“The Lord Give You Peace.”
Francis’s town of Assisi was often at war with neighbours such as Perugia. Initially Francis had a fine horse and shining armour. He renounced these things, but while he started to rebuild ruined churches he was in danger from bandits. It was in these situations that he introduced his brothers to this greeting “The Lord Give You Peace.”
These were the words of one whose peace-making was to became a mirror to Christ the peacemaker. His love showed up in everyday situations like giving the clothes he was wearing to any beggars who were worse off.
Francis and Muslims
Francis lived in the time of the Crusades against Islam, but he renounced military action. He wanted to meet the Sultan Malek el Carmel who was being besieged at Damietta on the Nile Delta. Francis warned the Crusaders not to attack. But they did and were routed. He was ridiculed by the Crusaders when he and Brother Illuminato went unarmed and barefoot into No Mans Land. Then they were beaten by the Muslim soldiers, but eventually were taken to meet the Sultan. He received Francis and for several months each spoke to the other of his faith in God, and Francis was returned unharmed.
In love for his adversaries, he had made himself vulnerable to them. He had chosen to take up the cross in making Jesus known. The gospel based Rule he gave to the Brothers who joined him reflected this:
Brothers can live spiritually among Saracens and non believers and not engage in arguments, but be subject to every human creature for God’s sake…For love of Christ Brothers must be vulnerable to their enemies.
Francis practised what he preached. He was filled with so much love that he would give the clothes he stood up in to any beggar who was worse off.
In the twentieth Century, a Franciscan gave up his life for another.
Dying for Another
Maximillian Kolbe was a Friar in Poland who led intellectual opposition and sheltered Jews from the Nazis. In 1941, he was sent to Auschwitz: prisoner 16670. In July 1941 three prisoners escaped and in retaliation ten men were selected randomly for death in the starvation cell. Franciszek Gajowniczek cried out “My wife, my children” and Maximillian volunteered to take his place and went with nine others to the starvation cell. Despite having neither food nor water he led his fellow prisoners in prayer and hymns. He was the last of the ten to die. He was canonized in Rome in 1982, in the presence of Gajowniczek and his family. His statue now stands above the West Door of Westminster Abbey.
Franciscans follow Jesus
I know of a man who often went to a street market in London. One day he heard shouting and rounded the corner to find men fighting. A stallholder and a customer, each from a different ethnic heritage, were wrestling. The customer picked up a broom and whirled it round like a helicopter blade.
The man walked into the middle of them and said ‘Peace to you.’
The situation was quietened by this intervention. And in front of the gathering crowd the adversaries began to talk sensibly to each other.
Like Francis and like Jesus, the love of God compels us to enter trouble spots and to engage with injustice, being prepared to take up the cross wherever we may be. The London example is nothing in comparison with Jesus setting his face to go to Jerusalem. He was not trapped by circumstances. His proactive love led him to engage with those in Jerusalem in the circumstances he chose, by being vulnerable to Herod, Pilate, High Priest and pilgrim crowds. He readily accepted their rules and unjust judgments. Jesus had chosen when and where to make his crucial witness to the Kingdom of God. The time of Passover and the holy city of Jerusalem were integral to his redemptive mission.
A Franciscan in Africa
Someone in the twentieth century who was inspired by Francis is the Oxford poet and priest Arthur Shearly Cripps. He was associated with the Society of Divine Compassion: an antecedent of the Anglican Society of St Francis.
From 1901 until 1952 he was pastor in the Enkeldoorn District of Southern Rhodesia administered by the Cecil Rhodes’s Company. The white settlers in what is now known as Zimbabwe had by deceptive bargaining taken as their own the resources and the land of the Mashona and Matabele peoples.
Indigenous opposition was met with force.
Arthur however, shared the rural poverty of the indigenous Africans, and established sixty rural places of worship, walking and running between the small kraals in his care. The most significant Church is at Daramombe, built of five rondavels of pole, mud bricks and thatch.
He named it Maronda Mashanu, the Church of the FIVE WOUNDS, which alludes to the five wounds of Christ.
In his poem The Death of Francis; Francis says
Hands grew to hands, feet seemed to grow to feet,
His hands to my hands, feet of his to mine,
exalted and extended on his cross;
I seemed in one great eager stab of pain
To feel his heart beating within my heart….
This refers to Francis’ Stigmata.
In the days of his critical illness Francis had prayed to Jesus
“that I may feel in my heart the abundance of love with which you, Son of God, were inflamed so as to willingly endure so great a passion for us sinners.”
Sacrificial engagement in places of conflict in Prayer, Preaching and Practice make for Peace.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.