In his audience last Wednesday, Pope Benedict spoke about the model St. Francis provides for dialogue with other religions, particularly Islam. Francis met in 1210 with the leading Muslim leader, Sultan Malik al-Kamil, in Egypt:
“I want to underline this episode in the life of St. Francis because of its great relevance. At a time when there was a conflict between Christianity and Islam, Francis — armed only with his faith and his personal meekness — successfully followed the path of dialogue,” the pope said.
St. Francis’ desire to speak to the sultan and the sultan’s cordial welcome is “a model that must inspire relations between Christians and Muslims today as well, promoting a dialogue in truth, mutual respect and understanding,” he said.
What struck me is that the pope’s view of this encounter is similar to that taken by the Franciscan order, which sees the meeting between Francis and the sultan as source and inspiration to its emphasis on inter-religious dialogue. Benedict even uses that sometimes controversial word “dialogue.” That isn’t what I would have expected from someone who was put off by John Paul II’s Franciscan-influenced “spirit of Assisi” approach.
Moses goes on to say that Benedict’s seems to reject St. Bonaventure’s account of the meeting Francis had with the Sultan. He further hopes the remarks will lead some to reconsider their approach to relations with Muslims.