Braving a Conversation – The Sultan and the Saint celebrated in Calgary, Canada

2019 has marked the 800th Anniversary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. There have been celebrations, declarations, dialogues, prayers and presentations the world over to mark this occasion. On November 20, Franciscans from Mount St. Francis (Holy Spirit Province Canada) along with the Calgary Interfaith Council and the Calgary Chapter of the Order of St. Lazarus marked this historic event in Calgary, at the B’nai Tikvah Synagogue.

Over one hundred people were inspired and encouraged by the presentations of Br. Jason Welle, OFM, Dean of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Rome and Imam Fayaz Tilly, Chaplain, University of Calgary.

Br. Jason opened the evening with a historical perspective of the encounter between St. Francis and the Sultan. His thought-provoking presentation wove together the facts and truths we know of the encounter, addressed the unknowns of the conversation and reminded those present that the encounter is a “sign of hope in dark ages both then and now.” Br. Jason proposed that this encounter is beyond inter-religious dialogue, it is deeper than friendship, rather it is about brotherhood and sisterhood. Human fraternity is the strongest message of the encounter between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, one that Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb addressed in their joint document “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

Imam Fayaz Tilly continued on in this same strain as he echoed what Br. Jason had highlighted from the document, “In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace.” Imam Fayaz in his story-telling enthusiasm reminded the participants that on this planet, “we are one community – one fraternity of brotherhood and sisterhood.” Tilly offered insights and reflections from “prophets” of our times including Mohamad Ali and Mother Teresa as a means of highlighting the greatness of our human fraternity. He highlighted that Islam teaches that we are brother and sister called to love and that like St. Francis of Assisi we must make our walking our preaching.

Both Br. Jason and Imam Fayaz Tilly left those in attendance with the gift of hope. A hope that lives within each of us and calls us to live each day as brother and sister part of the human fraternity – one race which must “continue the conversation and brave the dialogue.”