Franciscans in Assisi Redo Their Wardrobe

New Habit Is Convenient for Carrying Mobile Phones

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ASSISI, Italy, NOV. 18, 2001 (</a>.- Franciscans in Assisi have engaged a Milan fashion designer to create a new habit for them, the Telegraph newspaper of London reported.

The black pleated habit used by the Franciscans´ Third Regular Order for 150 years, not only «weighed a ton,» the friars said, but looked «clichéd,» and failed to reflect their philosophy, the newspaper reported.

Elisabetta Bianchetti, a specialist designer who has created robes for cardinals and monsignori, was brought in to produce something «simpler, cleaner, more dynamic and professional.»

She has now come up with a snappy, charcoal gray model in lightweight wool.

Besides being much lighter than the present black wool habit that weighs 7 pounds, the trim new design has breast pockets in which the brothers can keep their mobile telephones.

The friars, who describe themselves as «penitents» dedicated to missionary and humanitarian work, reportedly like the result, and last week they began wearing the redesigned habits. The new garb, they say, will be both more practical and comfortable.

Their move has become the talk of the town of Assisi, where the Franciscan monastic order was founded by St. Francis in the 13th century.

The move has also attracted criticism. Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist and commentator on Church matters, was unconvinced by the need for a new habit.

Messori told a fashion magazine: «St Francis did not distinguish between friars and the poor, and for that reason he chose to wear a piece of rough wool with a hole in the middle of it. To remain faithful to that spirit today, friars should be dressing in the same way as down-and-outs. But the problem remains: Where would one keep one´s mobile phone?»

Padre Lino Temperini, a spokesman for the Third Order who has written a book on Franciscan garb, is the man responsible for spearheading what he calls the habit «revolution.»

It was necessary to have «courage and intelligence» to change a friar´s habit, he said. The aim was to ensure that it did not become «theatrical and counterproductive.»

He argued that while the design being brought in now was «new,» it was in fact based on a cross between what had been worn by St. Francis himself, and an old habit designed in 1447.

He added: «To return to a more modern, humbler style, which is in fact based on a much older one, we are returning to the simplicity which we are supposed to be all about.»

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