Though Francis of Assisi is the most popular saint in a long history of tortured bodies and souls, the fact that no pope until Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would take his name says a lot about the timeless shadow from the 12th century to the 21st. The legacy of the first Francis is almost too much to bear. Today, on the spine of Assisi, where pilgrims jostle with peddlers of all things Francis, you see the extraordinary Giotto frescoes inside the basilica, a narrative of the saint’s life. That such a magnificent structure was built over the bones (interred beneath the floor of the lower church) of a man who often slept without a roof over his head is a testament to how a powerful movement can be co-opted. But another legacy, far removed from marbled ostentation, can be found in the Franciscan priests who try to follow the example of their founder. When my young nephew was murdered by gunfire a few years ago, it was soothing that a man in the brown robes, sandals and roped belt of the Franciscan order conducted the most humane of funeral masses.

more from Timothy Egan at The New York Times here.