There is an intriguing story of St. Francis of Assisi traveling to Egypt during the bloody medieval crusades to meet with an important Islamic leader, the Sultan Malek al-Kamel. At a time when Pope Innocent III referred to Muslims as enemies of Christ and his people” and the prophet Mohammed as a “son of perdition” and excommunicated anyone who provided “the enemy” with supplies, the story goes that Francis entered the Muslim camp as a “brother,” approached the Sultan with the greatest reverence, and had a conversation with him that deeply affected them both. In fact, some scholars have shown that when Francis returned to Italy, he composed a poetic prayer to God inspired by his experience of Islam and respect for the devotion of the Sultan. If this story is true, Francis acted courageously and boldly, navigating outside the prejudices of the dominant culture of his day. Through a spirit of fraternal service, he found some kind of common faith with the Sultan, someone the Church called the “enemy.” It’s hard not to see Francis taking the lead from Jesus himself who, as seen in today’s Gospel, seemed to constantly be interacting with the so-called “impure” and marginalized with compassion and dignity. We have many experiential opportunities in our parish to engage in this “messy” kind of conversation embodied by Jesus and Francis.
We have ministries that provide delegations to an indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala, delegations to inner-city Philadelphia with one of the highest homelessness rate in the country, and a ministry that provides transportation and companionship to migrant workers less than an hour away from our homes. In addition to the experiential, there are also a number of educational opportunities on the horizon for engaging in this kind of “messy” conversation. I’d like to highlight three. One is a special presentation of the award-winning documentary film called Budrus on August 17 that narrates how Palestinians and Israelis are coming together nonviolently to save a Palestinian village from destruction. See website for more details. Also, starting in September, we will begin Just-Faith, a 30-week opportunity to engage a number of social issues in light of our faith tradition. Through books, videos, prayer, discussion, and immersion trips, this formational opportunity provides a safe space to talk about increasing compassion and justice in our world. Contact Kathleen Owen at 847-8205×225 for more information. To cross into unfamiliar territory and meet someone “on the other side” is by no means easy, but overcoming our prejudices to help someone in need through “messy” conversations seems to be what it means to be a follower of Jesus.