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Catholic nuns, imam celebrate icon for peace

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Sister Diana Lynn Eckel uses incense in blessing an icon, a triptych depicting St. Francis of Assisi's 1219 visit to Egypt, in an installation ceremony at the Sisters of St. Francis chapel.


Sometime during the year 1219, a famous Catholic cleric from Italy met with a Muslim leader in an effort to promote peace and end the bloody conflict between their two sides.

That historic meeting in Damietta, Egypt, between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamil during the Fifth Crusade has been commemorated in an icon that will be formally installed near the entrance to the Queen of Peace Chapel on the Sisters of St. Francis campus in Sylvania.

A ceremony was held last weekend in which the three-paneled icon was blessed by Catholic nuns and Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

Sister Karen Zielinski said the triptych's theme of peace is a perfect fit for the chapel.

"We felt it was something that is appropriate," Sister Karen said. "Peace is part of our mission statement. St. Francis was a messenger of peace and that is a very high priority for us."

The triptych was created by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan Friar who belongs to the order's Guadalupe province, during a 2007 workshop in Colorado Springs titled "Daring to Embrace the Other: Franciscans and Muslims in Dialogue."

Four nuns from Sylvania attended the workshop and decided the icon should be displayed at their campus, Sister Karen said.

The center panel, which measures 24-by-30-inches, shows St. Francis and the Sultan meeting as equals, not enemies, and their holiness is symbolized, according to each one's tradition, by a halo around the Catholic saint and flames for the Muslim sultan.


Imam Farooq Abo-Elzahab of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo also participated in the ceremony to install the icon.


The panel includes text from the beginning of the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, "Praise to God, Lord of the World!"

The left panel, which is 14-by-30-inches, depicts Al-Fakhr al Farisi, a Sufi mystic who was an adviser to the Sultan, and the right panel shows St. Francis with the wolf of Gubbio, a symbol of the darkness he tamed both within himself and in his surroundings.

The historic meeting between St. Francis and the Sultan did not result in peace, but the dialogue between the men in the midst of war left both of them changed, Sister Karen said.

Their brave attempt to halt the fighting is all-too relevant today, she added.

"Along with the great symbolism in the icon, isn't it ironic that 800 years later, east and west are still fighting and humankind is still trying to make sense of this and pray for peace?," Sister Karen asked.

- David Yonke

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