"The Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth it is this, and Protestantism has ever felt it so; to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant." (-John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine).

"Where the bishop is, there let the people gather; just as where ever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church". -St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca 110 AD)a martyr later thrown to the lions, wrote to a church in Asia Minor. Antioch was also where the term "Christian" was first used.

“But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15

"This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." -CCC 811

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Pope, Arabic Islam and the West

by Fr. Samir Khalil Samir

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land has been shrouded in controversies that kick up clouds of dust without ever catching a glimpse of the truth. The fact is that the Pope’s message to the people of that land, Christian and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian, is vital for peace in the region.

True brotherhood between Christians and Muslims in Jordan

In particular in Jordan, Benedict XVI laid the basis for collaboration between Muslims and Christians, East and West. There is a notable difference between what the Muslim world wrote about in the press and the attitude in Jordan. Many Arab papers dragged up the so called “Regensburg offence”, the demand for an apology for the offensive against Islam etc….Instead the atmosphere that we witnessed in Jordan was serene, welcoming and of shared trust.

The pope sincerely praised efforts being made by the Jordanian monarchy, the king, Prince Al-Ghazi, Queen Rania, who accompanied him to the University of Madaba, to bless the foundation stone. The same Catholic University of Madaba –wanted by the Latin Patriarch emeritus Michel Sabbah – is a sign of the cordiality shared by Christians and Muslims: a Catholic University that opens with the support, even economic, of the Hashemite Royal Family.

This is the fruit of a politics that goes beyond tolerance of Christianity. My experience in Jordan – I was there on 3 occasions last year and twice met with Prince Hassan – was one of an atmosphere of serenity and friendship, one I have, so far, failed to find in another Islamic nation.

This allowed small gestures of hospitality and honour towards their guest the Pope. For example, for his visit to the “al-Hussein bin-Talal” Mosque in Amman, they allowed the pope to wear his shoes, placing a long carpet on the ground. Prince al-Ghazi also wore his shoes.

The atmosphere in Jordan inspired a message along the lines: we are all friends, Bedouins, Christians, Muslims. Jordanians insist on the fact that Jesus and Mary are part of the historic tradition of the nation, because they lived in Jordan (the site of the Baptism, Bethany, etc...) They believe that this land is sanctified by the presence of Jesus and the prophets.

Religion and science: sharpening “critical skills”

But his discourse at the University of Madaba is really the key point of this pilgrimage. The Pope underlined many things, but above all the importance of a serious and academic education of Christians and Muslims to favour personal development, peace and progress in the region.

The pope stressed the education offered by a university is the key to personal development; that peace is built on knowledge and study rather than ignorance; that an integral, economic and social, political and democratic development, is born of study and knowledge.

He develops this argument saying that the aim of a university is to transmit “love for truth” and promote students “adhesion to values”, strengthening their “personal freedom”.

It’s very important that in a Muslim (and Christian) world, often theocratic, the pope, before speaking of religion, speaks of culture and science. And the aim of science is to love and discover truth. He insists that this intellectual formation “will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new”.

“Critical skills” are important in the Arab world: without criticism faith can become fanaticism, superstition or even manipulation. The pope touched on a point that is vital for the growth of the region: the absence of the critical eye, results in people following one or other political leader, without ever questioning the need for democracy, freedom, human rights, coexistence. People religiously follow, without ever questioning the principals of their own faith; holding onto traditions for fear of drowning in freedom of conscience. This is true of all religions not just Islam. Ignorance or prejudice, for the pope, threatens peace and dialogue.

And when he speaks of the “enchantment of ideologies” he alludes to the easy way people let themselves become consumed by fanaticism and violence.

He says: “Religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse”.

Benedict XVI puts all of these realities into the same boat because everything can be disfigured – even science. For him, what is important is that religion is not abused or disfigured.

Need for an “ethical knowledge”

Speaking in the Amman Mosque he also says that secular society often claims that religion is the root cause of violence. In reality that only happens when religion is “disfigured”, but this is the risk of all wisdom. This is why, quoting the Letter to the Philippians (4, 8), the pope exhorts everyone to bear witness to “all that is true, honourable, just, pure, worthy of praise”. He advises Christians and Muslims not to fear science, but to open their minds to it, even at the risk of their own faith. This is a courageous message to give in an Arabic society that risks seeing religion as a refuge.

But he also has a message for the scientific world, which often runs the risk of transforming itself into an ideology devoid of ethics and openness to God.

This element is also present in Regensburg. The pope underlines that even “sciences have their limitations. They cannot answer all the questions about man and his existence. Indeed the human person, his place and purpose in the universe cannot be contained within the confines of science”.

This is why scientific knowledge must be guided by the light of “ethical wisdom”. “Such is the wisdom that inspired the Hippocratic Oath, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other laudable international codes of conduct”.

The pope illustrates this “ethical wisdom” by pointing to the oath written by the pagan Hippocrates in the III century B.C; then he speaks of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights; the Geneva Convention on conflict situations, it too, secular. He does not refer to religious elements. Thus he suggests that ethical wisdom can exist independently of religion. This is important for a traditionally Muslim or Christian society: it means dialogue at 360 degrees with everyone, even non-believers. But to non-believers he says that it is impossible to act without an ethical code, or a religious foundation, because in doing so something essential is missing from human formation.

Religion has suffocated the Arab...

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