Shortly after Francesca's three children were born, a flood brought disease and famine to Rome. In response to the desperation of the city, Francesca and Vannezza went out together and distributed corn, wine, oil and clothing to the poor.
When Francesca's father-in-law attempted to stop them by selling all of their extra supplies, the two women went out to beg instead in order to give to the poor. Francesca even combed through the straw in their loft to find extra kernels of corn. After she left, her husband arrived and found the previously empty granary completely full.
When war broke out in Rome in the late 1300s, Francesca's husband Lorenzo was seriously wounded, their house destroyed and their eldest son kidnapped. Her two younger children died shortly after with the outbreak of the plague.
However, instead of despairing, Francesca turned their ruined house into a makeshift hospital and a shelter for the homeless.
In return for taking the lives of her children, God gave Francesca the special grace of being able to see her guardian angel, who served as her companion and spiritual guide.
Eventually both Lorenzo and their eldest son had returned home. Once she nursed her husband back to health and with his blessing, Frances founded a lay order of women called the Oblates of Mary, who share the Benedictine spirituality.
Although the women still lived in the world, they pledged themselves to God and to the service of the poor.
When Lorenzo died, Francesca went to live in a house for the widowed members of the community. She served as superior for four years until her death in 1440.
Fr. Muti said Francesca is widely considered "the saint of mercy" in Rome, because "she practiced all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy."
The priest noted that while there are many saints buried in Rome, not many of them are locals. Because of this she is considered "the saint of the city," and devotion to her is so strong that even today many young girls are named after her.
Each year thousands of pilgrims and locals leave letters, cards and photos at her tomb in the Basilica of Forno, which consists of a glass case containing her skeleton, with a veil on her head.
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Fr. Muti said that in addition to celebrating Mass and offering various prayers throughout the day, Francesca's feast is also marked with the blessing of cars near the coliseum.
The blessing is rooted in the fact that Francesca's guardian angel would accompany her on her nightly rounds in the city.
Although it was dangerous at the time, "the angel always protected her from any harm," Fr. Muti said, explaining that it is for this reason Pope Pius XI proclaimed her patron of motorists, which prompted what has become the annual Roman tradition of blessing cars on her feast day.