Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Pray and fast for peace 2: putting lives on line

In 1965 I had the chance to participate in a program on inter-racial relations run by Friendship House on the south side of Chicago. It was a very mind opening experience – seeing urban poverty and racism up close.

I especially remember a meeting we had with Bernard Lafayette, a civil rights activist and proponent of nonviolence who had put his life on the line many times. . He spoke about the civil rights struggle, including talking about the use of active nonviolence. I was impressed.

At one point he started talking about the Viet Nam War. This was years before the major mobilizations of 1968, 1969, and 1970. The war was hardly an issue in my mind and in the mind of most people in the US.

I remember that he specifically suggested that religious leaders, including the Pope, should go to Viet Nam, putting their lives on the line to stop the war. That struck my imagination, Sadly nothing like this happened, though several religious leaders did go to Hani and lived for a few days under US bombs. The Viet Nam war lasted another ten years.

I wonder what would happen if Pope Francis something like that now.

The Grand Mufti of Damascus, Ahmad Badreddin Hassou, wants to come to Rome to pray with Pope Francis this Saturday.

What would happen if Pope Francis decided to go to Damascus.

If he did, Pope Francis would be following in the footsteps of his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi.

In 1219 in the midst of a Crusade, Francis went to Damietta in Egypt where the Crusaders were encamped. With another friar he walked through the lines and sought to visit the Sultan of Egypt, Malek-al-Kamil. For some reason, the guard let them through and they spent some time speaking with the Sultan. The meeting was amicable. The sultan offered Francis many precious gifts, but Francis would only accept an ivory horn.

Paul Moses discusses this story in depth in The Saint and the Sultan: the Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace. I read the book several years ago and have lent it to friends. It might be good reading for these days - a reminder of the possibilities of nonviolent love.

This bold action of St. Francis did not end the war. The Crusades continued their bloody course.

But Sultan al-Kamil subsequently treated Christians with compassion. When he took over the city of Damietta in 1221 after it surrendered, he spared the lives of the Christians and treated them with respect.

But just imagine – Pope Francis, the Grand Mufti of Damascus, the Archbishop of Canterbury, religious leaders from throughout the world, praying in Damascus and other cities of Syria. What a witness of a loving God, what power.

In the meantime, let’s all pray and fast this Saturday for peace in Syria – and throughout the world.

It’s a start.

After I had started writing this entry I came across this article by Tobias Winright, "The Grace of Doing Something in Syria."

No comments: