VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All) has misrepresented St. Francis' evangelizing mission to Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil by hijacking the saint for interfaith dialogue, Church Militant has learned.
Indicating that St. Francis did not intend to convert the Sultan and his soldiers, but to express "fraternal openness," the pontiff writes in Fratelli Tutti: "Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines" but "inspired the vision of a fraternal society."
St. Francis' attitude in encountering the Sultan was the same he instilled in his disciples when with Muslims or unbelievers — "they were not to 'engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God's sake,'" Pope Francis reflects.
St. Francis urged that "a humble and fraternal 'subjection' be shown to those who did not share his faith," states the encyclical published Sunday.
But Fratelli Tutti nowhere mentions the true purpose of St. Francis' visit to the Sultan: evangelization and the conversion of the Sultan and his soldiers from Islam to Catholicism.
Contrary to Pope Francis' claims, André Vauchez, professor of medieval history at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre, categorically declares: "St. Francis' presence for several months here and his attempt to convert the Sultan to the Christian faith are fully documented facts."
Church Militant has learned that the papal spin turning St. Francis' evangelizing mission into dialogue, is most likely based on the 2019 document St. Francis and the Sultan, 1219–2019: A Commemorative Booklet — published by Franciscan media as a resource for interreligious dialogue.
The preface to this 2019 document is written by Pope Francis himself, "having just returned from my visit to the United Arab Emirates" after signing his human fraternity covenant with Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayyeb.
The pontiff asks the Franciscan friars to offer Muslims "mutual esteem" that's "free of any suggestion of proselytizing that would alienate those who do not know Christ Jesus as Lord."
Pope Francis also claims that St. Francis' meeting with the Sultan in 1219, "has borne fruit in a remarkable way in the [Francis'] recent visit to Arabia."
According to the Franciscan document, St. Francis did not intend to convert the Sultan but as a result of their dialogue "both individuals gained a greater appreciation for and understanding of each other's faith and values."
This encounter "now serves as an important paradigm for dialogue between Christians and Muslims, and, by extension, for dialogue between people of all faith traditions."
The document also dismisses St. Francis' desire for martyrdom among the Muslims, claiming to have "serious doubts" if martyrdom was "the historical motivation of Francis."
The document also downgrades the primary sources that record St. Francis' meeting with the Sultan as "heavily hagiographical or stereotypically hostile towards Islam, frustrating our attempts to gather a clear picture of what might actually have happened in this momentous encounter."
"What is certain is that some kind of respectful dialogue between the men took place in the court of the Sultan," the document observes, noting "that there was, at the very least, a respectful exchange of ideas among these two men and their counselors about the faith which grounded their lives and inspired their actions."
But even this is "pure conjecture" the document proposes, even though other historians are less skeptical given the reports "by numerous chroniclers and hagiographers."
"For the chroniclers outside the Franciscan order, St. Francis sought — in vain — to convert the sultan and his people," writes historian Vauchez, in Francis of Assisi: The Life and Afterlife of a Medieval Saint, published by Yale University Press.
In fact, "the sultan had been shaken by his words and nearly converted to the Christian faith," the chroniclers record.
In one account, St. Francis' companion reports the saint announcing that he had been sent by "the Most High God in order to show the Sultan — and his people — the way of salvation and to proclaim to them the gospel which is the truth; then, he preached to the sultan the Triune God and Jesus as savior of the world with great strength of soul and fervor of spirit."
Historians also note how St. Francis challenged the Sultan to a "trial by fire" when he saw the Sultan was hesitant to convert. Both he and the Muslim clerics would enter into the fire and show, "according to the result of the test, which of the two religions was superior," writes Vauchez.
When the Muslim clerics rejected this test, Francis then proposed to the sultan that he would enter the flames alone. "The sultan would not allow this but gained a real admiration for him and even a certain desire to convert to Christianity" but did not act on this for fear of how his people would react, Vauchez adds.
Fratelli Tutti ignores this monumental evidence, while the Franciscan document quotes Vatican II's Nostra Aetate, and concludes that interreligious dialogue and not evangelization should be seen "as an essential element of the mission of the Church today" based on the paradigm of St. Francis' encounter with the Sultan.