They came as much to touch as to be touched. More than one thousand people-young and old, firm and infirm-flooded into the small sanctuary of Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan.
They waited in line for hours-some more than four-and-a-half hours-so that Francis, who bears the stigmata, could lay hands on them and pray over them. And much like St. Francis of Assisi, who also bore the wounds of Christ, this unassuming man does nothing on his own to draw attention to himself. Still the multitude came, many with tears streaming even before standing face-to-face with the man who bears wounds like those of Christ on his hands. They touched him and kissed his hands. A number were "slain in the spirit" and caught as they literally dropped at Francis' feet.
Some returned to tell others of the man with the healing touch, and more people came-even past midnight. That word-of-mouth communication is how most learned of Francis. While numerous physical and spiritual healings have been reported after contact with this humble, otherwise-ordinary man, he remains obedient to his spiritual advisors in shunning publicity and agreed to a brief interview only to benefit others.
Walter "Jack" Casey, an ex-policeman, was appointed by the bishop in Francis' diocese to travel with him. "He (the bishop) did not want me to be alone-ever," said Francis, the seventy-four-year-old devoutly Catholic Michigan man who is a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
"On Ash Wednesday in 1993 he was asked by Jesus if he would accept suffering, and forty days later the stigmata appeared," Casey said. "On Good Friday, the swelling on the top and bottom of his hands broke open and bled profusely."
Casey further explained that every morning, sometime between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m., 365 days a year, Francis suffers the passion of Christ. He suffers for the conversion of sinners and for those who have gone away from the sacraments to return.
"Our Blessed Mother has come to him nineteen times," Casey said. "Seven of those times she has told him, `I will bring my people to you and you to my people.'"
Francis, who spoke only briefly, explained, "Jesus said to me, `Use my hands to touch my people.'"
Fr. Robert J. Fox, founder of the Fatima Family Apostolate in South Dakota, has written a book about the Michigan man, Francis. "I felt it was important to explain the spirituality behind all this because a charism is not for oneself, but for others," Fr. Fox said. "A charism is a `gift of grace' described by St. Paul in chapters twelve and fourteen of his first letter to the Corinthians."
Fr. Fox has been with Francis during and after his intense suffering. "His hands are extended up high as on the cross," Fr. Fox recounted. "After he has been some time in suffering, I see his hands slowly come down and rest on his chest. But the fact that he is still breathing is scarcely perceptible. I got very scared the first time I was with him and thought he had died. He was actually in ecstasy."
While there have been healings associated with Francis and documented in Fr. Fox's book, the priest is careful to point out that even amazing healings cannot be considered a supernatural miracle if there has been even one modern medical treatment.
Francis' humility and acceptance of the direction of his bishop are also a powerful testimony to his authenticity. In a letter to Fr. Fox, the bishop wrote, "I can find no fault with the activity that he is exercising. It seems to be helpful to many people. I was happy to give him my blessing." Francis keeps no money given or sent to him. "He doesn't accept a penny," said Fr. Fox.
But just how does this elderly gentleman stand for five or six hours without even sitting down? "The Lord protects me and I don't get tired," Francis explained. "Our Lord gave me this," he added, exposing his hands with the purple-black blotches on his palms. "He's protecting me."