Peace is possible when one has the humility to listen to people from different religious and cultural backgrounds and the will to dialogue with them. Human relations are the way forward and in Franciscan terms, this means being minor with respect to every other creature.
This was the message of the documentary film “The Sultan and the Saint” which had its European premiere on the evening of Wednesday, May 9, 2018, in auditorium of the Seraphicum International College of the Friars Minor Conventual in Rome.
The event was hosted by the Pontifical Theological Faculty of St. Bonaventure in collaboration with PISAI – the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Cineforum Seraphicum and the monthly “St. Bonaventure Informs” publication. This documentary film, directed by American Alex KRONEMER, was about the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan AL-KAMIL.
Hundreds of people attended the screening. It was the first of many events anticipated for next year to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan. Francis made the long journey to Damietta in 1219, for the purpose of meeting the Sultan and converting his people. His only weapons were the Gospel and peaceful confrontation.
Friar Emanuele RIMOLI, OFM Conv., introduced the documentary. Friar Emanuale is a professor at the Seraphicum and one of the film’s promoters. There were presentations from the film’s American director, Alex KRONEMER, and from Sister Marie LUCEY, the Assistant Director of the Franciscan Action Network, (FAN) a USA Franciscan Solidarity Association. Also present in the room was FAN’s Executive Director, Patrick CAROLAN and Friar Mike LASKY, OFM Conv., a promoter for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.
The American director’s reconstruction of this historical event made for an interesting discussion about certain issues related to the meeting, such as the personalities of St. Francis and the Sultan, the role of the Church, the crusades, and what pressuring influences may have resulted from the meeting.
It was an open and frank discussion, moderated and led by Friar Emil KUMKA, OFM Conv., a professor of Franciscanism. He was assisted by Friar Dariusz WIŚNIEWSKI, OFM Conv., a theologian and former missionary in Turkey, and by Professor Adnane MOKRANI, an associate professor at PISAI.
Among the ideas Professor MOKRANI mentioned was a “mimicry of good, in rediscovering a common humanity, in not seeing the other as a hostile person, but seeing him with the eyes of humanity as someone who prays”.
“St. Francis ‘goal was to go forth and proclaim the Gospel,” said Friar WIŚNIEWSKI, “and it is important to stress that he writes ‘among the Saracens’ (inter, not contra nor ad), and that this is how St. Francis thinks about the presence of friars in the world, that they are placed precisely among the people, as peace-bearers.”
There was also discussion, in light of the artistic license that film takes, to read in the parallels of the historical data provided by the Franciscan sources. For example there was reflection on the composition of the “Praises of the Most High God” and its similarity to the Ninety-nine names used to invoke Allah. Professor MOKRANI explained: “There is a clear affinity – but this is not syncretism. Certainly, St. Francis and the Sultan shared the ability to listen and learn something from each other. This requires humility and freedom from arrogance. Arrogance can pose a real risk to faith and spirituality. When we are truly free, we can appreciate the beauty of the other, without jealousy; not perceiving the other as a danger, but as an opportunity for spiritual enrichment.”
To really examine the goal of peace, Friar Emanuele RIMOLI gave the guests a parchment containing part of the text of “The Praises of God Most High” from St. Francis in the Mirror of Perfection, alongside some of the ninety-nine names listed in the Qur’an, by which to invoke God. The gift was a powerful symbol of how, despite respective differences, we can still pray, converse and work to achieve peace.
Elisabetta LO IACONO – Seraphicum Press Office
Photo: Friar Franciszek CZARNOWSKI OFM Conv.