St. Francis of Assisi, who lived in Italy in the early thirteenth century, was known for his love of animals. He was the first person who celebrated the birth of Jesus by gathering live animals around a manger. He often talked to the birds as he traveled along. Sometimes, the birds would fly down and sit on his head, shoulders, knees and arms. But the best-known animal story concerns St. Francis and the Wolf of Gribbio. St. Francis was known for his humility and his unwillingness to hurt anyone.
Once, when one of his followers spoke harshly to some bandits, St. Francis told the man to run after the bandits and apologize. In the same way, St. Francis thought of animals as his brothers and sisters. Once when he was warned about some dangerous wolves, he replied that he had never harmed Brother Wolf, and didn’t expect the wolf to harm him. While St. Francis was staying the hill town of Gribbio, he heard about a large, fierce wolf. The townspeople were terrified of this wolf that had eaten both domestic animals and humans. St. Francis decided to help the people and went out to talk to the wolf. The people watched in horror as the wolf came running to attack St. Francis.
But the saint made the sign of the cross. Then he said to the wolf that, in the name of Jesus, it should stop hurting people. The wolf then lay down at St. Francis’ feet. St. Francis addressed a little sermon to the wolf. He recounted all the terrible things that the wolf had done. But he added that he wanted to make peace between the wolf and the townspeople. The wolf nodded its head in approval.
In return for the wolf’s agreement to keep the peace, St. Francis promised him that he would arrange for the townspeople to feed him. When he asked the wolf never again to harm any person or animal, the wolf nodded again. Then the wolf put out its paw as a sign that it would keep its promise. The wolf walked beside St. Francis back into Gribbio. When a crowd assembled, the saint preached to them about how God had allowed the wolf to terrify them because of their sins. He told them to repent, and God would forgive them.
Then he spoke of the promise that the wolf had made and what he had promised the wolf in return. The people agreed to feed the wolf regularly, and the wolf again indicated that it would not hurt anyone. Again, it put its paw in St. Francis’ hand. The wolf and the people kept the agreement. Two years later the wolf died. The people remembered how it no longer hurt anyone and that not a single dog ever barked at it. The townspeople of Gribbio lamented its death. Whenever it went through town, it had reminded them of the virtues and holiness of St. Francis.