In the first official biography of St Francis of Assisi, the author Thomas of Celano, one of the Saint’s first companions, wrote:
“Once while he (Francis) was staying near the town of Greccio, a certain brother brought him a live rabbit caught in a trap. Seeing it, the most blessed man was moved with tenderness. ‘Brother rabbit,’ he said, ‘Come to me. Why did you let yourself get caught?’ As soon as the brother holding it let go, the rabbit, without any prompting, took shelter with the most holy man, as in a most secure place, resting in his bosom. After it had rested there for a little while, the holy father, caressing it with motherly affection, let it go, so that now free it would return to the woods. As often as it was put on the ground, it rushed back to the holy man’s lap, so he told the brothers to carry it away to the nearby forest. Something similar happened with another little rabbit, a wild one, when he was on the island in the Lake of Perugia.”Life of St Francis, Chapter XXI
There are numerous stories of how Francis extended the same loving care towards birds, fish and even earthworms, and how he praised the Creator through all created things. It is no wonder that Pope John Paul II named Francis of Assisi the Patron Saint of Ecology on 29 November 1979.
The story of Francis and the rabbit gives us an example of how we can live the reality of fraternity with every person and all creatures:
1. Be moved with tenderness: The brother who brought the rabbit saw the creature as food. Francis saw it not as a thing, but as a brother.
2. Welcome others into your life: We live in a world of fear, and people try to protect themselves because they have been hurt and threatened in many ways. Francis was so secure in himself and so welcoming in his love for all, that the rabbit instinctively knew it could run to him and find refuge.
3. Do not cling to anything or anyone: The rabbit wanted to stay with Francis, and Francis might have been tempted to keep the rabbit as a pet. But he knew that wild rabbits are meant to be free, and he found his own freedom in letting go.
4. Don’t stop at one act of generosity: As Thomas of Celano wrote, “A similar thing happened with another little rabbit, a wild one, when he was on the island in the Lake of Perugia.”