UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — Speakers at the Nov 17 opening of an historic exhibit at the United Nations of medieval manuscripts and papal documents associated with St. Francis of Assisi affirmed the saint’s association with the world body’s peaceful aims and hoped his namesake pope would pay a visit next September.
“Friar Francis: Traces, Words, Images” is a collection of 19 manuscripts and artifacts from the Sacred Convent of St. Francis of Assisi in Italy.
The artifacts date from the 13th and 14th centuries and are outside Italy for the first time in 700 years. They are displayed at U.N. headquarters until Nov. 28 and will be open to the public from Dec. 2 to Jan. 14 at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, said the difficult and costly process to bring the “priceless documents” to New York is “worth the effort, because we believe that the values practiced and preached by St. Francis are also the fundamental values of the United Nations, namely peace, the harmonious development of peoples in brotherhood and love for nature.
“Without these values, we have wars and conflicts, injustices and all forms of slavery, environmental crises and disasters,” he said.
One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit is Codex 338, which contains the oldest existing copies of the St. Francis’ writings, including the Rule of the Friars Minor and the original draft of “The Canticle of the Creatures,” dictated by St. Francis. The “Canticle” is considered the oldest poetic text of Italian literature.
The exhibit includes a fragment of a biography of St. Francis by Thomas of Celano, his contemporary, and several papal bulls that refer to the saint and his religious order. The oldest papal document displayed is from 1220.
Speaking in Italian, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York welcomed those gathered and said he prayed that New York can become the new Assisi.
A succession of enthusiastic speakers from the United Nations and the many Italian private and civic groups associated with the exhibit cited St. Francis’s life of poverty, peacemaking and concern for the vulnerable as a compelling example for contemporary diplomats at the United Nations.
Steven Acunto told Catholic News Service the manuscripts are “completely irreplaceable and precious.” Acunto is president of the Italian Academy Foundation, an institute of cultural diplomacy that is one of the sponsors of the exhibit.
The exhibit opened the day Pope Francis announced he would visit Philadelphia next September and many speculated he would add New York and Washington to his itinerary.
Archbishop Auza said he hoped the manuscripts were “a harbinger of the visit to the United Nations of him who carries the saint’s name.”
A week earlier the nuncio told The Associated Press that if the pope visits Philadelphia, he’ll come to New York too. A papal visit would coincide with the U.N. General Assembly session.