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Pope Francis' 40,000 word encyclical Fratelli Tutti is the latest volley in the war for souls. He begins it with his version of an account taken from the life of St. Francis of Assisi — and he gets it totally wrong.
He begins with the idea the beloved saint wanted to have a guitar-strumming, Kumbaya hippie-fest with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil while he was encamped in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.
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."
So in other words, he went to "encounter" the sultan, adding that he "did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God."
Of course, Pope Francis' take on this event is a pure fantasy — one that grinds the gears of anybody who sees St. Francis as anything other than a dog-petting hippie prancing nude in the woods and staring at clouds.
In the beautiful Little Flowers of St. Francis, written by contemporaries of the saint and those friars who knew them, it's documented that the great saint went to the sultan to proclaim he could not be saved by any means other than the Catholic Church. Moreover, St. Francis hoped for a glorious martyrdom in the process!
But what ended up happening is the sultan was so taken in by St. Francis' disregard for the things of this world and his fearless preaching, he kept the saint around and listened to him like Herod listened to John the Baptist.
The sultan told him: "Brother Francis, most willingly would I be converted to the Faith of Christ; but I fear to do so now, for if the people knew it, they would kill both me and thee and all thy companions. As thou mayest still do much good, and I have certain affairs of great importance to conclude, I will not at present be the cause of thy death and of mine. But teach me how I can be saved, and I am ready to do as thou shalt order."
The saint prophesied that, after his own death, his friars would baptize the sultan. He said, "I will send thee two of my friars, who will administer to thee the holy baptism of Christ, and thou shalt be saved, as the Lord Jesus has revealed to me; and thou in the meantime shalt free thyself from every hindrance so that, when the grace of God arrives, thou mayest be found well disposed to faith and devotion."
And finally, after St. Francis died, he appeared to two of his friars and ordered them to seek out the sultan and "save his soul."
The friars arrived and found guards waiting for them, and they were gently conducted to the sultan. The account says, "The sultan, when he saw them arrive, rejoiced greatly, and exclaimed: 'Now I know of a truth that God has sent His servants to save my soul, according to the promise which Francis made me through divine revelation.'"
The account concludes, "Having received the Faith of Christ and holy baptism from the said friars, he was regenerated in the Lord Jesus Christ, and having died of his disease, his soul was saved, through the merits and prayers of St. Francis."
This has no resemblance to the story Pope Francis uses as a springboard in his new encyclical. And if that's suspect, then what else is going on in those 40,000 words?
To hear more, watch today's episode of The Download — The Pope's Manifesto.