Blessed are the Peacemakers

Tomorrow, October 2 is International Day of Non-Violence, celebrated, appropriately on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

On of the great witnesses to peace and non-violence in our Catholic tradition is St Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrate this Wednesday, October 4. While many associate Francis with nature, not many know the story of his voyage and witness to the Moslem world as a peacemaker.

St Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik-al-Kamil parted as brothers

St Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik-al-Kamil parted as brothers

It was at the time of the Fifth Crusade, in the 13th Century, at Damietta in Egypt, that Francis, who opposed all killing, sought the blessing of the chaplain of the Crusade to go and preach the Gospel to the sultan.

The chaplain advised against it, as the Muslims, he said, only understood violence and he would surely be killed as a martyr. Francis ignored his advice and went to contact the sultan. For a month they met each day, sharing their beliefs and discussing matters of common interest. Though neither converted the other, the sultan had such warmth for his guest that he not only spared his life but gave him a passport allowing him to visit the Christian holy places under Muslim control in the Holy Land. He presented Francis with a carved ivory horn which is now among the relics of the saint at Assisi. Francis and Malik-al-Kamil parted as brothers.

We too are called to be witnesses to peace and non-violence in our living; it is so easy to be at ‘war’ with ourselves, at ‘war’ with each other, especially when we ‘crusade’ against individuals and groups, seeing them as rivals and enemies.

A life of peace and non-violence means daily struggling to make peace with ourselves and to cultivate an interior ‘non-violence’. We need to take the inner journey with the saints and mystics. Reading the Beatitudes in quite meditation can be healing; a spring of peace wells up in us.

Our mission as peacemakers then follows. Christ did not say ‘blessed are those who prefer peace, wish for peace, await peace or praise peace.’ He blesses the makers of peace. He requires an active rather than a passive role. When we do this we are called children of God – a noble title.

Fr Chris