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Francis of Assisi, peacemaker;
Excerpt from an article by Thomas Cahill

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Thomas Cahill, is the author of some remarkable books about history:

bullet "Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science and Art From the Cults of Catholic Europe," Nan A. Talese, (2006) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
bullet The Hinges of History series:
bullet "Desire of the Everlasting Hills." Anchor, (2001). Read reviews or order this book
bullet "How the Irish Saved Civilization." Anchor, (1998). Read reviews or order this book
bullet "The gifts of the Jews: How a tribe of desert nomads changed the way everyone thinks and feels." Anchor, (1999) Read reviews or order this book
bullet "Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter," (Anchor, (2004). Read reviews or order this book

He wrote an article about Francis of Assisi titled "The Peaceful Crusader." It was published in the New York Times on 2006-DEC-25.

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.

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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, but Kamil 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 difference."

"May the Lord give you peace."

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Originally posted: 2007-JAN-01
Last update: 2007-JAN-01
Author: Thomas Cahill

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