11 June 2024

800 years on, St Francis’ tunic returns to Egypt

“A chance to follow in St Francis’ steps”: Eight centuries after the Italian holy man visited Egypt, his relics make a return.

When Saint Francis made his renowned journey to Egypt in 1219, he was wearing the humble tunic which went on to become characteristic of his followers.

Now, 800 years later, that tunic – or part of it – has made a return to the country.

A piece of the garment – which counts as a second-class relic of the saint – arrived in Cairo on the 23rd May. It then made its way to Alexandria, and will also visit Minya, Assiut, Qena and Luxor before returning to Italy on the 2nd June.

Following in St Francis’ steps

The relic belongs to Franciscan friars from the Italian region of Tuscany, who are bringing it to various countries in celebration of the 800th anniversary of St Francis’ stigmata. 

Speaking to Vatican News, Anthony Amen, a youth representative for the Egyptian Franciscans, said that the event aimed to “bring back the spirituality of Saint Francis”.

He added that he hoped the encounter with the relics would inspire the Church in Egypt to “follow in St Francis’ steps”.

The Saint and the Sultan

St Francis’ visit to Egypt is now best remembered for his encounter with Sultan al-Kamel, who was at the time the ruler of Egypt.

In the midst of the Crusades, the saint travelled behind enemy lines to meet with the Muslim leader, and remained with him for several days.

Amen said that the visit of the relic was “always a reminder for us to take the initiative to sustain dialogue between us and the other.”

He said that relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt had taken a “huge step forward” in the past ten years, during the leadership of President al-Sisi.

And, he said, much progress had also been made just in the past couple of years precisely because of the 800th anniversary of Francis’ encounter with the Sultan.

Dialogues took place, he said, between leaders and youth representatives from the Catholic Church and Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, one of the most prestigious centres of Muslim learning worldwide.

“From that moment,” Amen said, “we entered a new phase in interreligious dialogue between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.”

Source: Vatican News

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