There is no
doubt that St. Francis of Assisi was a radical Christian radical in the sense of
going down to the very roots or essentials of the faith when it came to imitating Jesus
Christ. There are dozens of fine books about
the saint. The emphasis in this book about
his life is on his attempt to convert to Christianity the powerful sultan of Egypt,
The small book has three parts. The first part deals with the youth and conversion
of St. Francis, without going into great detail, since these facts are well known.
The heart of the book is to be found in the second part,
which tells of his missionary journey to Egypt with the intention of converting the sultan
and any other Muslims who would listen to him. The
year was 1219 during the Fifth Crusade to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Crusaders were at first defeated at Damietta,
which was followed by a truce of some time. During
the truce St. Francis and one of his companions crossed the battle lines and went to see
the sultan. By doing that he was risking his
life, since the normal treatment of captured Christians in such circumstances was to be
beheaded. Trusting absolutely in God and
willing to die for the faith, Francis was at first beaten by the guards but eventually
taken to the sultan. The sultan was favorably
impressed by the humble, kindly Francis and listened to him. The guards wanted to chop his head off, but the
sultan said No and received him as his guest.
Francis spent a few weeks with the sultan, preaching to him the Gospel of
Jesus Christ and telling him that if wanted to be saved, he had to become a Christian.
The author says that the sultan was favorably impressed,
but knew he and his family would be killed by other Muslims if he converted. When Francis saw that he could not convert the
sultan, he departed and returned to the camp of the Crusaders. The sultan offered several rich gifts to Francis,
but he refused to take anything.
In the third part Mr. Rega says that there are credible
reports that the sultan asked for baptism shortly before he died. If that is so, then it means that it was due to
the preaching of St. Francis. In this part
there is also an account of the last few years in the life of the saint when he suffered
from many bodily ailments, became almost blind, and received the stigmata two years before
St. Francis was a radical follower of Jesus Christ. He was joyful and had a pleasant personality so
that he attracted many followers. In a few
short years his followers in the Franciscan way of life numbered around five thousand. But he was not a pacifist. He supported the Fifth Crusade and encouraged the
knights. Also he did not believe in dialogue
or theological discussions. After all, he was
not a theologian he was a saint who grew in knowledge of the faith by prayer,
penance, meditating on the Bible and being guided by the Holy Spirit. So he did not attempt to dialogue with the sultan. He preached to him Jesus Christ crucified. When he was convinced that he had done all he
could to convert the sultan, he returned to Assisi to be with his friars.
This is an excellent book for spiritual reading. His approach to the Muslims is instructive for
Christians today who think they can dialogue with them.
St. Francis preached Christ to them as the only savior of the world and he
was ready to die for the faith.
Kenneth Baker, S.J.
70 Lake Street
P.O. Box 297
Ramsey, N.J. 07446