From: Christian Stories of Wisdom
Francis loved animals. He saw a sacred link between animals and men and spoke to all his brothers in the same way, whether they were feathered or furred, and whether they walked upright or on all fours.
One day Francis was on his way to the abbey of Gubbio. He walked at a brisk pace, leading his donkey by its bridle. Just as he began to see the towers of the abbey coming into view above the trees, his path was blocked by some peasants.
“Brother Francis, do not go any further! Ferocious wolves are prowling around. They are starving and will devour you if you go on!”
“I have not hurt them at all and neither has my soul. Don’t worry. Return to God! Good night.”
Francis then passed by the peasants quite peacefully and plunged into the forest along the dark road. He was not worried about the wolves.
He appeared at the gate of the town of Gubbio. Oddly, it was shut. Some guards half-opened it, allowed Francis through, and closed it quickly behind them. The brother wished to rest, but the townspeople crowded together and bombarded him with questions:
“Have you seen the wolves?”
“And above all the most terrible one, a grey wolf, almost black.”
“It is rabid.”
“We no longer dare to go out,” moaned a mother, her child in her arms.
“It killed someone last week!” shrieked the surviving companion.
“Yes. It kills and pursues everything it finds, but it is never satisfied!”
“It is a devil!” exclaimed a terror-stricken old woman.
Francis raised his hands as a sign of reassurance. When silence fell anew he just said:
“I am going to leave and speak with the wolf.”
The townspeople stifled their cries, but no one dared to utter anything.
When the slender saint slipped through the gap of the open door some people were already praying that his soul might rest in peace.
He did not go far. At the edge of the wood the wolf suddenly appeared, with his mouth open. He slavered, lips curled up on his bared fangs.
Francis made the sign of the cross and sat down calmly on a stump.
“Come near me, brother wolf.”
Surprised, the wolf shut his mouth. He approached with measured steps and sat down.
“I have heard that you sow terror hereabout. And you see that you devastate and devour and yet you are always hungry!”
The wolf whined.
“I understand the people of Gubbio are afraid of you and want your hide. But I would like to reconcile you both so you no longer fear men or their dogs.”
From the heights of the city walls the citizens, dumbfounded, observed the holy man talking to the wolf.
“If you make peace, brother wolf, I promise that the people will feed you every day until you die. It is hunger that drives you mad. If you promise to do no more harm, you will be looked after.”
The wolf observed the man, and took an especially good look at his eyes. He saw that the words were sound and that his soul was in harmony with them. The wolf felt loved as a creature endowed with wit and reason. He approached Francis, lowered his head, and placed his paw in his hand.
The brother stroked his rough fur. Then he stood up and the wolf followed him. He walked toward the city walls with the wolf at his heel. And Francis entered the town with the wolf at his side. He didn’t meet anyone.
Frightened, the habitants had taken refuge behind their walls and well-locked doors.
In the main square, Saint Francis spoke. He told the people of Gubbio that they were so grasping that they refused to feed even a wolf. And that the wolf took revenge. But if they were to give the wolf the wherewithal to satisfy hunger, he would stop wreaking havoc.
As a token of agreement, the animal sat back on its haunches before the saint and licked his sandals. Then the townspeople dared to surface. The wolf look at them without stirring.
The townspeople prostrated themselves before the saint and promised to feed the animal every day and, if it were ill, even to care for it. Brother Francis blessed the men and the wolf.
For the two years the wolf lived, he respected his promise and received his sustenance every day. He entered houses as if he were at home. Even the dogs welcomed him as one of their own. When he died from old age, the townspeople wept for him and followed his mortal remains while the bell tolled.