Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

It’s simple really…

“It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one.
Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name.”

— St. Ignatius of Antioch


(painting attributed to Cesare Fracanzano (1605-1651) Galleria Borghese, Rome)

This morning when I read today’s quote by St Ignatius of Antioch,
it was as if I had been hit upside the head.
How simple yet so profound—

It begs the question…
does being dubbed, labelled, branded a Christian…
or…
claiming, professing, proclaiming to be a Chrisitan necessarily make one…a Christian??

The answer, in a nutshell, is a resounding no!!!…it most certainly does not!

Ignatius follows up this thought with the novel idea of then having to prove oneself as a Christian.
Meaning that if one can live it, share it, show it, prove it…
then one may lay claim to the name!

This is not to be an in-name-only sort of affair…

The back story of our friend…

Born in Syria in the year 50AD, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became
bishop of Antioch.

It is believed that it was actually St Peter who appointed Ignatius as bishop of Antioch and
the surrounding region.

“The saint was called “God-Bearer” (Theophoros),
because he bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him.
He also had this name because he was held in the arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.”

And as the outspoken Chrisitan, he was, Ignatius was eventually arrested by the local Roman
authorities on grounds of “atheism” against the Roman gods.

In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to
choose between death and apostasy.
Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome.

“In the year 106 the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians,
ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods,
and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols.
In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch.
Here they told him that Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ,
and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity.
Saint Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor,
so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch.
Saint Ignatius rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols.
The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts.
Saint Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him.
His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses,
who accompanied Saint Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.

Ignatius bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus.

On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led Saint Ignatius into the arena,
and he turned to the people: “Men of Rome,
you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime,
but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced.
I long to be with Him,
and offer myself to him as a pure loaf,
made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”

After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces,
leaving only his heart and a few bones.
Tradition says that on his way to execution,
Saint Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ.
When they asked him why he was doing this,
Saint Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart,
and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within.
When the saint was devoured by the lions, his heart was not touched.
When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw an inscription in gold letters:
“Jesus Christ.” After his execution, Saint Ignatius appeared to many of the faithful
in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer for the city of Rome.

Hearing of the saint’s great courage,
Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians.
The relics of Saint Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29),
and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.

Ignatius is well known for the seven letters he wrote on the long journey from
Antioch to Rome.
Five of these letters are to churches in Asia Minor;
they urge the Christians there to remain faithful to God and to obey their superiors.
He warns them against heretical doctrines,
providing them with the solid truths of the Christian faith.

The sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was later martyred for the faith.
The final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom.
“The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God.
I am the wheat of the Lord;
may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

Despite the story about Ignatius’ life being considered ancient history,
it would be wise for those of us who claim the name of ‘Christian’ to actually follow
the example of Ignatius.
…that we could / would not only claim to be a Christian… but that we could / would actually
live out being a Chrisitan.
Not just the worldly notion of Chrisitan but actually that of Christ’s true intention.

Imagine the change in this world if we each claimed the act behind the label of faith.
It now seems so simple really…

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you,
for I am your God I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

Isaiah 41:10

Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:11 NIV

A bookstore, a war and a reunion….

“Be swift as a gazelle and strong as a lion to do the will of God in Heaven.”
(as seen on the ex libris of a book looted by the Nazi’s, a reference to
a line form the Mishnah, the Jewish redaction of oral traditions:
Andres Rydell The Book Thieves)


(the interior of a book store in Padova, Italy (Padua) / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today’s tale began many years ago, when my aunt and I found ourselves wandering
and weaving up and down the snake-like alley streets twisting through the old historic district of Padua, Italy…
better known to the Italians as Padova.

We were actually en route from Milan to Florence and opted to stop over for 3 days
in order to explore this deeply rich historical city.
And it just so happened that during our stay, during this particular mid June,
it was the height of the city’s yearly commemoration of Saint Anthony.

Padua is home to the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, or the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua—a massive and beautiful church built to honor the Portuguese born saint who settled in Italy, making Padua his adopted home.
The building of the basilica was begun  in 1232, a year following Saint Anthony’s
death, and was finally completed in 1310—with modifications taking place in both
the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a wonderful experience being a part of such a festive atmosphere, as
thousands of Catholics worldwide flock to this small Northern Italian town for
the June 13th feast day—
The city goes all out to make a colorfully vibrant yet equally respectfully spiritual
time for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who flock to this city just south of Venice.

There are parades where the various ancient guilds are dressed in period costume as children, nuns, priests, monks and lay people march solemnly through the
narrow ancient streets all carrying flags as residents drape banners from their windows.

Yet Padua is more than just a spiritual hub, it is also very much of an intellectual
hub as it is home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s oldest universities,
having been founded in 1222.
It is here where Galileo Galilei spent 18 years, of what he has described as being
the happiest years of his life, while he was the head of the Mathematics Department…
teaching, studying, lecturing and writing.

Italy, so rich in history, also happens to have a wonderful history with
paper making as well as bookmaking.
And Padua has its fair share of both fascinating and beautifully rich paper
as well as book shops–shops selling books, antique lithographs and rare prints.

It is said that after Spain, Italy is where paper making actually had its start.
It was most likely introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs who had in turn first
learned the craft from the Chinese.
Arab influence, particularly in architecture, can still be seen in and around the
Veneto region.

So it was during our visit, as we were wandering about one evening following supper,
that we saw the book store I’ve included in today’s post. The store was closed for the night and as we were going to have to be at the train station bright and early the following morning, I knew I would only get to visit this store by pressing my nose
to the window.

All these many years later, I still think about that store.

It had a wealth of what I surmised to be rare antique and ancient books.
Books, despite the language barrier, beckoned for my further investigation.
I would have easily considered giving up my train ticket to Florence just to be able
to wander in, dig and explore….
but it would take years for me to actually understand the draw as to what I would
be digging and looking for….
And as Life so often has her way, time has simply afforded for my wistful musing of
what might have been.

Having finally finished reading The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell,
the image of that book store in Padua has drawn me back time and time again
as I made my way through Rydell’s book. There is a very strong pull to go back
to look, to seek and to wonder.

There are not words nor adjectives enough for me to do justice to the meticulous story
Rydell lays out as he recounts the Nazi’s scrupulous, maniacal and highly
calculated quest to en masse the books of the all of Europe and Russia with
a keen penchant for those of the Jews.
Not only did they attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, they wanted
to hold, own and control the entire literary word of man—
particularly that of religion, science and history.
As they saw themselves as the new keepers of the history of humankind.

Millions and millions of books, both precious and random were taken…as myriads
are now lost or destroyed for all of time.

The Nazis had a detailed system for categorizing the stolen books.
And many of the books that are now scattered across the globe…
be they in large University libraries or small college collections,
to the random bookshop or second hand store—
many of those books still bare the labels of the Nazi’s numerical filing system.

The long arduous journey of Rydell’s very sad, horrific and overwhelming tale ends
in England with his actually reuniting a granddaughter, Christine Ellse, with a lone
little random book that had belonged to her grandfather–
a man she had never known personally but knew he had died in Auschwitz.
There were never any photographs, no sounds, no memories of a the man
this now grown woman so longed to know.

“Although I’m a Christian I have always felt very Jewish.
I’ve never been able to talk about the Holocaust without crying.
I feel so connected to all of this,” says Ellse,
opening the book and turning the pages for a while before she goes on.

“I’m very grateful for this book, because…I know my English grandparents
on my mother’s side.
They lived and then they died.
It was normal, not having any grandparents on your father’s side.
Many people didn’t, but there was something abnormal about this.
I didn’t even have a photograph of them.
There was a hole there, an emotional vacuum, if you see what I mean.
There was always something hanging midair, something unexpressed,”
Ellse says, squeezing the book.

“You know, my father never spoke about this.
About the past, the war.
But my aunt talked about it endlessly, all the time.
She was the eldest of the siblings, so she was also the most ‘German’ of them.
She coped with it by talking;
my father coped with it by staying silent about it.
I knew already when I was small that something horrible had happened.
I knew my grandparents had died in the war.
Then I found out they’d been gassed, but when you’re a child you don’t
know what that means.
It’s just a story—you don’t understand it.
Then I learned they’d died at Auschwitz. Only after I grew up did I begin to understand and get a grip on it.
It was very difficult when I found out they’d been murdered just ten days
before the gas chambers were shut down.
It was agonizing.
I imagine myself sitting on that train, experiencing the cold and the hunger.
And then straight into the gas chambers.
I’ve never able to get over it.”

Historian Patricia Kennedy Grimstead, a woman with a mission to see that war plunder is eventually reunited with families, notes that “millions of trophy books–although no one can say how many there are—will remain as ‘prisoners of war,”
Today, in Russia, there is no willingness to return books to the countries or families
that were plundered. But we still have to know what books are still represented there
from Europe’s cultural inheritance, a monument to the libraries that were destroyed
and scattered as a consequence of the most terrible war in human history.”

And so my mind wanders now back to that bookstore in Padua—
what book, if any, was there that had once been someone’s personal book
before madness took it away…
a book I now wish I could have found, in order to have brought it back home
to its rightful family.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
You will be unsuccessful in everything you do;
day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you….

All these curses will come on you.
They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed,
because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands
and decrees he gave you.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly
in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness and dire poverty,
you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.
He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 45-48

Oh really?

“Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God,
nor is He the best of several ways;
He is the only way.”

A. W. Tozer


(The Stoning of St Stephen by Rembrandt who just happens to make a small cameo appearance in the scene…the awkward face peeking out from just under the raised arm
of the man with the large stone / 1625 / Musée des beaux-arts, Lyon, France

Day before yesterday I wrote a post featuring a story about the first Christian
martyr– Stephen.

I gave a bit of the back story behind what led to Stephen’s martyrdom.
We learned that Stephen would not back down from his conviction of belief even
when faced with his own imminent demise.
He wasn’t about to start back peddling when he knew what the Truth of life
and living actually was all about…despite facing a horrific death.

That truth which was the chief cornerstone to Stephen’s very existence, was a living
and breathing knowledge of God as Father and Christ as Son
and the Spirit as mediator.

Stephen did not waiver or waffle nor did he mince his words to the those in authority
as to what his life’s choice would be…and that was to stand as a man who believed
in Jesus Christ as both his Lord and Savior….there was no thought of cost or hurt feelings or loss…

And yet the cost for him was pretty tremendous as far as the world was concerned..
It cost Stephen his earthly life.

Not his friends, not his job, not his security, not his comfort, but his life.

Conviction….a fixed or firm belief..

Stephen had such conviction.

So yesterday I came across a story in the news about a college in the Oxford
University system there in England that banned a campus Christian organization
from participating in a welcoming fair for the incoming freshman class.

Another rampant example of waffling and wavering.

I can remember when I was a college freshman.
I recall that near ecstatic level of excitement of all that was new.
New faces, new places, new friends, new opportunities…
With some of those opportunities being right up my alley and some of them not…

And isn’t that what something like this is all about…the choices offered to us?
We pick and choose…what looks appealing while discarding that which does not.

Life is like that sort of endless buffet of picking and choosing is it not?
Yet what happens when that buffet is gravely limited due to others deciding options
should not be made available.
It is then that the buffet becomes something very different from
a buffet—it becomes more of a pre fixed plate of flavorless offerings.

The opportunity for intellectual and spiritual growth becomes near stagnant
when the powers that be decide the masses might just become too dangerous if they
are given too much choice.

When only the few decide for the many that the freedom of choice and the ability
of personal decision should be a limited offering, then there is no true human growth.

A college of Oxford University banned a student Christian group from appearing at a freshman fair out of fear it would lead to “alienating” students who practice other religions.

Yet did they opt to ban the Jewish organizations, perhaps b’nai b’rith?
What of the Muslim organizations?
Perhaps any sort of pagan organization?
What of the Buddhists?
What of any political organizations?

Here is the reasoning….if one can call such reasoning rational thought….

The Christian Union of Oxford’s Balliol College was initially banned by an
event organizer who felt students might feel “unwelcome” due to what he calls
the Christian religion being “an excuse for homophobia and neo-colonialism,”
The Times of London reported.

Potts added: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has
been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice,
and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

At last check, there is a massive difference between something perceived as a
phobia, or irrational fear, verses simply following the tenants of one’s faith.

“Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians,” Potts said, according to The Telegraph.

Ahh, so the issue here is now of overcompensation…
the act of apologizing, once again, on behalf of a past time period…
an act that is neither productive or even necessary as we are not them and they
were not us…as in days gone by….

A time period that is far removed from modern times—

So are those mutton chop young men of all things British Academia,
say the 17th and 18th centuries, during the reign of monarchs who were setting
sail in exporation in the name of the Crown, are those such young men still haunting the halls of places such as Oxford or Cambridge….I think not.

And last I checked, if I wanted to attend school in say Beijing or Riyadh,
I think I would be hard pressed in either city on finding an openly Christian place to
worship…and I would certainly not be surprised at such as neither of these cities
have a deep Christian heritage as say England—- quiet the contrary in fact.

So is this particular school spokesperson suggesting that a predominately historical Christian country, such as England, should now do away with its own heritage in order to bend over backwards…
doing away with Christian houses of worship in order to construct more mosques as a
form of overt appeasement or as some sort of welcome mat?

“A spokesperson with the Church of England told The Times that the ban was not
in line with “freedom of religion and belief,” and “is at odds with the kind of society
we are all seeking to promote.”

Finally is there actually a bit of clarity coming from the Church of England…
really???

“Leaders of the Balliol student body reportedly condemned the ban, and passed a motion calling the ban a “violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom,” according to The Daily Telegraph.

Maybe there does remain a few brave souls not afraid and who will not backdown or recant
the Word of God when push comes to shove….

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/10/11/christian-group-at-oxford-university-banned-from-fair-out-fear-it-would-alienate-students.html

Be on your guard;
stand firm in the faith;
be courageous;
be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13

This time of year….

Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.

William Shakespeare

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Scottish saying

Halloween Pumpkins, Witch, Devil, and Black Cat
(vintage halloween card)

What is it about this time of year…
This time of year when we seem to crave the supernatural?
Is it in our nature to lean-in, ever so closely,
to those ancient tales of the “other side”?

Halloween,
what once was an evening relegated to the innocence of the imaginations of children,
has grown to become the second largest commercial “holiday” following Christmas.
No longer is All Hallow’s Eve a single night for young children to don costumes…
all the while as they canvass their neighborhoods, singing trick or treat,
as they amass a small mountain of candy…

Adults have gotten deep into the act.
With Halloween merry making and party going exceeding that of New Years Eve…
For it has now become a month long event….

Yet aside from candy and costumes, which innocently afford one the opportunity to play
dress up as some alter ego,
Halloween has become, more or less, a spiritual excuse.
An open invitation allowing ourselves to taste a bit of a spiritual realm…
But the trouble…
for that is what it becomes, a trouble…
lies in the choice of realms…

Bemused, you may wonder if there is a problem with this yearly interest,
of which borders on obsession,
in this revelry of the realm of the spirits…

And I fear that…yes, perhaps there is.

For you see, we are indeed spiritual beings…
with spirituality being hardwired into our DNA—
And history has proven that it is not necessarily always a need
for a monotheistic God that we seek,
but some sort of spirituality none the less.

Hollywood has long jumped on the bandwagon of our desire to examine spiritual realms,
while at the same time allowing us to exert that odd need to be frightened.
Spook and Horror movies, as well as those tales of witchcraft,
demon possession and specters, have long topped box offices
as we have an almost sick obsession with such.

It is as if cultures worldwide use Halloween as some sort of green light,
a go ahead in affording ourselves permission to dabble in the art of
fortune telling, tarot cards, palm readers, seances, Ouija boards,
paranormal hunting…the supernatural.
All coupled with jaunts to places that are supposedly haunted, creepy and even perhaps dangerous…
and lest we forget the trips to the myriads of haunted / horror houses
which open throughout the month.

Even Disney and Six Flags have each gotten into the act…

So we tell ourselves that that makes it all perfectly safe and harmless.

And yes Halloween, and the thought of spirits,
does indeed course through the blood of humankind….
With those roots traveling far back to Celtic Europe, the ancient Pagan Middle Eastern Kingdoms,
ancient tribes of the Americas, Asia and even Africa—
as every race of people has had that aspect of the supernatural and mystical tied
to their very beginnings.

So maybe we’ve just deem it as all innocent fun as we explore this need of the mystical.

Perhaps we merely convince ourselves that it’s simply wired
deep within the ancient core of our brains…
this odd desire to be scared and frightened…
all the while as we parle into a realm different from our own…

Maybe it’s just something we simply enjoy…

“So what,” we grouse, if it morphs into something else…
something other…
“I’m not scared, I don’t believe in that
hocus locus business…it’s just harmless fun…”

Yet there is just something troubling about it all…
Something actually quite unsettling…
Something actually very dangerous..

For in the naiveté of opening seemingly harmless doors,
we enter into an on-going battle…
an ancient battle for which we are simply not prepared to fight…

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities,
against the powers of this dark world and against the
spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground,
and after you have done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13

the saint, the sultan and a first in meetings…

DSCN0358
( modern grave markers within the ancient cemetery located within the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In 1219 a humble and simple Italian Franciscan monk ventured across raging seas and hostile lands with the hope of eventually crossing enemy lines in order to meet one of the most feared men of his time, Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt… who also happened to be the nephew of the greatly feared Muslim warrior Saladin.

This was the height of the 5th Crusade. The Holy Roman Empire was embroiled, once agin with Muslim forces, as Jerusalem and what is known to Christianity as the Holy Lands, was under Muslim rule. Pope Innocent III and his successor Pope Honorius III, along with King Andrew II of Hungary and the Grand Duke Leopold VI of Austria launched a Holy Crusade to rid Christianity’s holiest city and her lands of Muslim rule once and for all. The irony here however is that Sultan Malik al-Kamil was actually one of the more tolerant Muslim rulers and allowed Christians living in and traveling to and from Jerusalem safe passage as well as greater freedoms than had previous rulers. Gone were the days of persecution and vast bloodshed. Yet the Catholic Church and most of Europe held the belief that the only good Jerusalem was a free Jerusalem.

Francesco Bernardone, affectionately known to us today as St Francis of Assisi, according to historical record longed to travel to the land of the Saracens not only to witness to the Muslims in the name of Christ but to broker peace. There is much debate over this encounter—had Francis simply wished to die a martyr in his hope to convert the Sultan as some historical documents record or had he hoped to intervene a peaceful solution putting an end to the ages of hostility, violence and bloodshed which had existed between these two religions for hundreds of years…scholars continue to debate these varying schools of thought.

The one fact however greatly agreed upon is that the meeting was one of mutual respect and peace.
Both men departed company with a lasting impression of mutual admiration and an understanding that each honored God…albeit in his own way.

As the world sits and watches the daily violence and mayhem unfolding within the very same region of the encounter of Francis and the Sultan…in Northern Arica and the Middle East, there appears to be an endless rolling wave of violence and bloodshed that seems to have been relentless since the dawn of mankind…as those deadly ripples reverberate ever outward into a gravely unaware world.

And it is during these global dark days in which my thoughts often turn to the teachings of that humble monk from Assisi.
I wonder how St Francis would view the current crisis with the current global assault by ISIS…
As this rising new unbending rule within Islam seems to lack the wisdom and tolerance of the long ago Sultan.

There is a historic meeting which is soon to take place.
It is a meeting between the two leading men who sit on the ancient thrones of their collective branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the western Latin Roman Catholic Church, who is the 266th pope to sit on the throne of St Peter, will meet with his Orthodox counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leading patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This meeting is a first between these two branches of the same tree. Previous popes have attempted to meet with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy but the rift between these two “sister” churches is deep.
All of which indeed goes back to the Great Schism of 1054 when Christianity was divided between the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox.

However with the Russian Orthodox the wariness seems to go even further as the Mother Church of Russia looks at the Latin Church as one who has long hoped to lure away the Russian faithful while the Catholic Church has long wondered how “close” the Russian Orthodox Church has been first with the ruling Tsar’s and then later with the Communist regime…with current continuing questions regarding the relationship and roll between it and Vladimir Putin’s government.

Yet it is with grave mutual concern over the rampant rise in global Christian persecution, especially in the region of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that these two holy men will put aside all differences in order to come together in a greatly historic and unprecedented union in hopes of creating a unified front, while the world watches and wonders how many more must die at the hands of barbarism before someone stands up and says enough is enough.

As the time of this historic meeting fast approaches, may our collective Christian families join together in united prayer for these two men as they prepare to meet later this month in Cuba.
May the Holy Spirit make His presence known and felt as these two men of deep Christian faith, who speak as representatives on the global stage for all of Christianity as well as humanity itself…may they find the necessary common ground within their shared faith, their love of Jesus Christ…may their two voices join as one as they speak for those who cannot speak.
May the world stop long enough to hear these two men’s collective wisdom which is steeped in the wisdom of the One True Spirit of God.
And may all Christians join together in support as we stand together as the Light shining in this every darkening world….

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35500973