THE SAINT AND THE SULTAN: The
Crusades, Islam, and Francis of
Assisi's Mission of Peace, by Paul
Moses. Doubleday Religion. 302 pp.
$26, U.S.; $32, Canada. Also available
as an eBook.
Reviewed by MURRAY BODO, O.F.M., a
Franciscan priest who has written Francis:
The Journey and the Dream, Clare: A
Light in the Garden and Brother
Juniper: God's Holy Fool.
IN 1219 ST. FRANCIS traveled to Damietta,
Egypt, to try to bring peace and
reconciliation between Christians and
Muslims. He was mocked by the Crusaders
and well received by Sultan
This monumental meeting, though
little known, left a deep impression on
both St. Francis and the sultan. Francis
included a chapter in his Early Rule about how the friars are to go among
Muslims and other nonbelievers. The
sultan had asked Francis to pray for
him, which he continued
to do for the rest of his life.
On his part, the sultan gave
Francis gifts which are now
on display in the Basilica of
St. Francis in Assisi.
In a world of increasing
tensions between Christianity
and Islam, incited
by extremists of both religions
who foster violence
as the only solution, the
example of St. Francis and
Sultan Malik al-Kamil provides
a vivid image of an alternative
solution: the peace of reconciliation
St. Francis, of course, is the icon of
Christian peacemaking, but al-Kamil,
too, was a man of peace. He offered
five peace plans to the Crusaders during
the Fifth Crusade, and he was considered
by Christians as the most
tolerant of Egypt's sultans. Knighted
by Richard the Lionhearted at the age
of 11, al-Kamil respected Christianity
and lived out the Quran's affectionate
recognition of Christian monks as
those whose "eyes brim with tears at
the recognition of God's truth."
Surely, al-Kamil saw St. Francis as
one of these holy monks. The story of
these two men—Francis and the sultan—is told engagingly in this well-researched,
timely and fascinating book
by Paul Moses, a former Newsday editor
and professor of journalism at Brooklyn
College and the City University of New
York Graduate School of Journalism.
Moses makes clear that, although
what the two men actually said to one
another is not known, it is certain that
al-Kamil was moved by Francis' words
and listened to him willingly. On his
part, Francis was taken with the Muslim
daily call to prayer and with the sultan
All of this is dramatically narrated by
Moses, as well as the bloody, hard-fought
battles that preceded and followed
Francis' venture into
the Muslim camp.
A further strength of
Moses' book is how skillfully
he locates the Damietta
sojourn within the whole
Francis story. He shows how
the young Francis' own
experience—in the battle
between Assisi and Perugia,
his subsequent imprisonment,
the shame he overcame
after his conversion
when he was mocked and
spit upon by his fellow Assisians for
renouncing his father and, above all,
when he began to live with lepers—prepared him with the courage and
faith he needed to enter the camp of the
What impressed me most in this
book is the privileged position Moses
gives to the writings of St. Francis in trying
to reconcile differing accounts of
Francis' encounter with the sultan and
Islam and how they show the influence
of this experience, especially in
the letters he wrote and in the Early
Rule he composed after he returned
I highly recommend this book for
readers interested in St. Francis, the
Crusades, Islam and how the story of
Francis and al-Kamil offers us a Franciscan
approach to the interfaith challenges
we face today.
You can order THE SAINT AND THE SULTAN: The
Crusades, Islam, and Francis of
Assisi's Mission of Peace from St. Francis Bookstore.
SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM, by
Uwem Akpan. Back Bay Books. 384
Reviewed by KENT D. CURRY, a freelance
writer and editor in suburban St. Louis.
AS A RULE, books of short stories are
often ignored by most readers—unless
Oprah Winfrey chooses one for her
book club. Recently, Winfrey chose this
volume, written by a Jesuit priest from
Nigeria, as her first short-story collection.
Not that she was the first to recognize
the often harrowing power of
these stories. The collection was nominated
for several awards, and only
came into existence because The New
Yorker published Akpan's "An Ex-Mas
Feast" in its 2005 Debut Fiction issue.
Although these five stories are set in
different countries throughout the continent,
the narrator-protagonists are all
young, ranging from painfully undereducated
adolescents to a scared Muslim
teen trapped in a bus full of scared
Christians. This was a wise move, for
the children's often painful naïveté creates
suspense while perfectly reflecting
most Westerners' ignorance of the pressures
within contemporary Africa. It
also places them into rancid, believable
"Fattening for Gabon" covers the
short period after a young brother (age 10) and sister (five) learn they have
new godparents, who seem intent on
feeding them well for the first time in
their lives. Naturally, they are thrilled,
even as their Uncle Fofo
Kpee keeps them hidden
away in a distant building.
The story skips from suspense
to excitement to terror
to tragedy as the reader
understands the siblings are
being prepared for a life of
slavery in nearby Gabon,
with the equivocating uncle
making a tidy profit on their
Akpan weaves believable
characters, cultural details
and the proclamation of faith into an
unsettling blend of truth.
In "Luxurious Hearses," desperate
refugees flee nearby violence by crowding
into luxury buses that will take
them to safety in southern Nigeria—except that for hours the buses refuse
to budge, and the refugees can't exit
without forfeiting their seat to freedom.
As they wait and sweat and gripe
in the heat, Akpan brilliantly evokes
the country's politics, as the power
within the bus shifts from a former
tribal chief to bus-wide democracy,
indifferent soldiers and finally nearby
Preeminence keeps sliding from
Catholicism to Pentecostalism to
ancient African religions, each justified
at times to maintain order, with
none lasting long enough to change
their situation. In the middle of this crisis
is the disguised Muslim teenager
who fears that he will be discovered
While the story should have been
tightened, its revelations continue to
keep the reader on the bus with the
The finest story in the collection, "My
Parents' Bedroom," follows nine-year-old
Monique in the midst of the Rwandan
tribal genocide of 1994, where the
Hutus massacred up to a million Tutsis
in four months. While none of us can
comprehend a million deaths, Akpan
personalizes the horrors through the
eyes of the Christian Monique, whose
father is Hutu and mother is Tutsi.
As the forces of chaos invade—then
overrun—their home, a glowing crucifix
in the parlor transforms from idle
decoration to a vibrant symbol of hope
in a devastated land.
At no point does the
author flinch from the reality
of faith, often contrasting
a character's proclaimed
beliefs versus the reality of
his actions. Lovely phrases
like "Prostitutes fluttered
about under streetlights,
dressed like winged termites,"
"his cowherd feet
were crammed into undersized
canvas shoes—their laces missing, their
tongues jutting out like those of goats
being roasted," shine in riveting situations.
If you're not a short-story regular,
take Oprah's word on this one and pick
up Say You're One of Them. You might
find yourself wondering why more people
don't buy short-story collections.
You can order SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM from St.
BORN OF THE EUCHARIST: A Spirituality
for Priests, With a Reflection
by Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., edited
by Stephen J. Rossetti. Ave Maria
Press. 192 pp. $15.95.
PRIESTS TODAY: Reflections on Identity,
Life, and Ministry, edited by
Brendan Leahy and Michael Mulvey.
New City Press. 120 pp. $9.95.
Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M.,
editor of this publication. He was ordained
a priest on June 7, 1975.
THE YEAR FOR PRIESTS, which began
on June 19, 2009, ends this month in
Rome with an international retreat for
priests. These two useful volumes offer
reflections on ordained priesthood and
Eucharist—with implications for all the
The first volume offers reflections
on the lived experience of 21 priests,
bishops and cardinals, mostly but not
exclusively from the United States. Father Stephen Rossetti of the Diocese
of Syracuse served on the staff of St.
Luke Institute in Silver
Spring, Maryland, from
1993 until 1997 and then
as its president and CEO
until October 2009. He is
now on the faculty of the
religious studies department
at The Catholic University
In his Introduction,
Father Rossetti writes: "The
greatest witness to the
truths of our faith has
always been the living faith
of believers. And a great witness to the
health, vibrancy, and, in truth, sanctity
of our priests and bishops today is their
love of the Eucharist, and thus, their
love of Christ."
Some contributors are well-known
(Jesuit Cardinals Avery Dulles and Carlo
Maria Martini, Archbishop Timothy
Dolan, Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I.,
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Father Benedict
Groeschel, C.F.R., and Father Daniel
Coughlin) and others have labored zealously
with little public attention. One
contributor returned after 14 years away
from active ministry.
"The Eucharist can never be the private
worship of an individual or a
club," writes Dulles. "It is always a public
act of the Church as such. For this
reason, its celebration requires a minister
capable of linking the local community
to the diocesan bishop and
through him to the whole Catholic
This book is meant for a wider audience
than priests. For example, Msgr.
John Strynkowski writes, "I am often
awed by the faith, courage, perseverance,
and love in the face of
difficult circumstances that
many parishioners demonstrate.
They are frequently
dealing with immense sorrows
within their families."
He goes on to observe, "The
Sunday Eucharist can be
the one moment of the
week where everyone can
sense a welcome, harmony
and unity that is not otherwise
Father Timothy Butler, a
military chaplain, notes, "In the midst
of the unfamiliar, Eucharist alone reminds
us that we are never far from
home." According to Msgr. John Zenz,
"A pastor not only brings the past and
future to bear in the present moment,
he also seeks to assure his people that
nothing of the past is outside the realm
of grace and that, whatever pain the
uncertain future holds, it too is capable
of becoming something beautiful
Biographical notes identify all contributors,
and three pages of endnotes
give the sources quoted.
When the second volume was compiled,
Brendan Leahy taught systematic
theology at St. Patrick's College
(Maynooth, Ireland) and Michael Mulvey
was administrator of the Diocese of
Austin. Mulvey has since been appointed
the bishop of Corpus Christi,
Texas. "In this book of reflections,"
they write, "we have chosen texts that
we believe open windows onto aspects
of spirituality and pastoral ministry
that encourage and prompt renewal."
Priests Today offers 123 quotes from
a wide range of contributors, including
Pope Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II,
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta,
Karl Rahner, S.J., Timothy Radcliffe,
O.P., Archbishop Fulton Sheen, G.K.
Chesterton, Patriarch Athenagoras,
Hans Urs von Balthasar, S.J., and Teilhard
de Chardin, S.J.
Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare
movement, is quoted several times.
So are several other people published by
New City Press, which is the North
American publishing house of the Focolare
Sts. John Vianney, Gregory Nazianzen,
Peter Chrysologus, Augustine of
Hippo, Charles Borromeo, Gregory the
Great, John of the Cross, Josemaria
Escrivá De Balaguer and Thérèse of
Lisieux are also cited.
Pope Benedict XVI writes, "Being
Christian is not the result of an ethical
choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter
with an event, a person, which gives
life a new horizon and a decisive direction."
You can order BORN OF THE EUCHARIST: A Spirituality
for Priests and PRIESTS TODAY: Reflections on Identity,
Life, and Ministry from St.
PINK PRAYER BOOK: Coping, Healing,
Surviving, Thriving, edited by
Diana Losciale. Liguori Publications.
96 pp. $9.95. (Available in Spanish
PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER:
Marking the Journey, edited by
Diana Losciale. Liguori Publications.
96 pp. $9.95. (Available in Spanish
Reviewed by JUDY BALL, an editor now
retired from St. Anthony Messenger Press,
who worked with newsletters, American
Catholic Radio and www.AmericanCatholic.org. She freelances for publications
such as National Catholic Reporter.
AS A SURVIVOR of breast cancer, I can
only welcome publications designed
to offer strength, courage, wisdom,
peace, hope and prayers for those who
face such a frightening illness. Booklets
such as these might have been perfect
as an insert in the cloth bag of goodies
I received from my oncologist's office (with info about support groups and
other local resources) as I faced surgery,
chemotherapy and radiation in the
autumn of 2007.
Might have been. Truthfully, I didn't
find either of these booklets "must
reading." Yes, a diagnosis of cancer
shakes our world and that of our family,
and anything that offers support is
to be celebrated. For me, however, neither
of these resources hits the mark.
Moving and beautifully written as
the prayers from cancer survivors,
family members and other loved ones
are, I'm not sure how they would have
touched me during
my months of
do not come from
my family members
or loved ones;
the authors are
strangers to me.
Thank God, I
was blessed to be
surrounded by the
prayers, love and
support of people
who were already part of my life. They
were, and are, my life support.
But for those not as fortunate as I
was, these two resources may be of help.
You can order PINK PRAYER BOOK: Coping, Healing,
Surviving, Thriving and PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER:
Marking the Journey from St. Francis Bookstore.
YOU ARE MY BELOVED: Meditations
on God's Steadfast Love, by Mitch
Finley. Resurrection Press/Catholic
Book Publishing. 191 pp. $10.95.
Reviewed by MARY LYNNE RAPIEN,
L.P.C.C., licensed clinical counselor, catechist,
Homily Helps contributor and former
youth columnist for St. Anthony
MITCH FINLEY wants the reader to
know, beyond a shadow of a doubt,
by the end of the book, that God
loves him/her personally, uniquely,
steadfastly, unconditionally, all of the
time, every moment. Finley does that
via 90 mini-meditations on Scripture
passages throughout the Bible.
If you read one a day, you will have
three months of God telling you
how much and how he loves you.
Reading Mitch Finley's book is like
eating a box of fine chocolates. If you
sit down and devour the box one piece
after another, pretty soon one piece
tastes like the other and it is just too
much at one sitting.
If, however, you savor one piece a
day (if you have more discipline than
I do), enjoying it bite after tiny bite, letting
the flavor roll around in your
mouth, there is a richness in each piece,
and ultimately more enjoyment in the
The tiny snippets of reflections on
God's love in this book are meant to be
savored one at a time. The cue is in the
subtitle: "Meditations on God's Steadfast
Love." Finley contributes his insights.
Through our own chewing on them,
we go deeper and let them seep into
our being. It is in our meditation that we
can see the workings of God's love in us
and in the world around us. It is in the
meditation that the reality of the words
becomes real for us.
The print is big and the pages are
not full. But they are packed with reflection.
There is some repetition, but the author gives many facets of God's steadfast
love: mercy, peace, grace, compassion,
forgiveness, delight, salvation,
indwelling and healing—to name a few.
Some meditations are encouraging,
some challenging. Some give a new twist
on a familiar passage. A few
make you laugh. I will never
dress in the morning without
thinking about God's statement
through Jeremiah that
he is as close to the houses of
Judah and Israel (and to us)
as a loincloth—or as Finley
says, "As close as our underpants."
He adds, "I knocked
myself out laughing at this
image." I smiled myself.
Then he switches to the serious
and says, "God lives and
breathes and rejoices in you."
Mitch has a way of being profoundly
simple and simply profound. In a piece
on the Eucharist, he says, "We receive
the whole self of the risen Christ....We
consume the mystery of our own destiny,
which is resurrection in Christ."
That's something to chew on.
His love of Christ is evident. He
writes for the everyday person. His language
is common. Some of his expressions
catch the reader off guard, like
"Holy hot tamale," "For crying out
loud" and "Holy guacamole." When
he quotes St. Paul as saying, "Phooey,"
we know it's a loose translation, but
we get the message.
This book is for anyone who doubts
God's unconditional love during trying
times. It is for folks who need to increase
their appreciation of God's mercy
I am writing this review while on
retreat at the Trappist Monastery of
Gethsemani in Kentucky. The book
worked for me, but I'm afraid I ate the
whole "box." Now I need to go home
and savor it one bite at a time.
You can order YOU ARE MY BELOVED: Meditations
on God's Steadfast Love from St. Francis Bookstore.
THE DEATH OF A POPE: A Novel, by
Piers Paul Read. Ignatius Press. 215
Reviewed by ELIZABETH YANK, an avid
reader, homeschooling mother and freelance
writer from South Milwaukee.
AN ABSORBING PAGE-TURNER: That is
Death of a Pope. In this theological
thriller, Piers Read sets a brisk pace by
painting vignettes rather than lengthy
chapters as he deftly moves from scene
to scene. He teases the reader into asking:
"Who is this man, Uriarte?
What will he do next?
What is his true motive?
Where is this all leading?"
The story opens in London,
where Juan Uriarte, a
confident and charismatic
Spanish ex-priest, is on trial
for terrorist activities during
the final days of Pope John
Paul II's reign. A member of
a Catholic relief agency who
favors nonviolence and
compassion for the poor, he
does not appear to be a likely candidate
for terrorist activities. This is what
the jury concludes, so he walks away
free, to the dismay of British Intelligence.
British Intelligence, at least in the
form of David Kotovski, is not so quick
to forgive. Questioning Uriarte's past
activities, Kotovski believes he is not
telling the truth and suspects
him of being up to
At the trial, Kotovski
meets Kate Ramsey, an
attractive young British
reporter, and finds himself
spending more and more
time with her.
Ramsey, unlike Kotovski,
all too readily believes in
Uriarte's innocence. Intrigued
by the enigmatic
Uriarte and desperately
looking for romance, she follows him
to Africa to write an investigative piece
about his work. There she witnesses
his relief work and falls in love with
Her uncle, Father Luke, tries to reason
with this impetuous young woman,
but to no avail.
This novel's characters find themselves
embroiled in idealistic dreams
gone amok, idle romance, blackmail,
betrayal, terrorism and threats of mass
murder. These characters are real, suffering
from their glaring moral faults as
they struggle to find their true identities.
Yet Read parts with most modern
fiction authors in that he highlights
life's sad state of affairs without any
graphic sex or foul language.
The plot swirls around the charismatic
figure of Uriarte, whose idealism
inspired him to leave the priesthood to
join the Salvadoran Freedom Fighters
and then move on to other impassioned
A man of deep convictions yet
twisted logic, Uriarte is determined to
effect a dramatic change on the world
at all costs. His obsessive ambition may
cost him more than he bargained for.
Father Luke is tired and old; he lacks
the fire and conviction to persuade his
niece. As the opposing conservative
character to the liberal Uriarte, Kate's
uncle pales in comparison. Where Uriarte's
charms could have appeared
superficial and Father Luke's advice
wise, that isn't always the case. Father
Luke's saving grace, however, is his self-sacrificing
love for his niece, even if
he fails in argumentation.
Kotovski, too, as the "knight" saving
the heroine from the wicked bad guy,
comes across more as your
average Joe. Is his goodness
enough to draw the attention
of the heroine from the
seductive charm of the antihero?
Wherever the reader stands,
the opinions of the characters
represent the various
voices within the Church
today. Rather than fully penetrate
certain heated issues,
the characters seem to explore
the topics, hoping to
provoke the reader to consider issues
The Death of a Pope combines suspense,
interesting characters, crisp writing
and thought-provoking analysis of
issues related to the Church.
You can order THE DEATH OF A POPE: A Novel from St. Francis Bookstore.