Hi guys. Let me try to help. Just so that you’ll trust me, just a little, I did get my MA in Mystical Theology and Francis was my thesis. I also served with the Capuchins in the missions for seven years and learned a great deal through them.
Now to St. Francis.
Prior to our Holy Father’s conversion experience, his family wanted him to go to crusades in the hope of being knighted. The Bernadones were a wealthy family in Assisi, but they were part of the merchant class, not the aristrocracy. Francis did join the army. In fact, he was in a battle between Assis and Perugia and was a prisoner of war for a year in Perugia. He later set out for the Crusades in the Northern Africa, but while on his way to join up with his batallion he heard a voice that asked him where he was going.
Francis responded to the Crusades and the voice asked him why he served the squire instead of the Master. The voice told him to retun to Assisi where he would be told what to do. Later, after much prayer and penance, Francis was prayingin at a small chapel outside of Assisi, San Damiano and he thought he heard a voice that came from the crucifix. The voice said, “Francis, go repair my Church, can’t you see that it’s falling into ruins.”
At first, Francis though that he should literally reconstruct the delapidated chapel and he did. As time passed he became more contemplative and realized that it was the Catholic Church that he was to repair.
Francis realized that the Church had cast its lots in with kings and princess. Although there were holy men in the Church, such as Dominic, his counterpart, there were also men who sought power and fame. Many of those who favoured the Crusades were more interested in the conquest of the Middle East rather than in preserving the Christian holy places. In fact, neither the Muslims nor the Jews living in Palestine at the time had done any harm to the Christian sites.
In any case, Francis set out to convert the Muslims. He did fail to convert them, but he made a lasting impression on them to this day, the same with the Jews. The Sultan remarked that he would become a Christian the next day if all Christians were as true to their faith as Francis was. He also got an agreement from the Sultan to treat the Christian prisoners of war with more dignity and to protect their human rights (not Francis words) but the same idea.
Francis also saw the other side of the war, the pain and the suffering that the Christians inflicted on civilian Muslims and Jews. While he acknowledged the Catholic faith as being the true faith, he also acknowledge that Christ would not treat anyone in such a horrible manner. In fact it was Christ who was abused and murdered, not he who did the abusing.
In Francis’ mind both the Muslims and the Christians claimed to fight for God, but neither treated their enemies as brothers and sisters, children of the same God that they both worshipped. The cruelty was mutual and the hatred the same. Both the cruelty and the hatred were contrary to the Gospel that Francis had vowed to live by. He had vowed to preach the Gospel by his way of life, not by force.
There were two kinds of confrontation that Francis avoided at all costs and urged the leaders of his time to do likewise: 1) physical confrontations such as war and 2) verbal confrontations such as hurling insults at non believers or harrassing them.
When he went to a place where he knew that he could not preach without upsetting the crowds, Francis preached by silence. One day he invited a Brother to preach in a town that was truly deep in sin. They walked through the town. When they got to the other side, the other Brother asked him, “Father (a title of honor, Francis was a layman) where are we going to preach?” To which Francis responded, “We already have.”
In Franciscan mysticism there is no room for physical or verbal conflict of any kind. You speak the truth when you can and you speak with example when words don’t work.
For this reason, Francis would not support the Crusades. He was not anti-Church. He was anti anger, hatred, materialism, injustice and any violation of the Beatitudes and the corporal works of mercy. This was his greatest exercise in poverty. He became detached from everything and anything that did not conform to the Gospel’s message of peace, salvation and reconciliation.
I hope this helps.