On this, the day before the ninth anniversary of the terrible, terrible terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I encourage you to think with me about the peace prayer of Francis of Assisi. That prayer, IMHO, is one of the greatest Christian prayers of all time.
Murray Bodo, a Franciscan priest, has written many books and articles about Francis. I have just finished reading two of Fr. Bodo’s books: Francis: The Journey and the Dream (1972; rev. ed., 1988) and The Way of St. Francis: The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone (1995). The most impressive chapter in the former was “Francis Before the Sultan.”
The Fifth Crusade was called for by Pope Innocent III, the Pope who blessed Francis in 1209. That crusade was actually begun in 1217, the year after Innocent’s death, under the leadership of the following Pope, Honorius III, whom Francis had also met personally.
Francis participated in that crusade—but not with a sword. In 1219 he risked martyrdom by entering the court of Malik al-Kamil, who had become the Ayyubid sultan of Egypt the year before, to seek peace. Al-Kamil was the Muslim leader who led the defense during the Seige of Damietta, a major battle of the Fifth Crusade. Even before meeting Francis, he had made several offers of peace to the Crusaders, all of which were rejected.
It is a historical fact that Francis appeared before the sultan—and, somewhat miraculously, was not martyred. Yesterday I checked a new book out of the library: The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (2009) by Paul Moses. I want to learn more about Francis’ historic encounter with the sultan.
In the imagined dialogue between the humble Francis and the powerful al-Kamil, Fr. Bodo has Francis say to the sultan that he wants to share “a prayer I learned by fighting the great battle with my self, by conquering one by one the demons in my own heart.” And the sultan responds, “Then pray it for me now, here in front of these dullards who infest my tent.”
Then Francis kneels down and begins to pray,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
. . . .