Christian apology for the Crusades:
The Reconciliation Walk
"But when have Christians demonstrated this love to
Muslims or Jews? We have gone to them with swords and guns. We have gone to them
with racism and hatred. We have gone to them with feelings of cultural
superiority and economic domination. We have gone to them with colonialism and
exploitation. We have even gone to them with the Gospel cloaked in arguments of
superiority. Only a few have ever gone with the message of Calvary...We
must do more than carry the message, we must be the message." Reconciliation Walk
About the Crusades and their legacy of hatred:
The mid 7th century to the mid 10th century CE saw the
gradual expansion of Islam. Half of the Christian world was conquered by Arab
armies; this included countries in which Christianity had been established for
centuries, such as Egypt, southern France, southern Italy, Sicily, Spain, Syria,
Turkey, etc. 4
By the late 10th century, Europe and the Middle East were divided
into Christian and Muslim spheres of influence. Christian pilgrims from Europe
regularly visited Muslim-controlled Jerusalem in reasonable safety. Such
pilgrimages were very popular. The were believed to be one of the major acts by
which a person could reduce their exposure to the tortures of purgatory
after their death.
By the middle of the 11th century, Christianity had formally split between
the Roman Catholic Church and the
Byzantine Empire: The Emperor/Bishop of Constantinople and the Bishop of
Rome had mutually excommunicated each other. In 1071, the Turks defeated the latter at the
Battle of Manzikert. This left Constantinople exposed to attack from Muslims.
Meanwhile, Christians were being ambushed during their pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Emperor Alexius asked Pope Urban II for assistance. On 1095-NOV-27, the Pope
called on Europeans to go on a crusade to liberate Jerusalem from its Muslim
rulers. "The first and second wave of Crusaders murdered, raped and
plundered their way up the Rhine and down the Danube as they headed for
Jerusalem." 1 The "army" was
primarily composed of untrained peasants with their families, with a core of
trained soldiers. On the way to the Middle East, they decided that only one of
their goals was to wrest control of Jerusalem from the Muslims. A secondary task
was to rid the world of as many non-Christians as possible - both Muslims and
Jews. The Crusaders gave the Jews two choices in their slogan: "Christ-killers, embrace the Cross or die!"
12,000 Jews in the Rhine Valley alone were killed as the first Crusade
passed through. Some Jewish writers refer to these events as the "first
holocaust." Once the army reached Jerusalem and broke through the
city walls, they slaughtered all the inhabitants that they could find (men,
women, children, newborns). After locating about 6,000 Jews holed up in the
synagogue, they set the building on fire; the Jews were burned alive. The
Crusaders found that about 30,000 Muslims had fled to the al Aqsa Mosque. The
Muslim were also slaughtered without mercy.
The Roman Catholic church taught that going to war against the
"Infidels" was an act of Christian penance. If a believer was killed
during a crusade, he would bypass purgatory, and be taken directly to heaven. By
eliminating what might be many millennia of torture in Purgatory, many
Christians were strongly motivated to volunteer for the crusades. "After
pronouncing a solemn vow, each warrior received a cross from the hands of the
pope or his legates, and was thenceforth considered a soldier of the Church."
These mass killings were repeated during each of the 8 additional crusades until the
final, 9th, crusade in 1272 CE. Both Christians and Muslims believed
that they were fighting on God's side against Satan; they believed that if they
died on the battlefield they would be given preferential treatment in the
Christian Heaven or the Muslim Paradise.
Battles were fought with a terrible fierceness and a massive loss of life. Over
a 200 year period, perhaps 200,000 people were killed. The Muslim warrior Salah
a-Din subsequently recaptured Jerusalem from the Christians.
By the end of the crusades, most European Christians believed the unfounded blood-libel
myths -- the rumor that Jews engaged in human sacrifice of Christian
children. A long series of Christian persecutions of the
Jews continued in Europe and Russia into the 20th century. They laid the
foundation for the Nazi Holocaust.
The result of centuries of conflict among followers of the three main
religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) was a "deep mutual hatred"
and mistrust among the three faiths. Memories of these genocides still influence
relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims to the present time.
Among many Jews and Muslims, the term crusade evokes visions of
genocide, mass murder, and mass extermination of innocent people. However, among
many Christians it has become a positive term, frequently used to refer to mass rallies
and campaigns to win converts - as in the Billy Graham Crusades. Out of
respect for the victims of the "first holocaust," we recommend
that the term be only used to refer to the wars of the Middle Ages.
The Reconciliation Walk:
"The Reconciliation Walk is an interdenominational grassroots
movement of Western Christians,...retracing the route of the First Crusade,
apologizing to Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians for the atrocities of the
Crusades -- foremost among them, the misuse of the name and message of Jesus."
The organizers of the Reconciliation Walk are unaware of any previous, "
serious effort to repair this damage" caused by the crusades. The first
crusaders set off for Jerusalem in 1096-APR, from the cathedral in Cologne.
Exactly 900 years later, on Easter Sunday, about 150 walkers departed from the
same cathedral. Their first stop was a Turkish Mosque and teaching center. Their
leader explained that the walkers had come to apologize for the atrocities
committed in the name of Christ during the Crusades. Then they read a letter of
apology in German, Turkish and English. They were "greeted with loud,
sustained applause." The Imam responded: "When I heard the
nature of your message, I was astonished and filled with hope. I thought to
myself, 'whoever had this idea must have had an epiphany, a visit from God
himself.' It is my wish that this project should become a very great success."
During the Crusades, the entire Jewish population of Cologne was destroyed.
In remembrance of this, the walkers went to the local synagogue. Since it was a
Jewish holy day, the walkers did not go inside; they prayed and moved on.
Individual walkers joined the group for as few as 10 days or as much as
many months at a time. Following the ancient routes of the Crusades, one team
passed through France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Slovenia Croatia,
Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and Greece. A second team set out from Germany
and passed through Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. The teams met at Istanbul,
Turkey on 1996-OCT-10. The Deputy Mufti of Istanbul, the Chief Rabbi, the
Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch (head of the Orthodox church) and the
Deputy Mayer welcomed the team with warmth and appreciation. "In towns
and villages, people spilled out of their houses and applauded the team as they
passed." They visited countless cities, towns, and villages in Turkey
during 1996 and 1997.
In mid-1998, a team arrived in Antakya, Turkey (once called Antioch) on the
900th anniversary of the conquest of that city. By 1998-SEP,
they had reached Syria and Lebanon. About 500 participants
reached Jerusalem on 1999-JUL-15, the 900th anniversary of the killing of about
60,000 Jerusalem residents and the destruction of the city.
About 2,000 Christians from 27 countries have participated in this walk. Most
are Evangelical Protestants. They have worn T-shirts and caps that say "I
apologize" in Arabic or Hebrew.
The Reconciliation Walk statement of apology reads:
"Nine hundred years ago, our forefathers carried the name of Jesus
Christ in battle across the Middle East. Fueled by fear, greed and hatred,
they betrayed the name of Christ by conducting themselves in a manner contrary
to His wishes and character. The Crusaders lifted the banner of the Cross
above your people. By this act they corrupted its true meaning of
reconciliation, forgiveness and selfless love.
On the anniversary of the First Crusade we also carry the name of
Christ. We wish to retrace the footsteps of the Crusaders in apology for their
deeds and in demonstration of the true meaning of the Cross. We deeply regret
the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors. We
renounce greed, hatred and fear, and condemn all violence done in the name of
Where they were motivated by hatred and prejudice, we offer love and
brotherhood. Jesus the Messiah came to give life. Forgive us for allowing His
name to be associated with death. Please accept again the true meaning of the
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring
good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the
year of the Lord's favor.' "
- "Reconciliation Walk: The Crusades," at: http://www.reconciliationwalk.org/crusades.htm
- David Sharrock, "Nine hundred years later, a Christian
apology for Crusades," The Guardian. Reprinted in The Globe and
Mail, Toronto ON, 1999-JUL-5.
- "The Catholic Encyclopedia: Crusades," at: http://www.csn.net/advent/cathen/04543c.htm
- "[Gwynne Dyer,] Historian: Reconciliation walk has bad sense of
history," Maranatha Christian Journal, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3274.htm
Copyright © 1996 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update: 2005-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson