He wrote an article about Francis of Assisi titled "The Peaceful Crusader."
It was published in the
New York Times
Copyright restrictions prevent us from reprinting the entire essay, so we
have deleted the first part.
Cahill suggests that the centuries of friction between Islam and the West
might have been prevented if Francis of Assisi, a friar from the 13th century,
had been successful in his quest during the Crusades. He joined the Fifth
Crusade as a peacemaker, not a warrior. He was repulsed by the sacrilegious
brutality of the Crusaders. He tried, but failed, to negotiate a truce. History
might have been very different if he had been successful.
Part of "The Peaceful Crusader" by Thomas Cahill:
"... Francis sailed across the
Mediterranean to the Egyptian court of al-Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the
great Saladin who had defeated the forces of the hapless Third Crusade.
Francis was admitted to the august presence of the sultan himself and
spoke to him of Christ, who was, after all, Francis only subject."
"Trying to proselytize a Muslim was cause for on-the-spot decapitation,
was a wise and moderate man, who was deeply impressed by Francis courage and
sincerity and invited him to stay for a week of serious conversation. Francis,
in turn, was deeply impressed by the religious devotion of the Muslims. …"
"It is a tragedy of history that Kamil and Francis were unable to talk longer, to
coordinate their strengths and form an alliance. Had they been able to do so,
the phrase 'clash of civilizations' might be unknown to our world."
"Francis went back to the Crusader camp on the Egyptian shore and desperately
tried to convince Cardinal Pelagius Galvani, whom Pope Honorius III had put in
charge of the Crusade, that he should make peace with the sultan, who, despite
far greater force on his side, was all too ready to do so. But the cardinal had
dreams of military glory and would not listen. His eventual failure, amid
terrible loss of life, brought the age of the crusades to its inglorious end."
"Donald Spoto, one of Francis of Assisis most recent biographers, rightly calls
Francis the first person from the West to travel to another continent with the
revolutionary idea of peacemaking. As a result of his inability to convince
Cardinal Pelagius, however, Francis saw himself as a failure. Like his model,
Jesus of Nazareth, Francis was an extremist. But his failure is still capable of
bearing new fruit."
"Islamic society and Christian society have been generally bad neighbors now for
nearly 14 centuries, eager to misunderstand each other, often borrowing
culturally and intellectually from each other without ever bestowing proper
credit. But as Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has
written, almost as if he was thinking of Kamil and Francis,
'Those who are
confident of their faith are not threatened but enlarged by the different faiths
of others. ...' "
"There are, surely, many ways of arriving at this generosity of
spirit and each faith may need to find its own. We stand in desperate need of
contemporary figures like Kamil and Francis of Assisi to create an innovative
dialogue. To build a future better than our past, we need, as Rabbi Sacks has
put it, the confidence to recognize the irreducible, glorious dignity of
"May the Lord give you peace."