Among the stories in the “Little Flowers of Saint Francis”, one of the most famous tells of a time that the saint journeyed to the town of Gubbio. Here he found that the inhabitants were in a state of terror due to the presence of a large, ferocious wolf, which was terrifying the population, massacring animals and assaulting men, women, and children.
Moved by compassion and inspired by God, Francis ventured out alone and defenceless to confront the wolf.
When he came face to face with the creature, he told him not to do any more harm, promising that the townspeople would take care of him in future. And so it was.
The wolf lived in complete harmony with the people until his death.
The extraordinary meeting between Francis and the wolf is such a significant event that it lives on in the memory of Christians all over the world.
We cannot be certain about the existence of the wolf; indeed it is more likely that the wolf figure was in fact a local brigand converted by the goodness of Saint Francis.
The story of the wolf can be seen as an allegory of evil tamed by gentleness, and a metaphor for all our relationships with the different and the unknown.
“Gubbio” stands for that familiar space where each of us lives; indeed, it is an image of the “self”.
In this context, where everything refers to us, those we regard as “different” take on the features of the wolf.
This story of Saint Francis contains wisdom, realism and humanity, and shows how the fruitfulness of our actions depends on our capacity to be open to the other and the different.