In The Footprints of Francis and the Sultan

Franciscan Media

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…[T]here was one remarkable event, often only mentioned in passing in church history books and even biographies of the saint, when Francis set out for Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. At that time, the Muslims still controlled Jerusalem, but to reach there, the crusaders decided to first capture the fortress of Damietta in Egypt and gain control of the Nile River. The film tells us, however, that Francis did not "buy the pope's call to war but goes instead to embrace the Muslims." When the crusaders laughed at Francis and dismissed him as he tried to convince them not to fight, he decided to meet the sultan. He and Brother Illuminato entered the sultan's camp, where they were treated as spies then brought to Sultan al-Kamil.

No one actually knows what was said since Francis did not speak Arabic and the sultan didn't speak whatever French-Italian dialect Francis used. It was their way of being together, the attitude of mutual respect and understanding, as well as their belief in one God, prayer, kindness to the poor, and peace that certainly appealed to both men.

When Francis returned home, he even amended the rule he had written for his brothers, saying that those who feel called to go to Muslims should be allowed to do so. In 1272, a sultan allowed the Franciscans to settle in the Cenacle in Jerusalem. In 1342, Pope Clement VI named the Franciscans the custodians of the Holy Land "in the name of the Catholic church."

The goal of Francis and the Sultan is to articulate and demonstrate the essence of interreligious dialogue and encourage viewers to actively participate in dialogic action with people who believe differently because without dialogue, the alternative is hostility and worse. The way to do this is modeled on how Francis and the Sultan were with one another, by starting with the respect they most certainly had for those things that we today hold in common, such as belief in the one true God, the centrality of God's will in our lives, charity for the poor, and the desire for peace.