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Christian apology for the Crusades:

The Reconciliation Walk

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"But when have Christians demonstrated this love to Muslims or Jews? We have gone to them with swords and guns. We have gone to them with racism and hatred. We have gone to them with feelings of cultural superiority and economic domination. We have gone to them with colonialism and exploitation. We have even gone to them with the Gospel cloaked in arguments of superiority. Only a few have ever gone with the message of Calvary...We must do more than carry the message, we must be the message." Reconciliation Walk

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About the Crusades and their legacy of hatred:

The mid 7th century to the mid 10th century CE saw the gradual expansion of Islam. Half of the Christian world was conquered by Arab armies; this included countries in which Christianity had been established for centuries, such as Egypt, southern France, southern Italy, Sicily, Spain, Syria, Turkey, etc. 4

By the late 10th century, Europe and the Middle East were divided into Christian and Muslim spheres of influence. Christian pilgrims from Europe regularly visited Muslim-controlled Jerusalem in reasonable safety. Such pilgrimages were very popular. The were believed to be one of the major acts by which a person could reduce their exposure to the tortures of purgatory after their death.

By the middle of the 11th century, Christianity had formally split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Empire: The Emperor/Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome had mutually excommunicated each other. In 1071, the Turks defeated the latter at the Battle of Manzikert. This left Constantinople exposed to attack from Muslims. Meanwhile, Christians were being ambushed during their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.

Emperor Alexius asked Pope Urban II for assistance. On 1095-NOV-27, the Pope called on Europeans to go on a crusade to liberate Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers. "The first and second wave of Crusaders murdered, raped and plundered their way up the Rhine and down the Danube as they headed for Jerusalem." 1  The "army" was primarily composed of untrained peasants with their families, with a core of trained soldiers. On the way to the Middle East, they decided that only one of their goals was to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Muslims. A secondary task was to rid the world of as many non-Christians as possible - both Muslims and Jews. The Crusaders gave the Jews two choices in their slogan: "Christ-killers, embrace the Cross or die!" 12,000 Jews in the Rhine Valley alone were killed as the first Crusade passed through. Some Jewish writers refer to these events as the "first holocaust."  Once the army reached Jerusalem and broke through the city walls, they slaughtered all the inhabitants that they could find (men, women, children, newborns). After locating about 6,000 Jews holed up in the synagogue, they set the building on fire; the Jews were burned alive. The Crusaders found that about 30,000 Muslims had fled to the al Aqsa Mosque. The Muslim were also slaughtered without mercy. 

The Roman Catholic church taught that going to war against the "Infidels" was an act of Christian penance. If a believer was killed during a crusade, he would bypass purgatory, and be taken directly to heaven. By eliminating what might be many millennia of torture in Purgatory, many Christians were strongly motivated to volunteer for the crusades. "After pronouncing a solemn vow, each warrior received a cross from the hands of the pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a soldier of the Church." 3

These mass killings were repeated during each of the 8 additional crusades until the final, 9th, crusade in 1272 CE. Both Christians and Muslims believed that they were fighting on God's side against Satan; they believed that if they died on the battlefield they would be given preferential treatment in the Christian Heaven or the Muslim Paradise. Battles were fought with a terrible fierceness and a massive loss of life. Over a 200 year period, perhaps 200,000 people were killed. The Muslim warrior Salah a-Din subsequently recaptured Jerusalem from the Christians.

By the end of the crusades, most European Christians believed the unfounded blood-libel myths -- the rumor that Jews engaged in human sacrifice of Christian children. A long series of Christian persecutions of the Jews continued in Europe and Russia into the 20th century. They laid the foundation for the Nazi Holocaust. 

The result of centuries of conflict among followers of the three main Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was a "deep mutual hatred" and mistrust among the three faiths. Memories of these genocides still influence relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims to the present time.

Among many Jews and Muslims, the term crusade evokes visions of genocide, mass murder, and mass extermination of innocent people. However, among many Christians it has become a positive term, frequently used to refer to mass rallies and campaigns to win converts - as in the Billy Graham Crusades. Out of respect for the victims of the "first holocaust," we recommend that the term be only used to refer to the wars of the Middle Ages.

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The Reconciliation Walk:

"The Reconciliation Walk is an interdenominational grassroots movement of Western Christians,...retracing the route of the First Crusade, apologizing to Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians for the atrocities of the Crusades -- foremost among them, the misuse of the name and message of Jesus."

The organizers of the Reconciliation Walk are unaware of any previous, " serious effort to repair this damage" caused by the crusades. The first crusaders set off for Jerusalem in 1096-APR, from the cathedral in Cologne. Exactly 900 years later, on Easter Sunday, about 150 walkers departed from the same cathedral. Their first stop was a Turkish Mosque and teaching center. Their leader explained that the walkers had come to apologize for the atrocities committed in the name of Christ during the Crusades. Then they read a letter of apology in German, Turkish and English. They were "greeted with loud, sustained applause." The Imam responded: "When I heard the nature of your message, I was astonished and filled with hope. I thought to myself, 'whoever had this idea must have had an epiphany, a visit from God himself.' It is my wish that this project should become a very great success.

During the Crusades, the entire Jewish population of Cologne was destroyed. In remembrance of this, the walkers went to the local synagogue. Since it was a Jewish holy day, the walkers did not go inside; they prayed and moved on.

Individual walkers joined the group for as few as 10 days or as much as many months at a time. Following the ancient routes of the Crusades, one team passed through France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. A second team set out from Germany and passed through Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. The teams met at Istanbul, Turkey on 1996-OCT-10. The Deputy Mufti of Istanbul, the Chief Rabbi, the Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch (head of the Orthodox church) and the Deputy Mayer welcomed the team with warmth and appreciation. "In towns and villages, people spilled out of their houses and applauded the team as they passed." They visited countless cities, towns, and villages in Turkey during 1996 and 1997.

In mid-1998, a team arrived in Antakya, Turkey (once called Antioch) on the 900th anniversary of the conquest of that city.  By 1998-SEP, they had reached Syria and Lebanon. About 500 participants reached Jerusalem on 1999-JUL-15, the 900th anniversary of the killing of about 60,000 Jerusalem residents and the destruction of the city. 

About 2,000 Christians from 27 countries have participated in this walk. Most are Evangelical Protestants. They have worn T-shirts and caps that say "I apologize" in Arabic or Hebrew.

The Reconciliation Walk statement of apology reads:

"Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed and hatred, they betrayed the name of Christ by conducting themselves in a manner contrary to His wishes and character. The Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross above your people. By this act they corrupted its true meaning of reconciliation, forgiveness and selfless love.

On the anniversary of the First Crusade we also carry the name of Christ. We wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their deeds and in demonstration of the true meaning of the Cross. We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Where they were motivated by hatred and prejudice, we offer love and brotherhood. Jesus the Messiah came to give life. Forgive us for allowing His name to be associated with death. Please accept again the true meaning of the Messiah's words:

'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' "

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  1. "Reconciliation Walk: The Crusades," at: 
  2. David Sharrock, "Nine  hundred years later, a Christian apology for Crusades," The Guardian. Reprinted in The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1999-JUL-5.
  3. "The Catholic Encyclopedia: Crusades," at: 
  4. "[Gwynne Dyer,] Historian: Reconciliation walk has bad sense of history," Maranatha Christian Journal, at:

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Copyright 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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