishop of Annecy, Yves Le Saux, celebrates Mass, while adoration continues throughout the day, and in the evening the prayer of vespers is held.

In all 137 monasteries of the Visitation around the world, this important anniversary is being lived in prayer. During the jubilee period, which began last January 24, the cloistered Visitandines organized many events, liturgies, pilgrimages, conferences, concerts. In particular, the premiere of the biographical film «1622, à force d’aimer» was screened in France; in each of the monasteries of the Federation of the Visitation of Northern Italy the relic of the heart of the saint arrived and was then exposed to the prayerful veneration of the nuns and the faithful. Furthermore, numerous initiatives have been animated by the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, the congregations founded by Saint John Bosco (1815 – 1888) who, from the beginning of his priesthood, made the resolution to «be guided in everything by charity and sweetness of St. Francis de Sales”.

The rector major, Fr Angel Fernàndez Artime, asked the whole Salesian Family to dedicate this year to deepening their knowledge of the Savoyard bishop. The international conference organized last November by the Salesian Pontifical University on “St. Francis de Sales: posterity, spirituality, pedagogy” was well attended. At the Don Bosco House Museum, in Turin Valdocco, the exhibition “Francis de Sales 400” continues until 15 January, a fascinating journey through works of art, prints, old books, fabrics and objects that help to get to know the saint and understand the cultural and religious context in which he acted. Among other things, you can see some autograph writings of him, the sacred vestments he wore and the oil portrait of 1618, made four years before his death, which allows us to know his true appearance.

Dialogue and communication. 400 years after his death, Francis de Sales is ever more current