By Father Brian Jordan, O.F.M.
St. Francis of Assisi is now in Brooklyn. He has arrived in the form of rare Franciscan manuscripts that have never left the library of the Sacro Convento San Francesco in Assisi in 700 years!
This all came about through a mutual arrangement of the Conventual Franciscans who administer the Sacro Convento, the Italian government together with the U.S. government, the U.N., the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President and other key artistic organizations and individuals.
Ecology and Peace
Since St. Francis is both the patron saint of ecology and an interfaith role model for peace, it was agreed these rare manuscripts would first be displayed at the U.N., the global body that promotes world peace and is also about to enact a comprehensive scientific statement on climate.
The display of Franciscan manuscripts now at Brooklyn Borough Hall until Jan. 14 was arranged by Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and a number of influential people, such as Jim Chirico, owner of Marco Polo’s restaurant in Brooklyn. There is a “trinity” of reasons why people should view this exhibit. Historical: This is the first time these rare 12th- and 13th-century manuscripts have left Assisi. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for attendees. This scholarly exhibit consists of 19 manuscripts on recently restored tablets. At the heart of these tablets is Codex 338, a collection of early writings and documents concerning Francis and the Order ofFriars Minor.
The real highlight of these early writings by St. Francis of Assisi is “The Canticle of the Creatures,” the oldest known poetic text in the Italian language.
Scholars from nearby St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, have been offering brief academic lectures to explain the importance of this cherished exhibit from various perspectives: history, literature, poetry, art, faith and philosophy. These lectures as well as the exhibit are free and open to the general public.
Spiritual: Each era of history reveals spiritual growth through all cultural manifestations. St. Francis of Assisi was no exception in medieval Italy. His emphasis on poverty, penance and peace was most welcome among all walks of life. St. Francis of Assisi is not for Catholics only. At the present time, there are a number of Franciscan religious orders representing the Anglican and Lutheran faith traditions.
In addition, Muslim scholars have a renewed interest in St. Francis’ meeting with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. This is evidenced by a book written by Paul Moses, a professor at Brooklyn College entitled “The Sultan and the Saint.”
Jewish scholars concerned with climate change, such as Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, value not only “The Canticle of the Creatures,” but find comfort in that St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of ecology.
Contemporary Applications: In a world of increasing danger and uncertainty we need to bring the message of Assisi to the whole world.
During three meaningful occasions in Assisi, then-Pope John Paul II convened a gathering of religious world leaders for peaceful, meaningful dialogue. The first was in 1986 in response to the threat of nuclear arms and a call for world peace. The second was in 1995 in response to the threat of ethnic cleansing both in Europe and Africa and there was a call for inter-ethnic respect and dignity of the human person.
Finally, a huge gathering took place in January, 2002, in direct response to the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 due to the abuse of religious fervor. The Decalogue of Assisi issued 10 points to the effect that religion should never be used for violence. Those agreements have been enacted and it is expected that all religious leaders throughout the world will abide by them.
Dialogue and Consensus
Since Assisi has come to Brooklyn, I propose that Brooklyn Borough Hall be considered as a site for another interfaith gathering. The reason for this gathering is to invite select, mature, spirit-filled religious leaders from all five boroughs to meet and dialogue with one another.
The purpose is to reach by consensus peaceful recommendations for healing in our city presently plagued by a racial divide over the Eric Garner case and the murder of two NYPD police officers on Dec. 20, 2014.
Complex problems were addressed three times among world leaders in Assisi, Italy since 1986 and it’s seemed to work regarding meaningful dialogue. Why not try Assisi in Brooklyn for our current crisis?
Our city and our world needs the message of St. Francis of Assisi more than ever.
Editor’s note: The exhibit continues in the main courtroom of Brooklyn Borough Hall at 209 Joralemon Street, through Jan. 14. For more details, call 718-802-3831.
Father Brian Jordan, O.F.M., is the chaplain at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.