Francis and his companions were making a trip through the Spoleto Valley in Italy when suddenly, Francis spotted a great number of birds of all varieties. There were doves, crows and all sorts of birds. Swept up in the moment, Francis left his friends in the road and ran after the birds, who patiently waited for him. He greeted them in his usual way, expecting them to scurry off into the air as he spoke. But they didnít.
Filled with awe, he asked them if they would stay awhile and listen to the Word of God. He said to them: ďMy brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive Godís guidance and protection.Ē
At this the birds began to spread their wings, stretch their necks and gaze at Francis, rejoicing and praising God in a wonderful way according to their nature. Francis then walked right through the middle of them, turned around and came back, touching their heads and bodies with his tunic.
Then he gave them his blessing, making the sign of the cross over them. At that they flew off and Francis, rejoicing and giving thanks to God, went on his way. Later, Francis wondered aloud to his companions why he had never thought to talk with the birds before. And from that day on, Francis made it his habit to solicitously invoke all birds, all animals and reptiles to praise and love their Creator. And many times during Francisí life, there were remarkable events of Francis speaking to the animals. There was even a time when St. Francis quieted a flock of noisy birds that were interrupting a religious ceremony! Much to the wonder of all present, the birds remained quiet until the ceremony was complete.
St. Francis and Rabbits
One day a brother brought a rabbit who had been caught in a trap to St. Francis. Francis advised the rabbit to be more alert in the future, then released the rabbit from the trap and set it on the ground to go its way. But the rabbit hopped back up onto Francisí lap, desiring to be close to him.
Francis took the rabbit a few steps into the woods and set it down. But it followed Francis back to his seat and hopped on his lap again! Finally Francis asked one of his fellow friars to take the rabbit far into the woods and let it go. That worked. This type of thing happened repeatedly to Francis and he spoke to animals wherever he went.
St. Francis and Fish
Fish were also known to listen to Francis. Whenever a fish was caught and Francis was nearby, he would return the fish to the water, warning it to be careful and not to be caught again. On several occasions the fish would linger awhile near the boat, listening to Francis talk, until he gave them permission to leave. Then they would swim off. In every work of art, as St. Francis called all creation, he would praise the Creator.