03.24.2013 _____________________

Today, Palm Sunday, Christians begin Holy Week by remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. For Catholics, there is added resonance because the message of the prophet of Nazareth is being reaffirmed in the presence of their new shepherd, Pope Francis 1st.

“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way.

And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying,

“Hosanna to the son of David:

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord;

Hosanna in the highest.”

And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying,

“Who is this?”

And the multitude said, “This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.”
Matthew 21:8-11

The Jerusalemites who greeted Jesus by laying down palm fronds and cloaks as acts of homage and submission were looking for a military messiah who would overthrow their Roman rulers. Sadly, they turned against Jesus when they realized that he was a prophet of peace, not of war.

Humankind often places personal desires, sometimes seemingly well-inspired, ahead of peace and in so doing fails to see others as they truly are.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis 1st, wrote in 2010, “I think we succumb as victims of attitudes that don’t permit us to have dialogue: arrogance, not knowing how to listen, hostility in our speech, attacking the messenger and so many others. Dialogue is born from an attitude of respect toward the other person, from a conviction that the other has something good to say.”

We fail to see others as they truly are.

In 2006, when Pope Benedict, Francis’s predecessor, gratuitously quoted from a Byzantine emperor, “show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman,” he enraged the Muslim world and unraveled years of Muslim-Christian dialogue that had begun under Pope John Paul II.

Courageously, Bergoglio, unhappy with Benedict’s statements, challenged the Vatican and said, “Pope Benedict’s statements don’t reflect my own opinions. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last 20 years.”

I don’t know how much of this courage was known before his election, but to people of all faiths committed to affirming dignity, respect and social justice for the poor, the downtrodden, and the Other, and to me as a Muslim, his elevation is a sign that dialogue can resume: I congratulate my Catholic friends on an inspired choice.

If Francis 1st renews relationships with Muslims perhaps he can reach into the Muslim world, especially into regions where Christian minorities feel threatened and sometimes endure persecution and advocate for cessation of hostilities; to have such influence across borders and religions requires a foundation of trust based on mutual respect. Then, as did St. Francis, he can bear witness, embrace truth and love, and advocate for peace.

When we trust each other we can speak freely. Seeing others as they truly are.


Eight centuries ago, in 1219, another Francis entered into dialogue with Muslims.

During the Fifth Crusade, Francis of Assisi traveled to Egypt hoping to negotiate peace between the warring parties. Francis, without regard for his safety, courageously crossed enemy lines to enter into dialogue with Sultan Malik al-Kamil in Damietta. Although his mission was unsuccessful Francis was received respectfully as a man of faith, and safely returned to Crusader lines.

Trying to see others as they truly are.


Later, in 1229, Frederick II, King of Germany, King of Burgundy, King of Sicily, King of Jerusalem, Holy Roman Emperor, falconer, Arabic scholar, and devotee of Arabic poetry, negotiated with the same Sultan Malik for the restitution of Jerusalem to Frederick’s Crusaders.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Frederick was given a tour, including visits to the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, by qadi Shams-al-Din, who later wrote that, as not to wake the emperor that night, he instructed the muezzin not to call the morning prayer. When the emperor awoke he asked Shams-al-Din why he had not heard the call and was told what had been instructed.

“You should not have acted thus,” the Holy Roman Emperor replied. “For if I spend the night in Jerusalem it was above all to hear the muezzin’s call to prayer in the night.”

There are many calls to prayer.


Listen to the shofar above Mount Sinai, to the muezzin from Al-Aqsa’s minaret, to the peel of bells from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Listen today for the eternal memory of the quiet rustle of palm fronds as a donkey treads carefully into Jerusalem.

There are many calls to peace and reconciliation.

There are many calls to love.


This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.