Monday, August 11, 2014

How St. Clare of Assisi repelled the Saracen troops.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, the Saracens were the enemies of Christians...
The power and efficacy of her prayers are illustrated by a story told by Thomas of Celano, a contemporary. In 1244, Emperor Frederick II, then at war with the Pope, was ravaging the valley of Spoleto, which was part of the patrimony of the Holy See. He employed many Saracens in his army, and a troop of these infidels came in a body to plunder Assisi. St. Damien's church, standing outside the city walls, was one of the first objectives. While the marauders were scaling the convent walls, Clare, ill as she was, had herself carried out to the gate and there the Sacrament was set up in sight of the enemy. Prostrating herself before it, she prayed aloud: "Does it please Thee, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy love? I beseech Thee, good Lord, protect these whom now I am not able to protect." Whereupon she heard a voice like the voice of a little child saying, "I will have them always in My care." She prayed again, for the city, and again the voice came, reassuring her. She then turned to the trembling nuns and said, "Have no fear, little daughters; trust in Jesus." At this, a sudden terror seized their assailants and they fled in haste. Shortly afterward one of Frederick's generals laid siege to Assisi itself for many days. Clare told her nuns that they, who had received their bodily necessities from the city, now owed it all the assistance in their power. She bade them cover their heads with ashes and beseech Christ as suppliants for its deliverance. For a whole day and night they prayed with all their might- and with many tears, and then "God in his mercy so made issue with temptation that the besiegers melted away and their proud leader with them, for all he had sworn an oath to take the city." - Source
Did you know Muslims used to be called infidels?

St. John Paul II recounted this same story in his Letter on the Eighth Centenary of the Birth of St. Clare. :   It is the voice of the Child Jesus which, at a time of great danger - when the monastery was about to fall into the hands of Saracen troops in the employ of Emperor Frederick II - reassures her from the Eucharist: It "will be defended by my protection" (LegCl 22).

Saracen was the Medieval term for Mohammedans, or Arab Muslims.  In the siege of Assisi, they were mercenaries for the Emperor, and they were considered ruthless and therefore greatly feared. In those days they were called infidels.  St. Francis himself had 'a burning desire' for the conversion of the Saracens and twice tried unsuccessfully to go to preach among them and die a martyrs death.  He was finally able to go to Damietta where he was imprisoned and then led before the Sultan.  He made no conversions but evidently obtained the Sultan's promise to treat Christians more hospitably.  The meeting has been romanticized by creative biographers, poets and artists ever since.

In our time ... Nostra aetate

Today we deliberately avoid any mention of converting "Mohammedans".  In fact we differentiate between Islam as a religion and Muslims as a people.  It's quite a turn around even from how the Church regarded Islam when I was a child.  Today it is all even more confusing.

Lately a few Catholics have been recycling Winston Churchill's remarks about Mohammedans, as well as those of Archbishop Lefebvre and others.  Likewise, the Regensburg address by Benedict XVI is in circulation again as being in opposition to Islam.  In fact, Benedict XVI apologized for the effect his speech had upon Muslims:
Benedict also apologized to Muslim leaders and added a footnote to the text of his speech, stating, "In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation.  I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion."

Playing one pope against another, some Catholics condemn Pope Francis for his disapproval of Benedict's address:
In 2006, then-Cardinal Bergoglio expressed disapproval of Pope Benedict's comment on the Prophet Muhammad. He said, "Pope Benedict's statement 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 twenty years". The Vatican responded forcefully to Bergoglio's criticism, threatening to remove him from his post.  

In our time many suspect Pope Francis may be going beyond Nostra Aetate, pulling out 'the rays of truth' in the Qur'an, expressing his hope Muslim immigrants to Europe “can freely worship and become fully a part of society”.  I don't understand many things, this may be one of them - especially in view of how Islamic fundamentalist/extremists spread terror throughout the world, and once in power, demand implementation of Sharia law.  However, as Jordan Denan wrote in his article for Commonweal:
Francis is not the first pope to discuss both the Qur’an and Islam. His predecessors (Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI) also spoke about the Qur’an and Islam and the latter two wrote on doctrinal questions. These popes’ statements on Islam do not have the authority of a council document like Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate, but they do indicate that Catholic reflection and scholarship on Islam has developed considerably and could likely be updated in a future document of greater authority. (You can read previous papal and Vatican statements on Islam here.) - Source

St. John Paul II went so far as to kiss the Qur'an,  apparently out of reverence for 'the rays of truth' contained in it.   I don't know who that demonstration was for, but it didn't shake my faith either.

Credo in unam Deum...

Happy feast day.

Arise O Lord
and let your enemies be scattered,
let those that hate you,
flee before your Holy Face.


  1. A few years back I read an interview by the formal papal photographer, Arturo Mari, given to a Polish Catholic magazine. Mari, who was always near the Pope, recalled John Paul II meeting the president of Sudan in Khartoum during a papal trip. Apparently the Holy Father raised the issue of the persecution of Christians in Sudan with such ... forcefulness ... that everyone could hear what he was saying even through the closed door, and after the meeting the president emerged looking rather shaken. Mari also said JPII derived great satisfaction from openly celebrating Mass in that country.

  2. All religions hold some truth; Islam considers Jesus a prophet but denies that He is the son of God. They also venerate Mary in some fashion. And they named Mohammed's daughter after the city in Portugal. But man, are they screwed up otherwise.


    1. Even amidst all the speculations, ruminations, and whatnots, I am still hopeful that our Holy Fathers had an impact somewhere, somehow, on the Muslims they encountered. ^^ I bet the true conversions will come from them seeing our brothers and sisters press on despite their having lost everything...willing to flee rather than deny our Lord Jesus Christ. (at least I hope so)

      "Willing to lose all in order to gain all."

      Not a romantic/idealized notion at all since I cannot imagine what it is like for them but I still hope a fire burns in their heart (Jesus) to keep them hopeful and prevent them from despairing.

      That is my prayer as I toss the rest of us in their too.

  3. I have one of those glow-in-the-dark St.Clares that one puts on a TV; I no longer have a TV. So now Clare has a new purpose. :)
    Between Our Lady and now St. Clare, the bad guys don't stand a chance.

  4. Nan, I think the city was named for the daughter, not the other way around.


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