Saint Francis, a saint for our times.

By Bernadette Meaden
October 4, 2014

A war between Christians and Muslims which seems never-ending. Religious leaders who tell the faithful that if they die fighting a ‘holy war’ they will have eternal life. This was the scenario in the Crusades of the mediaeval period, and the religious leaders who promised such rewards for martyrdom were the Popes, the leaders of Christendom.

Into this hellishly brutal scenario stepped Saint Francis, a poverty-stricken mendicant, in the eyes of the world a nobody, who was a revolutionary because he took the words of the Gospel literally. He travelled to the theatre of war and told the Christian troops to stop fighting. Christ told us to love our enemies, he urged, and so there could be no pretence that any war was God’s will, or that the troops had God on their side. He then made his way to the camp of Malik al-Kamil, Sultan of Egypt, and spent weeks with ‘the enemy’, earning his respect and trust.

Of course Francis was unable to stop the Crusades, which went on for many years, but imagine what a different world we would live in now if he had succeeded. He knew himself that he would probably not be listened to, but he also knew he had to try. As he said, "If I tell them they will consider me a fool, but if I am silent, I cannot escape my own conscience."

This chapter of Saint Francis’ life has been neglected, even glossed over in the past, but now would seem to be the time to give it more consideration. If our leaders could show even a fraction of the courage, humility, and love that Saint Francis showed in equal measure to his own side and the side of ‘the enemy’, we would have a better chance of peace.

For all who yearn for peace, we are living in dark times. Innocents are being killed relentlessly, whether publicly as part of some macabre propaganda video, or anonymously as the unseen victims of a drone strike. It would be only human to despair. But as Saint Francis said, "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle."

With his reverence for the entirety of Creation and identification with the poor, his efforts to end hostility between Christians and Muslims is just one more feature of Saint Francis’s life that makes him very much a saint for our times.

© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Keywords:saints | muslims | IS
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