St. Catherine of Siena | Setting the World Ablaze – Week 5
Week Five: Champion of the Crusades
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” –Acts 2:3-4
A little bit of history…
Chapter Five begins, “In the late fourteenth century, Islam was on the march. Which, really, was nothing new. It had been on the march for the better part of 700 years.”
In 636 Syria fell, in 638, Jerusalem, in 640, Caesarea, in 642, Alexandria, Iraq and Iran, in 697, Carthage and in 715, all of Spain. Before that, by the time Mohammad died in 632, all of Arabia had been conquered by Islam.
All of the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain–all historically Christian territories had been taken over in a little less than a century. In 732, the Frankish King (modern-day France) Charles “the Hammer” Martel defeated Islamic forces in the Battle of Tours and in 848 Islamic armies invaded Rome and sacked the basilicas of (old) St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. Islamic forces had no plans to stop.
The Eastern Emperor, Alexius, was desperate and asked Pope Gregory VII for help. However, it was his successor Pope Urban II that called the First Crusade. Historian and Professor Steven Weidenkopf notes:
The Crusaders understood they were participating in an armed pilgrimage for the restoration of ancient Christian lands. The Crusades were defensive wars aimed at the restoration of property, not unprovoked aggressive campaigns of conquest.
For a Crash Course on the Crusades, click here.
A little bit of theology…
St. Catherine was a champion of the Crusades. She witnessed first-hand “what happened when Muslim pirates raided her people’s ships and towns.” In addition to the physical danger or worldly injustice, even more fundamentally, Christians, more often than not, were prevented from practicing their Faith in freedom under Islamic rule. The sacraments ceased and churches became mosques.
In our own day, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world and mainly by Islamic governments who do not value religious freedom. Click here to view a map from Open Doors which highlights 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian. On a personal note, my family left the Middle East to be able to practice the Christian Faith in freedom without fear.
The Church teaches that religious freedom is a human right based on the dignity of the human person. The Second Vatican Council declares: “This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (To learn more about the connection between the right to religious freedom and man’s dignity, see Catechism of the Church, see Part III, Section 1, Chapter 1, Article 3)
A little bit of spirituality…
In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, God reveals the power of intercessory prayer. He told her, “Not by the sword or by war or by violence will she (the Church) regain her beauty, but through peace and through constant humble prayers…”
Despite the failure of the Crusading movement and the expansion of Islam, St. Catherine is a saint because her zeal was motivated by love for her Muslim brothers and sisters who she desperately wanted to introduce to Jesus Christ. Any fruitful intercession she had regarding the corruption within the Church or the threat from without came from her dialogues with Jesus in the “secret cell” of her soul.
Mother Teresa, in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, said that “Love begins at home.” Perhaps today’s social and political problems would be significantly alleviated if her call to love those directly in our families and communities were answered with the same zeal and spirit of St. Catherine!
For a Litany of Healing to intercede for your family, click here.
Oremus pro invincem, (Let us pray for each other)
St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.