It’s hard to think of the Church without Franciscans. But it almost wasn’t so!
When Francis and his small band of followers first arrived in Rome in 1209 to seek papal approval, Pope Innocent III was skeptical. For the last few decades, the Church had been having problems with a heretical group called the Waldensians that, like the Franciscans, also preached radical poverty. Were the Franciscans also going to be a problem?
But God’s providence was at work. When they arrived, the Franciscans happened to run into Cardinal Bishop of Sabina, who was the confessor of the Pope, and he was immediately sympathetic to their cause. He convinced the reluctant pontiff to meet with the group.
After about a week, Innocent III finally agreed to give the group temporary informal approval, telling them that if their numbers continued to grow, they could return and seek official approval.
But God wasn’t done with them.
Later that year, Innocent III had an experience he wasn’t expecting: a supernatural dream about the Franciscans.
In his dream, he saw the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome – and it was falling over. But someone was standing in the breach: there was Francis, the young leader of the strange new group, and he was holding it up.
The implication was clear: the Franciscans would play a key role in supporting the papacy and the whole Catholic Church. Inspired by the dream, just about a year after their first meeting, Pope Innocent III officially recognized the new Order of Friars Minor, or the Franciscans.
And the rest is history!