"The Fiddling Friar"

Saint Francis Solano

Feast Day: 14th July

Many stories are told of our Founder, St. Francis, walking through the Italian countryside singing for joy. He was sometimes referred to as God's troubadour, because he loved to praise the Lord in song. Today, we keep the feast of another musical friar, St. Francis Solano. Through his talent, many pagan converts were drawn to the church.

Born in 1549 in the Spanish province of Andalusia and educated by the Jesuits, Francis Solano decided to join the Franciscans as a 20 year old. He was remarkable for the strict penitential practices which he imposed on himself and for the long hours he spent in prayer each night.

After his ordination to the priesthood he found himself caring for the sick during an epidemic. He worked tirelessly to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, with no fear of danger. He caught the disease himself, but fortunately recovered.

His work earned him so much affection that people began to speak of him as a saint. Embarrassed by this attention he asked to be sent to the missions and went to the Spanish dominions of South America. Along with several other Franciscans he took on the task of evangelizing the pagan Indians of Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, achieving enormous success. He treated the local people kindly and courteously, taking the trouble to learn their difficult language.

Once when he was in La Rioja, thousands of Indians invaded the city and were determined to kill all Europeans and Indians who had become Christians. Francis went out to meet them and his words must have touched their hearts. They not only put down their arms but begged him to instruct them and be baptised.

Francis forged a bond with his Indian converts through a love of music. He enjoyed singing and playing the violin, and soon he began to teach them hymns with joyful tunes. One Christmas in front of the crib he taught them carols. When he visited sick people he frequently took his violin with him to cheer them up with music and song. It is said that on one occasion he was to be seen sitting under a tree, playing his beloved violin, while the birds flocked around him and sang along!

After 12 years among the Indians he visited Lima. Immorality was rife but he preached repentance. A great fear seized the people and they cried aloud for God's mercy, promising to reform their lives.

After 20 years on the mission Francis died in Lima on 14 July, the feast of St. Bonaventure his special patron. He was loved and respected not only by the ordinary people but also by the dignitaries. Many miracles were soon attributed to him and he was canonised in 1726 by Benedict XIII.

For people to flock to Francis Solano as they did indicated that they sensed how much he loved them. He also used his God given talent for music to bring people to God and to each other. It is very true that music can break down barriers among people. We all have talents of one sort or another. Let us make sure that we use them for the greater honour and glory of God. Like Francis may our cheerfulness and joy, and the love we have for people, be the means of leading people to God.

St. Francis Solano … pray for us.