To commemorate the historic encounter between St Francis of Assisi with the Sultan of Egypt, AL-Kamil in the year 1219, Christians and Muslims held a special ceremony launch a year of events to promote tolerance, dialogue and a common commitment to peace.
Franciscan Sebastian Shaw, Archbishop of Lahore and President of the Commission, presided over the ceremony, held on January 12 in Lahore. Fr Francis Nadeem, Custodian of the Capuchin Friars in Pakistan, Executive Secretary of the Commission also lead the event. Franciscans, nuns, priests, lay people and eminent Muslim scholars from Sialkot, Gujranwala and Islamabad came Lahore for the occasion.
Fr Nadeem said, the two great leaders, Francis and Al-kamil, “spoke up for peace and tolerance amid the atmosphere of war and conflict during the crusades. They gave an example of interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding.”
At the beginning of the ceremony a painting was unveiled that depicts the encounter between St Francis of Assisi and Al-Kamil, while the doves were released, symbolizing the hope of spreading the message of peace in Pakistan and especially in the areas in which there are religious and political conflicts.
Capuchin Friar Shahzad Khokher OFM Cap then presented the background, the historical context and the significance of this historical meeting, and Archbishop Shaw encouraged everyone present to “be ambassadors of peace, inspired by the example shown by these great leaders”. “I admire the passion and courage of Francis of Assisi, who wanted to go to the Sultan during the war”, he said, reiterating that “this event drives us all to live in peace, harmony, tolerance and solidarity.”
Fr Nadeem announced that the event will be celebrated across Pakistan throughout 2019, with various activities: seminars for children, young people, university students, always involving Christians and Muslims.
“We also intend to reach 30% of Muslim religious leaders who are hostile to Christians, like St Francis, fearlessly, with the help of Muslims who are on our side, we wish to meet them to promote peace and harmony in Pakistan”, he said.
Maulana Muhammad Asim Makhdoom, a well-known scholar among the many Islamic leaders present, agreed: “We will promote together the mission of St Francis and the Sultan. It is up to us to face those who spread hatred and prejudice among religions. We have to commit ourselves seriously this year in order to convince other people to join this movement that promotes interreligious dialogue, peace and social harmony as we celebrate the 800 years of that historic encounter.”
The ceremony ended with a common prayer for peace recited together by the assembly.