By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF —
After a recent meeting, a friend and I chatted about the current political climate. I noted that I couldn’t imagine Toledo without its Middle Eastern population. Mike responded, “You can’t hold an event here without serving kielbasa and hummus.” Toledo is, indeed, a well-integrated ethnic mix.
And President Trump’s travel ban is bringing us even closer together.
Ever since the ban was announced, there have been a number of gatherings, lectures, prayer services, and interfaith discussions in the area, all well-attended. The event that touched me most deeply was held here at the Franciscan Center, about a week ago.
We had the privilege of hosting a screening of a docudrama by Unity Productions Foundation, a Muslim film production company. The Sultan and the Saint tells the story of the meeting of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sultan of Egypt, Malik al-Kamil. While the story took place in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade, it is especially timely today.
Failing to convince the Christian Crusaders to end the war, St. Francis, risking martyrdom, crossed the battle lines to try to convert the Sultan and convince him to end the warfare. The two spent a week in discussion; though neither was converted, both came away with respect for the deep faith of the other.
The screening of the film was sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Village, the Franciscan Action Network, the United Muslim Association of Toledo and various local organizations. We had a great turnout, with over 300 attendees, both Christian and Muslim.
The most powerful part of the event for me was the discussion afterwards. I ended up sitting at a table with two of my Sisters and four Muslim women, sharing the stories of our lives, talking about our cultures and our faith, and laughing with each other. We commiserated with one of the women, originally from Aleppo, who told us about the devastation of the city and the difficulty she has communicating with friends and family who are still there. Though we knew the information, the stories became real in the personal sharing.
I think St. Francis – and the Sultan, too! – was smiling down on us. I think we did them proud.