On St. Francis of Assisi's feast day, I was struck with a paragraph about St. Francis of Assisi in the Pope's new encyclical, and how it described St. Francis as willing to cross the borders of his origin, nationality, race, color and belief system and engage with those different from him.
He didn't cross the border and go to Egypt to argue. He didn't go there to wage a war on words and belief systems that were "wrong." He didn't go there to start a conflict and win a debate.
He went there to dialogue, encounter, engage, love, and be an instrument of peace. Of course, he remained firm in his own foundations and beliefs.
Love mattered more than all of that to this Saint... that is "being subject to every human creature for God's sake."
"There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis' poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis' fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves "among the Saracens and other nonbelievers", without renouncing their own identity they were not to "engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God's sake". In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal "subjection" be shown to those who did not share his faith. Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. " (from ENCYCLICAL LETTER FRATELLI TUTTI OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON THE FRATERNITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP)
Boy do we need to hear this in today's culture when things are divisive as ever, there are so many borders of differences, and "who's right" seems to be more important than loving one another and a cultivating peaceful world.
Francis is our model. Perhaps it's fitting that we have a Pope named after him! Francis modeled a way of dialogue with our brothers and sisters of other origins, beliefs, and values that we can emulate today.
Perhaps St. Francis is a just the model we need right now for more peace and openness in our world.