In our previous three articles we described Francis’ part of the 5th Crusade and his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil. We know that Francis was away at a time when the community began to grow rapidly – and not just around Assisi, but in many other parts of Italy, Spain, France, and the Germanic nations as well. While Francis was away, what happened to the friars he left behind?
Francis had delegated his powers to two vicars during his absence: Matthew of Narni, who remained in Assisi, and Gregory of Naples, who visited the communities throughout Italy. Another friar, Phillip the Tall, was entrusted with the care of St. Clare and her sisters, the Poor Ladies of San Damiano. They were given very few orders or instructions. This might seem odd, given that religious life in the 13th century was quite ordered and obedience was a topic often written about – even by Francis himself. However, the friars were not technically an ordo, a religious order – they were still a “religious movement” – albeit, a quite famous and rapidly growing one that had the attention of the Pope and the Roman Curia – both in praise and concern.