Saint Francis and Obama

And the connection? Islamic Cairo, 800 years ago. My colleague Paul Moses, a religion writer and journalism professor, is set to publish a book about Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil, during the Fifth Crusade in 1219. As Paul writes at dotCommonweal, he has been reading Obama’s speech today in Cairo and the various reactions through that lens–but, as he says, it’s important not to overlook another audience for this address: We Americans:


Obama faced much anger – but certainly not more so than Francis, who visited the sultan during a battle in which the Crusaders, having turned down a peace treaty that would have given them Jerusalem, were laying siege to the city of Damietta at the mouth of the Nile, slowly killing nearly all its 80,000 residents. Sultan al-Kamil, probably the most Christian-friendly of any Egyptian sultan, received Francis gently and allowed him to preach.

Francis came away with some revolutionary insights into how Christians could relate to Muslims. Even as the Crusade continued on toward its disastrous conclusion, he proposed that his friars live peacefully among Muslims and “be subject” to them. The tragedy is that Francis, ill and marginalized within his order during the last years of his life, was never able to convince others to join him in seeing Muslims in a new light. The example he tried to show his fellow Christians by going to the enemy unarmed wasn’t heeded at the time.


The response of Americans to Obama’s journey to Egypt is just as important as the reaction the president draws in the Middle East. The text of his speech shows that his remarks were addressed to Muslims. But the simple example of going to Cairo to speak to the Muslim world speaks volumes to Americans. It calls for a new way of relating to the Muslim world – that the default position shouldn’t be suspicion.

Obama was not just speaking to Muslims today. Much of the value of his journey will lay in whether it helps to change the attitudes of his own people.

Photo: “Francis and the Sultan,” Arnaldo Zocchi, 1909. St. Joseph’s Church, Cairo.

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posted June 4, 2009 at 1:21 pm

‘Tis a shame he thinks the height of civility in foreign relations requires fashion advice on the hijab, when more serious minds take that as evidence of infantilization (well, with reservations, Mother Angelica’s EWTN Fransciscans still wear the veil, I suppose) :

“We really have regressed from the scientific point of view. And in the field of religion, we are being suffocated by a religion of form, increasingly controlled from the outside, careful to appearances (to wear the veil, beard, burqua, or Niqab), to the infinite rules that the Imam’s emit in their fatwa. It has come to the point that for even the smallest aspects of private and social life fatwa’s are necessary: it is forbidden to wear lipstick; pluck one’s eyebrows; eat with a Christian; for Shiites and Sunnis to live together…..Dozens and dozens of fatwa’s to regulate how we dress, how a husband and wife make love, how we spend money….All of this is suffocating freedom and it is seen in the absence of science, democracy and freedom.”

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posted June 4, 2009 at 2:22 pm

I belief the words of another Francis, a Francis Bacon should be heeded:
“Concerning the means of procuring unity; men must beware, that in the procuring or muniting 12 of religious unity they do not dissolve and deface the laws of charity and of human society. There be two swords amongst Christians, the spiritual and temporal; and both have their due office and place in the maintenance of religion. But we may not take up the third sword, which is Mahomet’s sword, or like unto it; that is, to propagate religion by wars or by sanguinary persecutions to force consciences;”
But when the 3rd sword is drawn against us, we must use our own dual blades to parry and counter…

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Frank Clyburn

posted June 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I personally think there is no relationship between St. Francis of Assisi and President Obama…. President Obama is obviously still in running mode….running for what? Could it be he wants to be President of a new world order….? Watch closely!

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posted June 5, 2009 at 7:41 am

I love that Obama takes more seriously than most Catholics the call of Vatican II and for that matter our call as Christians, to be open to dialogue with people of other faiths including those who are not Christian. That he strives to be a face of peace.
Clare, I don’t think it is a “fashion” suggestion, I think he is taking seriously the marginalization that moderate Muslims feel if they do not distinguish themselves in dress as Muslims. Many do not feel that it is a requirement to be a good Muslim and he is speaking to that group. Incidentally, that is the group that will be willing to hear the words that lead to peace.
I liken it to Catholics who are open enough to the Holy Spirit to see the goodness in what is happening instead of being on the lookout for evil everywhere. It seems to me that by being open we are making God number one and not something or someone else, that is where I ‘watch closely.”

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Your Name

posted June 5, 2009 at 9:25 am

I can see that Obama’s message to Muslims is an attempt to “prepare the way of the Lord,” regardless of whether that was his intention or not. Hearts and minds are more open when peace becomes the foundation on which relationships are built.

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The Lady of All Nations

posted June 5, 2009 at 10:14 am

I come from Rome
and am going there.
the present sovereign pontiff
is not feeling well these days.
he speaks of retiring soon.
mr. obama, I love him
because my Heavenly Father-the Christ
taught me to love my enemies and to pray for them.
it’s easy to,
since mr. obama
has so many good qualities.
i think of him as
an emerging false prophet mohammad.
yet, i hold this against him:
he claims to be a christian
and claims at the same time
that our nation is not a christian nation.
the rulers in Rome and the Rulers all over the world
are guilty of suppressing Christianity.
I pray for their conversion,
but also I pray ever against their malice.
Jesus Christ is King and God and Only He, there is none other.
He is One, not Three. God is One, not Three.
Christ is the Chief God over all the gods,
and is like a father, a son and a brother to us all.
May He reign over us as he does in heaven.
all men must now bend their wills to His,
when He should arise to power in Rome
and He will soon.
encourage one another to accept these things.
Soon will come the changes.
– rebekah
Texas, USA

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The Lady of All Nations

posted June 5, 2009 at 10:31 am

to C3 – why not a third sword for christians?
why not? yes, a third sword is needed to bring about
the fulfillment of the Lord’s Prayer,
which all christians pray, whether consciously or unconsciously:
‘Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”.
If men are not willing to bend their wills to Christ’s Holy Will,
what will be done of them?
Heaven must come to Earth or become to Its likeness,
and in Heaven, all found there do Christ’s Will.
They want to.
On Earth will remain only those who do His Will
with loyalty in their Hearts.
Violence will be done to hearts and egos alike,
and the wicked mighty, the wicked rich,
the wicked christians, and the wicked worthless
also the wicked reckless lawbreakers who are
destroying the world and the universe
will all be cast out into the darkness
where the worm never dies.
some call it: the Lake of Fire, the Second Death.
No one wants to die.
These wicked will put up a fight.
That is where the third sword will come in.
Look what they did to Christ (in His Passion).
He taught us the ‘golden rule’
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
We are nearing the Hour
when it will be done to them
what was done to Him.
Christ does not like ‘compromises’.
His was a costly sacrifice and He demands it
of His followers, in spirit and in truth.
such are His true worshipers.
Christ’s love for His Children
and Their love for Him
will lead to bloodshed.
I promise it.
It is coming.
C3, be warned and begin to warn others.
False prophets of peace are doomed.
– rebekah
Texas, USA

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posted June 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

The Lady,
You ask if men will not bend to Christ’s will what will be done with them?
They will receive their reward just as those who do conform to Christ’s will shall receive theirs.
Let’s not forget Matthew 10:14
“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.”
It doesn’t say pound them to dust…

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posted June 15, 2009 at 8:28 am

Americans will react to Islamafter the speech as before. The fear and distrust of a Mideast w/o cultural and scientific advancement and an Islam without its own internal reformation, will continue.

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