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Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mnnews.today/aurora-magazine
THE SULTAN MEETS A SAINT
Shirley McHugh reports on an interfaith event
taking place next month at Toronto.
Almost 800 year s after his death, Fr ancis of
Assisi is known worldwide, his Gospel way of
life a legacy to his follower s. Many of us carry
an image of Francis as a gentle man feeding
the animals. Another a spect of Fr ancis
was brought home to me recently by Pina
Cousins, for many year s a member of the
Secular Franciscan Order.
The Lake Macquarie Fr aternity, to which
Pina belongs, is a small group of ordinary
people following the spiritual path of St
Fr ancis. They offer friendship, kindness, peace
and inclusiveness to all. Pina said that their
decision to invite Diana Rah, Vice-President
of the Newcastle Muslim Association, to
speak at the upcoming Fr anciscan Family
Day, was inspired by the encounter in
1219 between St Francis and the Sultan of
Egypt, and Diana's story, "The Wisdom of a
Tr aveller", in the March Aurora. In that story,
she wrote of people of all faiths and cultures
co-existing peacefully, each respecting the
other. She also wrote of trying times the
Muslim community has had to face r ecently.
Pina Cousins and Diana Rah.
The Fr anciscans hope the Family Day will
help dispel some common myths and
"Fr ancis," said Pina, "was a very br ave man ! He
tr avelled to Damietta in Egypt, ending up right
in the middle of the Fifth Crusade, helping
the sick and injured Christian soldier s, who
were losing the battle. He fir st exhor ted the
Christian Crusaders to cease fighting, then
crossed to the Muslim side in an endeavour
to meet one of the greatest leader s in Islamic
history, Sultan Malek al-Kamil, in a spirit
The Church saw the Sultan as the enemy of
the "Cross of Christ" and the Cr usader s' goal
was his slaying and that of the Muslim people.
Fr ancis was received with gr acious hospitality,
and the two great men met daily for a month,
each gifting the other with talk of their God.
On depar ture, the Sultan gave Fr ancis a silver
and ivor y hor n, used to call the faithful to
pr ayer. It now takes pride of place in Assisi."
I wa sn't aware of this, nor that the Crusaders
wore the red Tau cross to indicate they had
"taken up the cross" to fight for re-possession
of the Holy Lands in retaliation for the Muslim
occupation. Francis, however, saw Christ's
instr uctions for people to "take up their (his)
cross and follow me" as a symbol of spiritual
reform, of healing and peace-making because
"God so loved the world. . ." (John 3:16)
There is no doubt that St Francis wanted to
introduce the Sultan to a loving relationship
with Jesus Christ. This didn't happen, nor was
the Sultan able to conver t Francis to Islam.
However, each man prayed to the same God,
and pr actised a set of principles to lead him
to the same place, whether called heaven
Diana and her son Farooq, along with
the Secular Fr anciscans, have been deeply
touched by the meeting of the two religious
leaders, which has implications for the
relationship between Muslims and Christians
today. The two faiths have much in common.
They are following in the steps of Francis who
pr ayed, "Lord, let me be an instr ument of
Everyone is welcome to the Franciscan
Family Day on Sunday 11 October at St
Joseph's Parish Conference Centre, Toronto.
See more details on page 21.
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