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An Alternate Solution: Reconciliation

Q U I C K S C A N

THE SAINT AND THE SULTAN: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace
SAY YOU'RE ONE OF THEM
BORN OF THE EUCHARIST: A Spirituality for Priests
PRIESTS TODAY: Reflections on Identity, Life, and Ministry
PINK PRAYER BOOK: Coping, Healing, Surviving, Thriving
PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER: Marking the Journey
YOU ARE MY BELOVED: Meditations on God's Steadfast Love
THE DEATH OF A POPE: A Novel
Meditating on the Eucharist



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 Malik al-Kamil.

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 and forgiveness.

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 himself.

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 sultan.

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 from Damietta.

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 pp. $14.99.

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 situations.

"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 developing bodies.

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 police.

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 and killed.

While the story should have been tightened, its revelations continue to keep the reader on the bus with the refugees.

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. Francis Bookstore.

 

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 baptized.

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 of America.

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 communion."

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 available."

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 for God."

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 movement.

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. Francis Bookstore.

 

PINK PRAYER BOOK: Coping, Healing, Surviving, Thriving, edited by Diana Losciale. Liguori Publications. 96 pp. $9.95. (Available in Spanish and English.)

PRAYERS FOR COPING WITH CANCER: Marking the Journey, edited by Diana Losciale. Liguori Publications. 96 pp. $9.95. (Available in Spanish and English.)

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 treatment. They 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 Messenger.

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 whole box.

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 and grace.

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 pp. $21.95.

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 no good.

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 him.

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 causes.

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 more deeply.

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.

 

Meditating on the Eucharist

A Catholic priest's greatest ministry is presiding at holy Mass. To celebrate the end of the Year for Priests (June 19) and the feast of Corpus Christi (June 6), consider these new books on the Eucharist.

THE MYSTERY OF FAITH: Meditations on the Eucharist, by Father Tadeusz Dajczer, foreword by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow (Paraclete Press, 111 pp., $17.99). The Eucharist's power helps us realize that the consecrated bread and wine we receive at Mass are truly the same God who rules the world. Translated from the 2007 Polish original, these 16 powerful meditations were written by a good friend of the late Pope John Paul II. Although the book suffers from some confusing pronouns and boldface, it suggests how to live the Eucharist.

HOW WE WORSHIP: The Eucharist, the Sacraments and the Hours, by the Rev. Lawrence E. Mick (Liguori Publications, 142 pp., $14.99), is a primer on Catholic liturgy. With questions for individual reflection and group discussions, this book should be read by all parish worship commissions and everyone who goes to Mass.

THE EUCHARIST AND THE ROSARY: Mystery, Meditation, Power, Prayer, by Matt Swain (Liguori Publications, 118 pp., $12.99), comes from a 2005 convert to Catholicism who works as a producer for Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. The book explores facets of the Rosary mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Luminous and Glorious) linked to the Mass.—B.B.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookstore, 135 W. 31st Street, New York, NY 10001, phone 212-736-8500, ext. 324, fax 212-594-6025.

 


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