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Christians in the Muslim World

Mission According to St. Francis

Saint Francis placed a chapter in the Rules of the Minor Friars on 'friars who go amongst Saracens and other unbelievers'. From the origins of the Franciscan movement onwards we find a thirst to be witnesses to Christ beyond the Christian world as it was then known. The missionary impetus was infused into the friars by their own founder who understood the Gospel 'literally', above all in those chapters where Jesus sends out his disciples in twos to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Very many of the friars of the Order founded by St. Francis responded to his encouragement and went to the lands of 'the Saracens' - many of them died as martyrs. The strong presence of the Minor Friars in the Holy Land and in the whole of the near East is only one of the most visible aspects of the impact of the words of St. Francis. Hundreds if not thousands of Minor Friars of his three Orders have, over the last seven hundred and fifty years, 'offered themselves and entrusted their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ', from Morocco to China and from what is now Turkey to Africa.



Still today very many Minor Friars (Conventuals, Franciscans and Capuchins) live in countries with Muslim majorities together with other men and women religious, and they try to behave in the way that was indicated by St. Francis - without provoking arguments or controversies, despite the situations of conflict that exist in many countries; being 'subject for love of God to every human creature', something that is not always easy in a society in which a non-Muslim or foreigner is very often treated as a second-class human being; confessing that 'they are Christians' without imposing themselves but with the courage to declare their identity openly and to give an account of the source of their faith; and proclaiming, where this is appropriate, that is to say when 'it pleases the Lord', the Word of God.



The words of the Saint apply to those Christian brethren who by very long tradition have lived in those countries, even before the arrival of Islam, and to those who arrived later. The friars bear witness that love for God and neighbour has led them to live with serenity amongst those who do not share their faith. They have done this in line with the words of St. Francis because 'they have offered themselves and entrusted their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ'.




Friars who go amongst the Saracens and other Unbelievers


Regula non bullata chap. 16:



The Lord says: 'Behold, I am sending you out as lambs amongst wolves. Be as wary as serpents and as innocent as doves'. Thus all friars who want to go amongst Saracens and other unbelievers, should go with the permission of their minister and servant. And the minister should give them permission and not oppose them, if he sees them as suitable for the mission; indeed he will be called to render an account to the Lord if in this and other things he acts without discretion. The friars that go amongst unbelievers can live and behave with them, spiritually, in two ways: one way is that they should not provoke quarrels or controversies but they should be subject, out of love for God, to every human creature, and confess that they are Christians; the other way is that when they see that it pleases the Lord they should proclaim the Word of God so that these believe in Almighty God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, the creator of every thing, and in the Son the redeemer and saviour, and should be baptised and become Christians, because he who is not born again from water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter the Kingdom of God. These and other things that please the Lord they can certainly say to the Saracens and others because the Lord says in the Gospel: 'All those who recognise me before men, I will recognise them before my Father, who is in heaven', and 'Who is ashamed of me and my words... the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his majesty and the majesty of the Father and the angels'.



And all friars, wherever they are, should remember that they have offered themselves and entrusted their bodies to the Lord Jesus Christ.



[Passages taken from Claudio Leonardi (ed.), La letteratura francescana (vol. 1) Francesco e Chiara d'Assisi,


Fondazione Lorenzo Valla/Arnoldo Mondadori Editore 2004, pp. 31-33. 73-75].