Full of new impressions, Francis returned to Italy from his visit to the Sultan. For the first time in his life, he had come into contact with a very different religion and culture. It had touched him profoundly. That would never have been possible if he had gone to the Middle East with the mentality of a crusader and had allowed his judgement to be clouded by all the prejudices that the Christian world harboured regarding Muslims. However, he had gone with a very different mind-set. His intention was to go and live among the Muslims in service, solidarity and peace -in the spirit of Jesus. This enabled him to look at Muslims from a different point of view, entirely new to him – with new eyes and from a fresh, more open perspective.
Christian-Muslim prayer-ecumenism for peace
A reading of the texts Francis wrote after his sojourn in the Middle East makes it clear that this sojourn had made a profound impression on him. Especially characteristic of this is how greatly Francis, as he approached the Muslims with his positive and peaceful attitude, had come to admire their religious practice. This stands out particularly in the first letters he sent out shortly after his return to Italy. He had noticed the respect that Muslims have for their holy book, the Koran, and their devotion to the 99 Beautiful Names for God. This gave him the idea to call on the clergy to respect not only the Eucharist – in keeping with the decisions of the Fourth Lateran Council and papal directives – but also to have an equal reverence and devotion for ‘the written most holy names and words of the Lord1.
He (Francis) wanted in his life and work to continue the mission of Jesus, who was sent by the Father to redeem humankind and restore them to paradise – the place God had originally intended for them, but which was lost through sin (RegNB 23,1-3). In that paradise, no weapons were carried and no one appropriated anything for themselves; there was no struggle for power and property, but people were at the service of and in solidarity with each other; they shared everything together, and no one was poor or hungry; all had their rightful seat at the table of the Lord, they shared their houses and lived together in peace. Living and acting in accordance with this spirituality, Francis became the person -in-paradise he was and still is for us: a man of peace.