On Thursday, February 19th, Pacifica Institute hosted a screening of “In the Footsteps of Francis and the Sultan: A Model for Peacemaking” in partnership with St. Simon and Jude Catholic Church. The Institute of Interfaith Dialog, which was initiated by Turkish Muslims, the Franciscans, and the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development, collaborated to create the film to promote Christian and Muslim dialogue.
Franciscan Father Christian Mondor, FM, provided a brief introduction to St. Francis, who is often referred to as everybody’s saint. He is known for his simplicity and humility, and emphasized the importance in first changing our own lives in order to change the world. He says that all of us are God’s children, and that there is only one God.
The documentary film highlighted the importance of mutual respect and understanding and the necessity of resolving conflict through dialogue. As an alternative to violence, Francis and the Sultan offer a new paradigm for encountering, dealing with, and ultimately embracing the other.
During the Fifth Crusade, St. Francis departed for the port town of Damietta, where he encountered Sultan al Malik al Kamil. During that encounter, both recognized that the other already knew God, and thus conversion was superfluous. The Sultan noticed similarities between Francis and the Sufi mystics. Francis didn’t buy into the crusade and war against Islam for the Middle East, rather he believed that we are all brothers and sisters in humanity. A universal kinship connects us all. Rather than seeking to conquer or convert the Muslims he encountered, he taught to embrace the “enemy” in the Holy Land.
The documentary stressed that both Christianity and Islam are universal religions, and that there are many paths to God. After his time in Damietta, St. Francis’ teachings reflected this notion. He urges that his followers that go on missions in the Muslim world live among Muslims as good Christians should live, and that they should preach the gospel only if God wills it. This reflects a commonly used phrase in Islam: inshallah, or God willing. Francis was also impressed and deeply moved by the call to prayer and submission to God, as it reflects humility and simplicity.
A brief discussion was held after viewing the film. One participant re-emphasized that when St. Francis met the Sultan, he met him not as an enemy, not as a friend, but as a brother. We are all brothers and sisters.
Pacifica Institute thanks our co-hosts St. Simon and Jude Catholic Church, along with our guests for participating.