20 Aug Koinonia: Francis of Assisi and the unknown brother
In every human being there is an attitude of self-defence and a sense of fear towards the other, especially if the latter is a stranger. The reaction to these situations, if supported by poor knowledge, is that of not wanting to meet others. This attitude sometimes becomes a reason for repudiation and intolerance, causing the closure towards the newness of the other who is seen not as a gift but as a problem. The unknown, in some cases, is even considered as a danger. The history of the Israelites exiled to the land of Pharaoh confirms the drama of the fear of the human being towards the unknown.
Then a new king arose over Egypt, who had not known Joseph. And he said to his people: “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war befall us, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” (Exodus 1: 8-10).
The brother who comes from another nation is often seen as a stranger, an invader, an individual who can break down and put at risk our securities, those of the law, of the rules, of the culture, etc. Even Francis of Assisi experienced this ‘fear’ towards the other, represented, in his case, by the lepers of his time. He was not paralyzed by any fear, neither of ignorance, nor by the nausea of having to meet an ‘unknown-leper’. Instead he opened his whole heart by recognizing the leper the right of identity as a human being who must never be denied the dignity that derives from being a creature of God. Also the meeting of Francis of Assisi with the Sultan is a reason for reflection to see how ‘a meeting can lead to renewal’. Here Francis refuses the pre-judgment to see ‘the other as an enemy’ but puts himself in the attitude of considering him as a friend, a brother to meet, to listen, to embrace and to share with him the gift of friendship and peace. In this sense it can be said that ‘the Poverello of Assisi’ becomes ‘a very rich man’, a good and just man who understood that only ‘the love of the other and for the other’ is the fruit of a renewed relationship, which is stronger than the power of weapons. As Pope John Paul II said; “The challenge is to combine the welcome due to every human being, especially when in need, with a reckoning of what is necessary for both the local inhabitants and the new arrivals to live a dignified and peaceful life”.
To lead the gospel life in our daily lives every Christian, as member of the Church and of the Order, can be aware of the importance of promoting “an authentic culture of welcome capable of accepting the truly human values of the immigrants over and above any difficulties caused by living together with persons who are different”. We still have a lot more to learn from Francis of Assisi.
This is an extract from an article written by Br. Pedro Zitha OFM. Download and read the full text:
Koinonia 2020-2: “The Secular Franciscan and the Immigrant”