All About Rocks
"Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam"
You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
"Glorified and exalted is He (Allah) who took His slave Muhammad for a journey by night from al-Masjid al-Haram in Mecca to the farthest mosque (al-Aksa) the area which we made holy."
"Evven Hashesiya" (cornerstone of the universe) is on Chosen (Mt. Moriah). The site of Adam's creation, the rock upon which Abraham bound his Son Isaac, the altar upon which Noah offered thanksgiving after departing the Ark. Historically, within yards of the "Holy of Holies" of Solomon and post-exilic Temples. Here rested the Ark of the Covenant containing the tablets of the Commandments (forged by God on Mt. Sinai and given to Moses), Aaron's rod, and manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert.
Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, "Commander of the Faithful" and second successor to Muhammad, upon entering Jerusalem following its bloodless surrender in 637 A.D., proclaimed the raising of the Kubbat al-Sakra (Dome of the Rock). He issued that command after having ordered an aide to measure the exact height of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church was built over the presumed place of burial of the Christ, once a garden tomb donated by the Pharisee who believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. This classic example of architectural dominance was constructed to a height of 95 feet; it remains today the most outstanding structure on Jerusalem's skyline.
This edifice seems to be meant to serve the theological politics of supersession. It appears calculated to submerge into historical twilight the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher as well as the nearby remains of the retaining wall of Temples of the Hebrews. The message seems clear: Islam is the seal on divine revelation, rendering religiously passé the "Peoples of the Book."
"The Dome of the Rock" appears to have been the initial model for contemporary examples of the use of architecture in Islam to underscore its growing presence within "infidel" societies. The Papacy is, no doubt, cognizant of the political motive that seems to underlie the many efforts to erect towering minarets attached to new mosques throughout West Europe. Despite convivial statements from various Vatican media organs about common Abrahamic roots and the need for dialogue between Catholicism and Islam, the Holy See is under no illusion about the underlying antipathy that many Muslims bear Christianity -- a hostility that is evidenced by the abrasive attitude which produces offensive inscriptions as those officially inscribed on monuments such as the Dome of the Rock: "The Unity of God and the Prophecy of Mohammad are true. The Son-ship of Jesus and the Trinity is false." 
The Dome also boasts of specific military triumphs, including carvings of both the Byzantine Crown of Christendom's Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid dynastic crown of Zoroastrian Persia. Both imperial domains lost their territorial expanse to Muslim military conquests. Still another inscription on the Dome is one that celebrates Saladin's recapture of Jerusalem on 27 Rajab 583 (2 October 1187) the anniversary of Laylat al-Miraj, or Mohammad's night journey from Mecca to the al-Aksa Mosque.
Catholic-Christianity and Islam: Universality and Supersession
The Vatican is not oblivious to the declared ambitions of Islamists. The Vatican recognizes in Islam a challenge of civilization-size dimension, a rival true-believer which also lays claim to universality. You do not need to be Catholic to grasp the ironic similarities. Both the late author, Oriana Fallaci, former President of the Italian Senate, and Middle East Scholar Bernard Lewis understood this. Princeton Professor Emeritus Lewis, who was an occasional guest of Pope John Paul II at Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence of the Popes, pointedly asserts that the interests of both Christianity and Islam will continuously "intersect" -- that is, clash -- as both have universal missions.
The decision by Rome's first Christian Emperor Constantine to affix a crucifix atop the Egyptian obelisk in St. Peter's Square inside Vatican City might have been both political and religious. The era of pagan emperors throwing Christians to lions was over; the obelisk had been brought back from Egypt after the Roman conquest there: this also was the politics of supersession, practiced by the Vatican and its newly crowned champion, Constantine. The Square of St. Peter and its environs are the traditional sites of the execution of Peter and Paul in 64 A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Nero. He may have reckoned that the execution of this Jewish Sect's leader (Peter) and its chief propagandist (Paul) would extinguish this Nazarene-Christian heresy. Nero had hoped to affix responsibility for the fire -- which almost consumed Rome, and was most likely ignited by the emperor himself -- to the Christians.
Two millennia later, in a contemporary supersession moment, on 6 November 2007, Protector of the Two Holy Sites, Mecca and Medina, King Abdul-Aziz became the first Saudi King to visit a Pope. Abdulaziz was on European tour visiting the UK, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and Turkey to accelerate the phenomenal growth of Islam in West Europe, once the heart of Christendom, and to distribute gifts. The leader of Sunni Islam's most extreme sect, Wahhabism, was in Europe to distribute financial gifts to Saudi-controlled Islamic institutes, and might have felt pressured by protocol to seek a papal audience.
The king presented Benedict XVI with a bejeweled sword. There is little doubt that the Benedict immediately grasped the implied meaning of the gift. Benedict is said to have rubbed the fingers of his right hand down the blade, without comment, before placing the sword aside. Popes have been artful practitioners of diplomacy and theocratic statecraft for many centuries. Benedict undoubtedly knows that the historical struggle between Islam and Christianity continues, that this contest is timeless and universal, and that it is about supersession, and disagreement on the divine revelation of the fullness of truth. The Holy See is fully cognizant that Muslim triumphalism guarantees future acrimonious relations on a grand scale. However, Vatican spokesmen are loath to utter such sentiments in public.
When the sacred months are past, then slay the Mushrikin (idolators) wherever you find them and besiege them, and wait for them in every ambush. If they repent, perform salat (public prayer), pay zakat (alms), leave their way free to them.
A year later, Abdulaziz was back in Europe, this time in Spain. He was to be keynote speaker at a July 2008 conference in Madrid on religious tolerance – an event made possible by Riyadh's substantial financial support. While in Spain, Abdul-Aziz visited the first mosque built in that country in over five centuries. The edifice, the Great Mosque of Granada, was inaugurated on 19 July 2003. Symbolically, it stands close to the Alhambra, the focal point of the last bastion of Muslim power in Spain. It was here in Granada that the Catholic re-conquest of Spain was made complete. It was from here that the last Caliph of Muslim Spain, Boabdil, departed in tears. The Saudi monarchy has placed high value on reviving Islam on the Iberian Peninsula. This is what that visit actually concerned. The al-Saud house has given generously to increase the influence Islam in Spanish society. Some, like Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command leader Ahmad Jibril, will not be satisfied until al-Andalus returns to the Islamic world.
Consequently, Saudi-financed religious proselytizing in Spain by Muslim Imams is in high gear -- an Islamic surge fueled by immigration from North Africa, a high Muslim birth rate, converts to Islam, and aided by substantial Spanish emigration due to a depressed economy.
During the thirty-minute private session, Benedict apparently pressed Abdulaziz on the issue of reciprocity. While mosque minarets spring up like weeds all across "Christian" Europe, not a single church exists in Arabia, nor is allowed to. While in Europe Muslims are energetically engaged in religious proselytizing, on the Arabian Peninsula all proselytizing for any faith other than Islam is forbidden. This lack of reciprocity grates on the Vatican.
The Saudi smiled a lot, nodding his head, but makes no firm commitment. In keeping with Muhammad's final dream of an infidel-free Arabia, there are no churches or synagogues on this "island of the Arabs" (Jazirat-al-Arabiyah). His Holiness should not expect change any time soon. Despite the presence of a million Catholics serving as guest workers on the Peninsula, Riyadh continues to oblige the Prophet's alleged wish. Benedict lost little time in reminding the Saudi King that he expects "acta non verba," actions not words, regarding implementation of the "principle of reciprocity".
It is certain that within the confines of the curia, there was incredulity and sarcastic commentary concerning the incongruence of the Wahhabi standard-bearer sponsoring a conference on religious pluralism. Cardinal Jean-Louis of France, President of the Pontifical Council on Inter-religious Dialogue, who has cautioned Catholics not to become "obsessed with Islam," represented the Vatican at the conference on religious tolerance, in Madrid.
With hopeful confidence, he pointed to the bridgehead of a Catholic Church in Qatar as well as convent of nuns teaching school there. Nevertheless, the Cardinal is no dreamer. He was Papal Nuncio to Lebanon during the mid-1970s, where he experienced the worst of Muslim-on-Muslim violence. But these few small examples of reciprocity are in stark contrast to the advance of Islam in Europe. Perhaps the Cardinal takes the long view. But this inspires little optimism. A few short years after the Saudi monarch's visit of tolerance to Spain, two Spanish language television channels, financed by Arabian money, were broadcasting hate-filled anti-Semitic programming throughout al-Andalus. Sanctioned anti-Semitism apparently exists there under the cover of pro-Palestinian sentiment. This is the case among some leftists in Spain, particularly within the former governing Socialist Party.
As a former Papal Nuncio to Washington mentioned, "The Vatican has a duty not to be naïve." The Holy See's institutional memory dates back millennia. The Papacy has been witness to several past drives for Muslim supremacy. There are several historical examples of Popes personally intervening at critical moments when Western civilization appeared threatened by a seemingly irresistible force. Centuries before Islam, Pope Leo (St. Leo the Great), personally went out to meet Attila the Hun, turning him away from Rome in 452 A.D. Also, Pope Urban II mobilized the pride of Europe's Christian knighthood, launching a series of interventions in Palestine to protect caravans of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land from marauding Muslim gangs. Pope Pius II, and later St. Pius V, cobbled together coalitions of volunteers to defend Central Europe against the Ottoman Caliphate, which twice stormed the gates of Vienna. Most recently, Pope John Paul II survived an assassination plot orchestrated by Communists, complete with a would-be Muslim assassin. Pope John Paul II recovered to help bring down the empire of the world's latest totalitarian superpower, the Soviet Union.
The Vatican has often demonstrated that it is no neophyte when it comes to nuanced diplomacy, intelligence collection, or energizing a zealous remnant physically to defend civilization. This seems precisely what Pope Benedict has in mind today. He appears determined once again to deflect this contemporary version of militant Islam off a path of confrontation, conflict and conquest that John Paul II realized was upon us, but was peaking too late in his Papacy. The unfinished business was left for his successor and confidant, whose concept of the West is decidedly Old Europe; Benedict, however, seemed to know that this Europe is fatally flawed: the continent has endured two spirit-killing global wars, the depredations of two totalitarian juggernauts, and Satan's finest hour, the Holocaust.
Ratzinger on Islam
Pope Benedict is deeply schooled in Christian metaphysics, more so than his predecessor, who was from "a far country" (Poland). He notes that a dimension of the West's saving grace is the inquisitive dimension of Greek classical philosophy. He evidently does not see the same intellectual rigor in Islam, and might well agree that Islamic philosophy and theology are "distinctions without differences."
If, however, one wants to discover what Benedict, the European historian, thinks about the Islamic ascendancy, he should probably consult the writings of the late Italian atheist-author, Oriana Fallaci. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he was an avid reader of this far-sighted writer. After also reading "Eurabia" by Bat Ye'or, he arranged to meet Fallaci.
There were other encounters, before and after Regensburg, when Ratzinger commented on a possible clash of civilizations between Christendom and Islam. One occasion occurred in his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, where, with a few of his favorite theology students, all specialists on Islam, Benedict had several intense discussions, the contents of which can be found in his insightful treatise, "Without Roots", co-authored with the former President of the Italian Senate, Marcello Pera.
The future Pontiff's comments on Islam in "Without Roots" are not as acutely accusatory as those of the medieval Emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, whom he quoted in the Regensburg lecture. They do, nonetheless, question the efficacy of Islam's contribution to mankind's spiritual enrichment. Ratzinger, in the winter of 1996, nearly a decade before his selection as the 265th Pope, laid down his marker on Islam. In a candidly presented analysis of Islam, Ratzinger states that Islam and Democracy are not compatible, and indicts Islam with German bluntness. "Islam," he states, "is not simply another denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society." He also cautions his colleagues in the Church hierarchy not to be tempted to define Islam as analogous to Christianity. To sum up his views on Islam, he might well have echoed U.S. General Rowny's response, when asked his opinion of his Soviet counterparts, "that they are more unlike us than like us."
Ratzinger describes Islam as having a "total organization of life, completely different from ours, it embraces simply everything." He claims that it is impossible to assess this multifaceted reality of Islam, as Islamists "do not permit separation of Muslim religion, culture and politics." Ratzinger's comments are congruent with his analysis of the 20th century state absolutism as expressed in Nazi fascism and Soviet communism. He blames the 19th century philosopher and fellow German, Hegel, for these state cult excesses and says he believes that Islam's concept of Sharia embodies the potential for another re-sanctification of the state under a theological aegis. Iran's current regime is perhaps most illustrious of this tendency He criticizes advocates of Sharia as those who can cynically "exploit our liberal constitutions" while seeking to replace them with a totally different, far less liberal, order of their own.
The Pope, one suspects, has spent a good deal of time thinking about a period beyond our own. He appears to have made an assessment that a well-financed and newly energized Muslim world may usher in an age of triumphalist Islamism, at least in Europe. Benedict states that Muslim leaders have concluded that their hour -- the historical moment of supersession -- has come.
There is, in fact, abundant commentary by some Muslim spokesmen that Islam is now in the process of overtaking Christianity; that theirs is the victorious religion: it is supersession time. Although Benedict encourages the Vatican's diplomatic machinery to proffer dialogue with Muslims, he is not optimistic. He calculates that Muslims have assumed there is no longer in Europe an opposing ideology or religion that can issue a "call to arms" in time or with sufficient impact. Neither is Benedict certain that if a belated "aux armes" were issued by the Holy See, that enough of a faithful remnant would mobilize as they have in the past.
Ratzinger, as the designated "Defender of the Faith" during Pope John Paul's Pontificate, implied that the jury is still out on Islam. He equivocates on whether the ongoing Islamic resurgence is fueled by a truly religious force, and warns that if its motive force is driven by pathological developments, then, "there exists the threat of horrifying things."
Throwing Down the Gauntlet at Regensburg
When the Holy See wants to release a policy initiative, it will often choose an obscure location. The event is never, however an impromptu performance, as can be witnessed by Benedict's 12 September 2006 address before an audience of seminary students, professors, and theologians in the lecture hall of Regensburg in his native Bavaria. Despite subsequent revisions by Vatican advisers, the Pope did not retract the substance of his challenge to the Muslim world. Vatican media expressed regret that his statements had, by some, been found offensive. The Holy See's press noted that unfortunately, a few had chosen to display their disagreement with violence. There, Islamic spokesmen are correct in their analysis: the Pope's follow-up statements were less than a full apology. They were no apology at all.
It also is no coincidence that the Pontiff chose the fifth anniversary period of the 9/11 assault on America by Muslim terrorists to include in his lecture, the offending language. The events of 9/11 are watershed moment for Benedict. Five years later on the 10th anniversary in 2011, Benedict sent a letter to Archbishop Dolan of New York. In this missive, he condemned those who implore God's name in the killing of innocents. Daily reports of religiously-inspired violence by Muslim radicals against Christians reinforced his fear of a more massive confrontation between Islam and Christianity.
Militant Muslims, expressing their confidence in the ultimate triumph of Islam, boast that they think in terms of centuries. They have, however, met their match in the Vatican. The Vatican is the one institution in the West that does not invent policy on the run. Pope Benedict's critical analysis of Islam and of its Prophet was drawn long before the Regensburg lecture. The Church of Christ's "Rock," Peter predates "the Prophet" by more than half a millennium.
Generally, the media and its consumers are surprised when shifting tectonic plates result in an earthquake. For laymen, to monitor the indicators would be like watching snow melt. The task would require patience and vigilance, virtues in short supply in the West. The attacks on 9/11 should not have been a surprise to analysts of radical Islam. Osama bin-Laden had declared war against the U.S. long before the attack on America. He did so on 23 August 1996. The same is true regarding Iran's Islamic Revolution. The Islamic Republic has been at war with the "Great Satan," America, since 1979. Iran's true believers among the Mullahs and their praetorian protectors, the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), intend to eliminate the Little Satan, Israel, as well.
A full quarter of a century prior to Benedict's address at Regensburg, Pope John Paul had already signaled to the "Catholic World" a low-key but nonetheless definitive admonition regarding Islam. This signal was transmitted to the faithful when he visited the Italian port city of Otranto on Italy's Adriatic coast the country's easternmost city. The occasion was the 500th anniversary of the slaughter of 800 Catholic men on Mt. Minerva. The "offense" was their refusal to renounce their Catholic faith. The choice they were given was conversion to Islam or death by decapitation, as befits all infidels. Their Muslim executioners were only happy to oblige: all but one refused to convert. John Paul, upon departure from Otranto, added an oblique but instructive remark: "Let us not forget today's martyrs, pretending that they do not exist."
In one of his last acts as Pope, Benedict moved along the cause to sainthood for those murdered at Otranto. The Vatican would make more direct references in the future. It is clear that the Vatican will not allow the Muslims to monopolize martyrdom. Every young Catholic boy and girl attending parochial school in the 1950s remembers lines from sermons and hymns celebrating martyrdom. Every day at Mass, the priest recites the names of a score of the more famous martyrs of Roman persecutions. The martyr fountains of Iran, sprouting plumes of red-tinted water, pale in comparison with the martyrdom culture of Catholicism. Pope Benedict XVI on 6 July 2007 laid down his marker in unambiguous terms when he authorized the publication of the decree of authentication for the martyrdom of blessed Antonio Primaldo and his lay companions at Otranto. He remarked that they "who were killed was out of hatred for the Faith" on 14 August 1480. Vatican journalists were quick to underscore the similarities w medieval and contemporary victims of Islamic triumphalism suffer. One publication was even more blunt and specific in comparing the decapitation of the Otranto martyrs and that by Muslim terrorists of American businessman Nick Berg in 2004. The journalists wrote that both events included the same gruesome post-mortem display of the head as trophy along with almost the same triumphalist phrase -- as if deities are in competition -- shouted by the executioners: "Allahu Akbar," or "Allah is Greater."
The Otranto landing was not the first of many Saracen sallies against the Italian coastline with the prize of Rome in mind. In 846 a flotilla of Arab pirates left North Africa, eventually disembarking at the ancient Roman seaport of Ostia. From there, they proceeded west toward Rome. They raided Vatican holy sites, pillaging the monuments to St. Peter and St. Paul, and desecrating the Basilica built by the first Christian Emperor, Constantine. The assault took place during an interregnum when a retiring and ill Sergius II had been elected, following the death in 844 of Pope Gregory IV. After the death of Sergius, the succeeding Pontiff, Pope Leo IV, ordered the raising of a defensive perimeter known as the Leonine walls, a barrier that remains intact to this day.
Pope Benedict uttered no retraction of his Regensburg lecture's central themes. He asserted that, "No God can be the enemy of reason. No deity who desires but does not command the worship of free willed creatures could operate outside the realm of logic." Moreover, such a God would eschew violence done in His name. In addition, a loving, just, but merciful God would not be capricious in exercising His almighty power. The Muslim street reacted only to the superficial: the Pope's academic referral to a 13th century Emperor's disparaging description of Muhammad and Islam. However, Muslim theologians must have been more concerned about the substantive challenge that Pope Benedict issued regarding principal tenets of Islam. The now famous missive from 138 Muslim notables to the Pope complains only of the "insensitivity" of the Regensburg lecture. Nevertheless, the sting for them must have been in Benedict's willingness publicly to dispense with diplomatic rhetoric that often serves to mask a profound theological chasm between Catholicism and Islam.
The Vatican is not unnerved by the Muslim reaction to the Regensburg lecture. Nor are the words of Benedict viewed as a faux pas by the Curia: after the Papacy's recent public remembrance of Chinese Catholic martyrs who had been murdered by anti-Western revolutionaries during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, the People's Republic of China bitterly complained. A government spokesman charged that the Pope's public act was hostile in nature. Beijing complained that the selection of the first of October as the date for the canonization of these martyrs was meant to offend China. The first of October is the day that the People's Republic celebrates its revolutionary victory. There should be little doubt that the Vatican fully intended the "coincidence."
The message of Regensburg will resurface often in the future, albeit without the "offending" historical reference. However, the intellectual and theological context in which similar themes are recast will shape the Holy See's relations with Muslim countries, as well as those of countries contiguous to the blood-soaked borders of Islam. The Papal charge to Muslim leaders is to have the common sense and intestinal fortitude to guide their flocks through an enlightenment (if not a Reformation), to embrace science as ally, and to develop the self-confidence which makes it no longer necessary "to burn" heretics, execute apostates, or stone homosexuals and women suspected of being loose. Those Muslims who made their god a monster must also be publicly scorned by pious Muslim leaders before the Vatican will accept their protestations of peaceful intent as sincere.
Despite his own German bluntness, Benedict has cautioned Church theologians not to be too hasty in judgment. He also rejects the employment of terms like "fundamentalism" as being cause for obfuscation rather than understanding. He implores the use of terms that would serve facilitators to better understand each other. Despite mounting incidents of the abuse of Christian-minority rights in Islam-majority societies, the last several popes have avoided a general condemnation of anti-Christian violence. There has yet to be a recognition of what Samuel Huntington referred to as Islam's "bloody borders".
Pope Benedict has urged senior churchmen to engage Muslims in the spirit of Christ's demand to love your neighbor, in the sentiment of the Beatitudes. Early in his Pontificate, he set the tone for others to emulate when, addressing the Muslims of Cologne on 20 August 2005, he said, "Let the Second Vatican Council's Document "Nostra Aetate" be the Magna Carta between we and thee."
Benedict's realistic assessment of the state of the world, particularly of Europe, seems pessimistic, even fatalistic. Although his worldview might appear Spenglerian, it is neither defeatism nor appeasement. Illustrative of his world outlook is Benedict's take on the Arab/Israeli divide. He is a firm advocate of negotiated peace whether on a bilateral or regional dimension, specifically between Israelis and Arabs or on a universal level vis-à-vis Islam. However, he is not a proponent of a peace at any price. He and the Church he leads are in resolute opposition to those in post-Christian Europe who would favor an imposed peace on Israel, utilizing international organs, economic boycotts, and diplomatic pressure to achieve it. Benedict is aware that Church in Western Europe has been eclipsed by secularism. Nonetheless, he speaks almost nostalgically about a "Church of the Catacombs." He muses that there may again come a time when the Church "becomes a minority which will be forced into a closet." It seems sometimes that he almost welcomes such a time, as it would be "our redemption." Again the memory of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Soviet-occupied Poland who later became John Paul II is called to mind: never was the Church stronger than when the Pope directly challenged Soviet power in Poland through his support of human rights encapsulated in his endorsement of the labor union "Solidarity".
Curia officials are dispersed throughout several Vatican-based Councils and Commissions, even where they are not the primary experts on the principle subject matter. This is a millennial-old Vatican practice to foster temperate judgment and analytical objectivity. There is, for instance, a good deal of cross-fertilization between those hierarchical personalities who are charged with following developments in the Muslim world and interlocutors with Jews. This Pope's predecessor found particularly worrisome the increased violence -- much of which was perpetrated by recently arrived immigrants from Muslim countries -- against outwardly religious Jews in Europe.
Pope Benedict's General Approach to Islamdom
Benedict, early on in his papacy, gave a few clear signals how he would proceed with the Vatican's international responsibilities and in what manner they might impact upon the Holy See's ties to Muslim societies. The Holy Father has already de-emphasized the diplomatic dimension of the Papacy relative to that of his predecessor. Benedict wants to press on with the Church's spiritual mission as perhaps being more fruitful than past efforts to solve mankind's problems through diplomacy. This profile is to be less pronounced in international affairs, probably due in part to a sober recognition of the Vatican's decreased political muscle in the world. It might also be a reflection of the present Pontiff's less flamboyant personality in contrast to the charisma of John Paul II. Benedict, now 85, was considerably older than John Paul II when he was elevated to the Papacy. He seems less inclined to travel than his predecessor. Nevertheless, Muslim zealots, especially those with a political and social agenda are likely to find Benedict more than a match. They have already had a foretaste of his resolve when he failed to submit and issue a litany of "mea culpas" after the noisy Muslim reclama to his Regensburg lecture.
The Curia's Islamists and the Pope's Islamic Experts
It has been frustrating at times to engage entities within the American Catholic Church regarding the core concerns of the relations between the Vatican and Islam. There has seemed an inordinate desire not to offend, and therefore to speak in vague generalities or conciliatory pleasantries. Many senior clerics seem disinclined to address the issue at all. These careful careerists defer to the Vatican Curia in matters of diplomacy concerning dialogue with non-Christian faiths, especially within lands where the church faithful are persecuted. In former French colonial North Africa, for instance, despite the antagonism displayed by the Algerian regime, the Catholic Order of Augustinian priests is inordinately accommodating to Algiers. The conservative, thuggish military regime has reached an arrangement with "moderate" Muslim clergy severely to limit foreign missionary presence in return for these "moderates'" support for the government against radical Islamists.
A less obvious indicator on how Benedict views the Islamic world are the personnel changes he has made at the apex of the Holy See's diplomatic service. He replaced career Curia diplomat Cardinal Sodano with the relatively apolitical Cardinal Bertone, as Vatican Secretary of State. It seems clear that Benedict wants to handle many diplomatic issues himself, particularly when it comes to the Holy See's relations in the Mideast. This has earned him some critical commentary from both Jew and Arab, although some of this criticism now has been blunted by subsequent clarifications of papal statements by the Vatican's media outlets. Probably the most definitive move by Benedict is the replacement of the "Arabist" Cardinal Fitzgerald with the more diligent and nuanced Cardinal Jean Louis Tauron as Prefect of the Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue. Fitzgerald had supporters for his approach within the Curia but several lurid examples of anti-Christian violence throughout the Muslim world rendered his approach less tenable. Nonetheless, his removal is indicative of a more cautious approach to the world of Islam.
One shrewd maneuver by the current Pontificate in dealing with the Muslim world was Benedict's embrace of the first Muslim columnist, the erudite Sufi scholar, Khaled Fouad Allam, for the pope's own newspaper, the "Osservatore Romano." Of course, for most Sunni Muslim notables, Allam, or any Sufi, will not serve as a valid indicator of the Vatican's good intent. However, Allam's insights into the seemingly unfathomable Christian-Islamic divide are worth a studied read.
The Pope also has given prominent space to an Islamic scholar and Egyptian national, the Jesuit Priest and journalist Father Samir Khalid Samir. Father Samir, an Instructor at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, is also President of the International Association for Christian Arab Studies. In this role, he seems more of an apologist for building bridges to Islam than does Khaled Foaud Allam. Cardinal Tauron, on the other hand, who serves as the Vatican's official to Islam's most distinguished spokesmen, is less accommodating. He is a stereotypical Frenchman whose logic is unforgiving. His sphinx-like demeanor betrays neither emotion nor intent. He was the perfect stand-in for Benedict at the Saudi monarch Abdulaziz's disingenuous display of religious tolerance at the 2009 Inter-Religious Dialogue Conference in Madrid. As the reality on the Arabian Peninsula regarding religious liberty and freedom of conscience totally belies the King's rhetoric in Madrid, Abdulaziz received only tepid plaudits from the Holy See for what seemed like an insincere display of support for religious tolerance. The Vatican knows it is pure fantasy that Saudi Arabia could serve as a model for liberalizing reform, either political or religious. Christians are arrested in al-Saud's Kingdom for any public display of religious affiliation, including the wearing of a crucifix.
Despite the replacement of some high level, "soft on Islam" personnel, there are many in the Church hierarchy who insist that nothing has changed in the Vatican's outreach to Islam. These dissimulators can be found in the Curia and among the ecclesiastical orders such as the Augustinians. They cite various writings and speeches by Benedict in a disingenuous effort to support their contention. This appears especially true of Catholic institutions that have a history of dialogue with Islamic clerics: there is a pronounced effort by these ecclesiastics to demonstrate that there is a substantive continuity between the Pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. They insist that even any perceived change in tone is illusory. But things smell not the same. One can easily detect it in Benedict's mournful and emotional tributes to the murdered clerics of Iraq and the slaughtered Catholics of Nigeria.
Benedict's Regensburg lecture has prompted much of the need by some Catholic institutions to demonstrate continuity in the Vatican's effort at dialogue with the world's Muslims. After Regensburg, Vatican watchers trolled for any signs of Papal disengagement or even a more cautionary approach to Islam. The failure of Benedict to address the world's Muslims in his first Mass after his selection has been cited retroactively by some commentators as a "sin of omission" – a charge made more pointed as Benedict did make reference to the world's Jewish people.
One tenet of the Vatican's strategic plan regarding the Islamic world is to press Muslim notables publicly to endorse the universal assumptions embraced in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, the official Muslim counter to the U.N. Declaration was already advanced, on August 6, 1990, when the Organization of the Islamic Conference sponsored the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which requires that all U.N. recognized rights be compatible with Sharia. The Papacy believes that this is where Muslim radicals are most vulnerable. It is here where the Pope believes he can influence the struggle within Islam by helping to marginalize extremist Muslims politically. While deeply committed to improving relations with the vast majority of the Muslim faithful, he will not cede the moral high ground to Islamdom, and the Vatican will not chase down every accusation of Islamophobia. The Holy See intends to take the fight to Muslims on issues of human rights, equality for women, and capital punishment. Human rights are the platform upon which the Vatican hopes to mobilize a critical mass of Christian believers and secular liberals committed to a revival of the European Christian ethos. Benedict's desire for a "spiritual counteroffensive" is usually accompanied by melancholy phraseology. The Pontiff's mood seems to suggest that he may have a longing for a pilgrim church, a remnant church, one purified by persecution. This sentiment is neither indicative of cynicism nor despair. His countenance does not evoke the darkness of a Christian twilight of the idols. He does, however, seem wistful at times -- an attitude that may reflect the general world-weariness displayed by some European elites, who appear to accept that a burdensome fate awaits a dispirited, exhausted Europe.
One should interpret Benedict's pessimistic near-term outlook for Europe as a prognosis divined after a period of sober reflection. It is not, nonetheless, a capitulation, but a necessary, painful cleansing before redemption. Benedict appears prepared to fight: "In my hands, I have a mustard seed and I am not afraid to use it." Benedict has also indicated that he will not sacrifice truth on the altar of peace. According to his statements, he does believe that there are ideas worth dying for. He also believes in just war. His moral clarity appears intact. He will do battle for Judeo-Christian Civilization, even if Europe fails to defend its legacy. He will do so under a righteous rubric, though this Europe may not be deserving of survival. Benedict has not abandoned hope but seems mindful that dusk approaches. He appears to remain hopeful but not confident that "a creative minority" can reverse polarity.
One Vatican insider has mused that if Christianity would again blossom among Europeans and traditional Christian virtue were the norm, Muslims might be less inclined to isolate themselves from a society that does not publicly recognize God's existence. This manner of thought, however, assumes that Muslim isolation is conditioned upon the behavior of non-Muslims. It ignores those within the Muslim communities of Europe who sincerely believe that they must protect their faith until the time is right for the establishment of majority Muslim societies throughout Europe.
This view, shared by some within the Church hierarchy, suggests that Muslims have chosen internal exile rather than live in the godless, materialist society of post-Christian Europe. This thinking reflects the "realist wing" of the Vatican's "Islamic Party," which believes that inter-religious dialogue can lead to an "era of good feelings." The Pope is not a member of this "wing." Juxtaposed to that view is the conclusion reached by some commentators, who assert that Muslim ghettos in Europe are the brainchild of bankers, real estate developers, and city planners. This narrative suggests that each European country has invited legions of their former colonial populations to perform menial labor jobs -- an invitation which is the product of neither goodwill nor regretful guilt. The welcome mat was put out because of the European country's declining and aging population, which sought people to perform services, but, as with the economic contingencies of many immigrant populations, not necessarily among the native breed.
Dialogue with Islam: Vatican Rules
In the decades that spanned the Pontificates of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, the Holy See laid out some definite guidelines for dealing with Islamdom as both ally and rival. Paul VI instructed interlocutors from the Curia who would be meeting with Islamic officials to focus on a social action issues. Significant was Pope Paul VI's insistence that religious liberty always be raised in these meetings. Intrinsic in the Vatican's position is freedom of the individual conscience -- a difficult question for Muslim clerics; Sharia does not sanction apostasy. It is an unpardonable sin for a Muslim to convert to another faith, unless he later reverts to Islam. The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith defines religion as the reaching out of the human soul for God, rather than God for man. This teaching underscores the Catholic Church's belief that religion is divinely inspired but not in essence divine. Religion is therefore subject to error and evolutionary change. For Muslims, the Koran is the eternal and unalterable word of God, and therefore divine. For many Muslims, especially Sunni sects, this provides little room for interpretation, much less for error.
Other common concepts and concerns that Pope Paul suggested would make for fruitful dialogue were: human brotherhood, education, culture, social welfare policies, and civic order. The issue of human brotherhood is crafted by the Vatican's desire for Islamic societies to embrace tolerance toward confessional (Christian) minorities in their midst. The Vatican finds unacceptable the limitations of dhimmitude (tolerated, second-class citizenship status), which Islam allots to non-Muslims. Likewise, "civic order" is a euphemism employed by the Vatican to urge Muslim states to encourage political democratization and foster social pluralism.
Centuries of Vatican parlance with petty dictators and would-be world conquerors have honed a unique style of communication, which combines directness with diplomacy. This tradition is best described in the Vatican encyclical Ecclesiam Suam as a tutorial for those engaged in dialogue with Islam. The characteristics that must be adhered to are clarity and self-confidence. The encyclical further advises Catholics to maintain a meek approach while being sensitive to the psychological profile of the particular audience. Vatican veterans of discussions with non-Catholic entities have long been aware that meandering discussions with imprecise agendas risk misunderstandings and acrimony. Consequently, the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue has defined specific types of dialogue to avoid undisciplined discussions with non-Christian leaders. There is the "Dialogue of Life" category, in which the principal discussants share their personal experiences of belief. Then there is the "Dialogue of Work," in which the parties plan to implement common social projects. Examples of this common effort took place when Catholic charity organizations assisted earthquake victims in almost exclusively Muslim Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, in 2005. Another was a joint venture to aid starvation-threatened Somalis. There is similar cooperation with Islamic relief efforts in Catholic Haiti after its massive earthquake in 2010; and the "Dialogue of Experts," which features doctrinal theologians who discuss their separate spiritual traditions. Lastly, there is the "Dialogue of Faith," which occurs when panel participants share substantive explanations of their faiths. The Vatican enjoins its expert interlocutors with non-Christians not to sponsor these dialogues out of sequential order. The logic behind this directive is that there must be a base of good will and trust built up before delicate and potentially divisive discussions take place.
Vatican Endorses Political Detente, Not Theological Consensus, with Islam
Following decades of Post Vatican II communication with the Muslim world, both Catholic and Islamic leaders seem to have realized that the theological chasm between the two faiths was too wide to be bridged. The Vatican even appears to have decided that the conciliatory language of Pope Paul VI had reached the limits of diplomatic rhetoric; that to go farther would be descending into disingenuous doctrinal compromise. Pope Paul himself said he believed that these two universal religions would do better to cooperate on issues of social concern; that, in this way, an atmosphere of political detente could be maintained. His successors have evidently recognized these same limitations.
Muslim Tracking of Vatican Policy on Relations with the Islamic World
The UAE-based Tabah Foundation is unique in the Muslim world. This think tank translates works, published in the non-Islamic world, judged significant to the interests of Muslims. Tabah observed that it was the Papacy of John XXIII, and his convening of the Vatican II Council, which opened the Catholic Church to the wider non-Christian world. The Foundation holds that it was Pope John's September 1963 encyclical, Gaudium et Spes [Joy and Hope], which opened the door to fruitful discussion between the two religions. The encyclical asserts that, "Christ has united himself with each human, even if an individual does not seek Him out." This statement alleviates some of the concern of Muslims, who might fear the Church's proselytizing energy. However, the encyclical describes a God who is still too immanent for some Sunni Muslim sects. Nevertheless, the encyclical's embrace of personal divinity is appealing to most Shia Muslims and especially to Sufi Muslims. John Paul II, in his first encyclical as Pope, develops this theme recognized as an important development by the Tabah Foundation. In the April 1979 encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis (Redeemer of Man), John Paul embraces a radical universality; he wrote that "Christ has divinely adopted every soul," an a priori judgment which could be recognized by every human. The Polish Pontiff here is expanding upon Pope Paul VI's concept of divine justice expressed in his August 1964 encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam (His Church). In this letter, Paul posits that a "just God must offer each soul an equal opportunity to spend eternity with his Creator." Although some Muslim theologians view this generous description of the Divine Will by the leader of the Christian world as compatible with their understanding of Allah's will, others read it as a threat. Their interpretation of this passage is that every Muslim presents an opportunity for proselytizing by Christian missionaries. Both interpretations are correct: the Vatican continues to believe that the Catholic Faith possesses the fullness of divinely revealed truth.
Paul VI was the first Pontiff to call out to Muslims by name. He did so in his November 1964 Circular Lumen Gentium [Light of Nations]. However, the most often quoted encyclical by Muslim clerics is Nostra Aetate [In Our Age], also authored by Paul VI in October 1965. The references to Muslims and to the Islamic faith are known better by some Muslim theologians than by their Catholic counterparts.
"The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims…who adore one God… who is all-powerful and merciful…and worship Him as Creator…honoring Jesus as a prophet…revering Mary…who believe (like we) in a Day of Judgment … the resurrection from the dead ….a moral code which is helped by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving."
It is true that some in the Vatican accept the premise that Muslim, Jew, and Christian worship the same one God. However, there are many who do not accept this but remain silent as it is deemed inflammatory and damaging to inter-religious dialogue to say so publicly. No Vatican document praises Islam or Muhammad; Papal encyclicals only note the Vatican as "esteeming" Muslims. Moreover, the Vatican's sensitivity to diplomatic niceties is not reciprocated by the Muslim rank and file whose populist chant, "Allah-hu Akbar," correctly translated, is "Allah is Greater" than (left implied) either the Hebraic or Christian gods. The contrary, at least, is the personage of God the Father Creator. He is the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Nevertheless, the Vatican has been ever so careful not to allow wishes for congeniality to fog the vast doctrinal differences between Christian and Muslim. Despite this theological chasm, the Holy See and Islamdom have found common ground on some subjects. For example, they have pooled their political resources to impede a United Nations rush to adopt a secularist agenda on population policy, abortion, and other ethical issues.
Islam and the Theological Divide
Despite occasional cooperation against common adversary, these two great faiths are a universe apart on key theological concepts. Most Muslim theologians hold that Christian revelation was corrupted and that it ultimately must accept the reality that it has been eclipsed; that Christianity has been superseded by Allah's revelation to Muhammad. One key doctrinal issue, which apparently cannot be digested by Muslims, remains the Christian dogma of the Holy Trinity. More pointedly, some Muslim theologians deny that Christianity is a monotheistic faith because of its Trinitarian doctrine. The more acrimonious aspect of this divide is that Christians, by giving God (the Father) partners, commit the unforgivable sin of shirk, or polytheism. This accusation was leveled at Christians by Caliph Abd al-Malik, who ordered the following inscriptions on copper plates affixed to the south and east gates of the Dome of the Rock:
"The unity of Allah and the Prophecy of Mohammad are true. The Son-ship of Jesus and the Trinity are false"
Not enough for the caliph, he later ordered inscribed inside the Dome's octagonal arcade the following triumphal taunt:
"The Messiah Jesus, son of Mary is indeed a Messenger but stop talking about a Trinity. It is not fitting that Allah should beget or father a son."
For a Muslim, every time a Catholic or Orthodox Christian makes the Sign of the Cross is testament to Christianity's polytheism. Carved in stone above many a mosque is the warning, not to commit shirk. Every Papal blessing, extended to a crowd is a reminder of how wide is the theological chasm. The Trinitarian motif is even intertwined in the Vatican's decision to defend its physical realm by the establishment of the Swiss Guard. Each new batch of Swiss Guard recruits is sworn in on the sixth of May, the anniversary date of the last invasion of the Vatican in 1527. While taking the oath of enlistment, each novice raises his right arm and three fingers of the right hand, forming a Trinitarian salute.
Another theological irreconcilable is the Koran-based directive that denies the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ (the Prophet Isa).
"As for their statement that we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the messenger of Allah, and they killed him not, nor did they cause his death upon the cross but he was made to appear to them as such…."
Still another un-bridgeable divide is the Koran's assertion that Jesus was not Son of God, no part of the Divine entity that is the Father-Creator, The Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible.
"The son of Mary was only a messenger of Allah…so believe in Allah and His messengers, and say not Three-Desist … it is better for you…Allah is only One God, far be it from his glory to have a son."
These differences are not negotiable. Consequently, as such discussions have the potential to engender more acrimony than good will, the Vatican prudently has avoided placing such items on agendas of official dialogue. These beliefs are immutable due to Islam's doctrine that the Holy Koran is co-eternal with the Creator and therefore infallible in every context. Muslim theologians maintain believe that the Koran, every word of it, is the dictated word of Allah; therefore not subject to change by man. In this sense, it is different from the Bible. Even the most devout biblical scholars readily admit that the books of the Bible, at least the Hebrew version (Old Testament), were compiled over centuries by divinely-inspired humans.
Muslim scholars also assert that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity fails the test of reason. They underscore the point by stating that such a belief is not congruent with modern science. Some suggest that St. Paul is the culprit for pluralizing the Godhead. This theory further suggests that the Apostle to the Gentiles made a tactical decision to present Christianity in a way that would be more appealing to polytheists, especially the Greeks, who embraced a whole pantheon of deities.
Islamic commentary on the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is not as definitive. The gospel according to John, the youngest apostle, quotes Jesus after the Resurrection as promising to send "a Comforter." One Muslim theologian asserts that Christian teachers have erred in misinterpreting the Prophet Isa's foretelling of the coming of the final Prophet Muhammad. Others more derisively suggest that the appearances of a dove at the Baptism of Jesus and tongues of fire over the Apostles at Pentecost are minor missions, roles for an angel, not for a Holy Spirit.
Possibly seeking to strip the Christ of His divine nature, some Muslim commentators have written that even the Apostles looked upon Jesus as the very human son of Mary and Joseph. They also claim that Jesus was only one of the children of this physical union. However, orthodox Muslims, keeping with the Koran, accept the Virgin Birth of Jesus. Discussions with learned Muslims on this issue reveal that they believe the claim of Jesus to be Son of the Father was merely metaphorical. One could view this cynically, as a clever device by Muslims to offer Christians an intellectual release from their doctrinal beliefs. After all, did not Jesus in dispute with the Pharisees employ a metaphorical reference by quoting the Hebrew Bible that all the faithful are sons of God? Moreover, they have insisted that Christian doctrinal accretions over the centuries have elevated the status of Jesus. A number of Muslim commentators, while testifying to the sanctity of Jesus, find it improbable that Allah would allow His prophet to die such an ignominious death as Crucifixion.
Muslim Views of the Vatican
Some Muslim clerical and lay leaders perhaps hope that better ties to the Vatican will ease Islam's acceptance in regions that were once Christian domains, such as Europe. Radical Muslims and Jihadists possibly only see Rome as the eternal enemy, the spiritual center of the Crusader camp. There have been many a conflict and much blood shed over the last fifteen centuries. Blood-soaked conflict between acolytes of these two universal worldviews was such that it is only logical that much suspicion remains. The apostolic imperative of the Catholic Church to evangelize all nations is the most prevalent apprehension of even those Muslim leaders who are in dialogue with the Vatican. This command, to teach all nations, was a divine directive from Christ to his Apostles as He departed from them for the last time before re-joining the essence of the Father (Yahweh). Pope John Paul II lends credence to this Muslim fear. The Pope informed his experts on relations with non-Christians that there is no contradiction between simultaneous evangelization and dialogue. The almost constant travel of the Pontificate of John Paul II underscores the reality that the Vatican more than ever is energized, even driven, by the command to evangelize on a universal scale. This divine directive of Christians remains in direct conflict with the similar prime command of Allah to bring all nations to Islam. John Paul in fact, chose his name after his election as Pontiff, in part, for a desire to emulate Paul, the premier apostle to the gentiles. John Paul personalized papal proselytizing as no other Pontiff before him. His personal diplomacy accelerated the growth of Catholicism in those regions where Islamdom's own proselytizing efforts were in full swing, particularly on the African continent, and was interpreted by some as a direct challenge to Islam in Africa.
Often obscured by superficial media coverage is the prerequisite honor given to local martyrs during all papal visits. For instance, during the visit to Uganda in August of 1969 by Paul VI, he gave much time to acknowledgement of the blood of Ugandan, Catholic martyrs. This dedication was performed during a visit in which he also paid tribute to the men and women of the Islamic faith martyred in 1848 at the hands of native animist adherents. Martyrdom is not a concept that the Vatican will ever cede to Islam alone. The very site of the Vatican rests above a necropolis of martyred Christians murdered by Roman Emperors. St. Peter's Square itself is near the traditional execution site of St. Peter, and is the exact site of the martyrdom of St Paul. Moreover, more than a few Catholics wryly point out that many, if not most, of the martyrs of Islam have been killed by their fellow Muslims. There is also, of course, the disingenuous misuse of the honorific appellation of "martyr" by terrorists, whose practitioners die in the act of killing others. However, the time-honored definition of martyrdom is to stoically "bear witness" unto death for one's religious beliefs. Nevertheless, the blood of martyrs is extolled by clerics of both persuasions. Muslim and Christian theologians evidently agree that martyrdom is a growth stimulant for the faith. Catholic Masses are frequently dedicated in remembrance of specific martyrs. In Shia Iran, there are fountains that spray crimson-colored streams of water to remind believers of the sacrifice of their "martyred" countrymen.
Some Muslims Demand Substantive Theological Dialogue
Most Muslim believers of good will favor discussion, over indifference or hostile silence, between leaders of Christianity and Islam. Some Islamic notables, however, have grown weary of this ever-so-careful dialogue. One Iranian, Ayatollah Sadiqqi, a Shia interlocutor with Catholic Islamic scholars in the United Kingdom, has grown impatient with this delicate duet. His frustration is "possibly a product of the Vatican's employment of the diplomatic tactic of "hetero-description," a negotiating tool used by skilled State Department discussants with their Soviet counterparts during the Cold War, and in a religious context, describes the religious beliefs of another without rendering an evaluation or even the hint of one. Vatican diplomats are well trained in this art, and so are Iranian scholars in Islamic Shia seminaries in Qom. Both sides recognize in the other the same disciplined training in logic and rhetoric. In their Vatican counterparts, the Iranian Ayatollahs may finally have met their equals.
Sadiqqi accuses the Vatican of avoiding the hard questions. He acknowledges the Vatican's acceptance of Islam as a pre-eminent faith (albeit after Christianity and Judaism) by virtue of its monotheistic nature and Abrahamic root. He says, however, that he doubts the sincerity of the acknowledgement. Sadiqqi is to be congratulated for his temerity: many other Muslim discussants with the Vatican have elected to remain in silent opposition. Sadiqqi also accuses the Vatican of consciously avoiding commentary on the substantive concepts of Islam. He asks: What is the Vatican view of the Koran? Does it agree that Muhammad is a prophet? Do the Popes accept Islam as a revelatory religion?
The Popes and Palestine
Pope Benedict may be relying less on the counsel of the Vatican's individual Papal Nuncios, especially with papal representatives in Palestine. This is a diplomatic "lesson learned" for the Vatican, since a few delegates seem to have been unduly influenced by militant anti-Israel positions by Arab states in the Levant. Some of the pro-Palestinian pronouncements by Church officials are motivated by genuine concern for the plight of the Palestinian people. Others are more polemically motivated. It is an open secret, for instance, that within the offices of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, the Latinate Patriarch to Jerusalem, Michel Sabah, has been a virtual mouthpiece for the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and has supported the legitimacy of the role played by the terrorist group Hamas in the governance of Gaza. Sabah's relations with Israel are at best coolly correct.
This Holy Father will be more inclined to accept the advice of his Papal Nuncio to Israel and Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem, Archbishop Antonio Franco, or the Franciscan Custos [Custodian] of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa. Moreover, unlike his predecessor, Benedict has decided to meet his nuncios only at his own initiative to discuss a specific issue. Despite local misunderstandings in Palestine, the Vatican maintains many direct avenues of communication between religious and secular Jewish organizations. For instance, the Holy See's "Committee for Religious Relations with the Jews" held its 10th meeting with Israel's Chief Rabbinate last year in late March. The Vatican apparently realizes that the Holy Land's dwindling minority of Christians is much more a consequence of prejudicial actions against them by the Muslim majority. There can be no doubt that the continued mass emigration of Christians from the Holy Land is an objective of Palestinian leaders. They evidently want, in addition to a region free of infidels, Christian land, homes, and businesses.
A few recent administrative decisions by the Vatican are congruent with the Holy See's decision to project a more balanced approach on the Arab-Israeli divide. Benedict named the former Papal Nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to the Nunciate Post in Washington D.C. The Archbishop had earned a reputation among Israeli and Palestinian alike for being tough but fair. Sambi, a realist when it came to Vatican dialogue with Muslims, has said that the Holy See must approach such discussions with an open heart but without naivete. In private discussions at another time, Sambi echoed the Pontiff by welcoming inter-cultural dialogue with Muslims, but not theological dialogue. Sambi's death late last year from compilations of surgery has left the post of nuncio to the United States vacant during the recent move by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to secure full membership for a Palestinian state at the United Nations. Consequently, the entire burden of Vatican participation in this period fell on the able shoulders of the Holy See's UN Observer, the Indian-born Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikat. Bishop Chullikat, fluent in Arabic, will be representing the Vatican to American diplomats on Islamic issues.
Malicious Vatican gossip has it that a Curia insider, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, was the loser in Vatican power play and therefore was conveniently dispatched from Rome. If this is true, it may only prove that his opponents were stronger or perhaps more vicious. It does not settle whose argument was more moral. It is alleged that a couple of letters authored by Vigano to the Holy Father and his direct superior, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone, were leaked to the press. The substance of these missives was complaints of alleged corruption involving nepotism in the award of Vatican construction contracts. If these rumors are based in fact, then he has come to the right town. It has also been suggested that his diplomatic credentials do not measure up to those of his predecessor. However, he has been Nuncio to Jordan, Iraq, and Nigeria, realms where the Church faithful are under siege. Moreover, he speaks French, Spanish, English, apart from Arabic and his native Italian.
Whatever Vigano's strengths or weaknesses, all sides will miss Sambi's nuanced positions on divisive issues. It was Sambi's apolitical demeanor during the six-week occupation of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 that earned him praise from the Israeli government. During that period, he was quick to contradict the outlandish falsehoods spread by the Latin Patriarch Sabbah, about the comportment of Israeli forces at this revered Christian shrine. It was, after all the decision by Palestinian gunmen to enter the Church and seize hostages in the process. Sambi's sober attitude during this episode was in marked contrast to most Vatican media organs, which were critical of Israel. The Vatican at that time was concentrating on the IDF presence that surrounded the Basilica, rather than on the Palestinian occupation of the sacred site, perhaps the product of a desire to protect the Christian community in the Holy Land at the expense of the Israelis. The anti-Israel stance may also have been motivated by a desire to shield the Church of the Nativity from more permanent desecration. Nonetheless, the critical comments did not do much for Vatican's relations with Israel.
There is one overriding distinction between how Christians are treated in Israel as opposed to most Arab and Muslim states. In Arab and Muslim states, Christians live in fear. In Israel, they practice their faith openly; there are Catholic Masses in both Arabic and in Hebrew, never failing to celebrate the religious freedom guaranteed for all, including Arab Israelis who make up about 20% of the country's population. The Vatican is acutely aware of the divide, how religious minorities are treated in Israeli and in Arab Palestine. When, for example, the annual meeting between Catholic and Muslim religious leaders took place on the Islamic "new year" (the 1st of Muharram 1433), 24 November 2011, the Catholics remonstrated with the Muslims for concrete efforts at improving tolerance for Bethlehem's Christian minority. The Catholics pressed their counterparts to implement long-promised textbook reforms. Father Ibrahim Shomali, a parish priest from the West Bank town of Beit Jala, also pleaded for greater respect for pluralism. It should be remembered that in the past, Palestinian Arab militants have violated the grounds of Beit Jala's Catholic Seminary to acquire better lines of fire for their automatic weapons into Jewish Jerusalem. The Mufti of Bethlehem, Sheikh Abdel Majid Ata, responded that he had instructed the region's Friday Imams "not to be too negative in their sermons."
Vatican-Muslim Relations and the American Invasion of Iraq
The Holy See's principal equity in formulating its position on the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, was three-dimensional. On a human scale, there was the physical safety and spiritual welfare of Iraq's one million Assyrian-Catholics. Morally, the Vatican was obliged to pass judgment on the Bush administration's desire to launch a preventive war. The Catholic Church also had to weigh its decision in the face of a meticulously formulated set of prerequisites that defined "Just War." Finally, the Pope had to calculate the impact upon Catholics, as well as Christians, in Muslim countries in the Mideast region and throughout the globe.
Generally, Iraqi-Christians were left unscathed by the mass atrocities of Saddam's regime in Iraq, and were not seen as a threat. But any war to extirpate the decades-old Baathist regime would necessitate widespread conflict. Moreover, any subsequent military occupation would prove injurious to all Iraqis. While Catholic-Christians, like most Iraqis, were happy to see Saddam go, they were not among the invasion's most enthusiastic supporters. However, meetings prior to the invasion with Catholic and Orthodox clerics and laymen proved disconcerting. There was a general feeling, unfortunately accurate, that Christians had no place at the table of British and American deliberations with Iraqi exile groups. The amount of outreach by U.S. government officials to Christian Iraqis was negligible. The Vatican, on the other hand, was in daily contact with its flock. The human intelligence gathered by the Vatican's diplomatic corps, eight Iraqi dioceses and scores of parishes was more voluminous and more accurate than anything reported by Iraq's exile groups. Iraq's Christians had said they feared that the removal of the secular Saddam regime would unleash the intolerant energies of radical Islamists.
All of the appropriate Vatican offices and media organs expressed opposition to any invasion of Iraq. Although individual American and British Catholics were cleared to follow their personal conscience, the official Vatican line was that the rationale for an invasion did not meet the Church's requirements for a "Just War." Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith appealed to the American collective conscience "illuminated by faith and realism." Moreover, high-ranking Vatican-based clerics questioned the veracity of claims of the Bush and Blair administrations that rhetorically strove to satisfy those prerequisites. The concept of preemptive war and American unilateralism attracted the most strident criticism. Most highly placed Vatican officials with responsibility for foreign policy issues also gave negative interviews to Italy's principal daily newspapers. Their commentary ran from friendly persuasion to outrageous condemnation.
The Jesuit Director of Vatican Radio, Pasquale Borgomeo, began a seven-month-long Vatican campaign to forestall an invasion of Iraq. Borgomeo, among the most influential voices in the Vatican, claimed that the Americans wanted to send troops rather than inspectors to Iraq. He implied, not necessarily correctly, that American policymakers were shortsighted, "not realizing that wars create conditions for greater wars." A multinational gathering of Cardinals in Palermo for an inter-faith gathering leveled even more specific and varied criticism. Most prominent among these was the Papal trouble-shooter Cardinal Roger Etchegaray. It was he who would later be dispatched by Pope John Paul II on a failed mission to Baghdad to avert war in the last minute. Another was the German senior Cardinal, Walter Kaspar. Still another was the Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, the Pope's official at the UN office in Geneva. The criticism that may have aroused the most attention within the papal household, however, was that of Syrian Cardinal Ignatius Moussa Daoud, who accused the United States of "threatening the whole world with violence if it suspected the harboring of terrorists."
Daoud's denunciation struck home. The Vatican appeared anxious to demonstrate that it was in no way sanctioning a modern Crusade against Islamic countries. Most radical and even some apolitical Muslims were inclined to believe the opposite. The Pope, already concerned about the mass migration of Catholics from Muslim countries, was determined to separate himself from any perception that he and President George W. Bush were in concert on world affairs. The Pope's highest priority was the physical safety and spiritual freedom the Mideast's fourteen million Catholics.
When the White House realized that the Vatican was not on board, it still sought to create the impression that it was. In the months leading up to the invasion, the U.S. administration sent several prominent pro-war Christians to visit the Vatican: most notably Catholic journalist Bob Novak and former Governor Tommy Thompson, as well as Ambassador John Bolton, a Lutheran. Thompson's post-visit assessment was arrogantly dismissive. He asserted "that we have much better intelligence than the Pope on what is going on Iraq." His comment, aside from being incorrect, was later shrewdly employed by Vatican diplomats to convince Arab governments that the Holy See was decidedly opposed to the invasion.
American lobbyists for Bush's decision to invade were not the only delegations visiting the Vatican in the months before the war. There were visits by Catholic and mixed Catholic-Muslim clerics from Egypt to Indonesia. The visit from Jakarta was particularly memorable: it underscored the collective conscience of Muslims for the welfare of the Umma (the worldwide Islamic brotherhood) -- a universal principle well understood by the Vatican. Both the Rome and "Mecca" have universal aspirations that transcend time and place. Those who have forgotten this lesson only need remember how a cartoonist in Denmark can elicit murderous rage from a Muslim in Somalia. The Holy See's efforts failed to prevent a final clash between the United States and Iraq -- a failure which should not be used to prejudice the value of another Vatican-inspired attempt to avoid still another war in the Mideast. It is quite likely that Iran will receive a Vatican emissary with a good deal more serious intent than Saddam Hussein displayed toward French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray's mission to Baghdad on 13 February, 2003. After meeting with Saddam for over 90 minutes, Etchegaray left Baghdad expressing high hopes, which came to naught.
The Vatican and Post-Saddam Iraq
Just as exotic are Vatican City's relations with Iraq's nascent democratic government. During the three decade long rule of Saddam Hussein, the Vatican had a non-tempestuous relationship with Baghdad. Iraq's Christian minority, the largest in the Mideast, was deemed not to be a political threat to Ba'athist secular order. With most of the Christians wisely apolitical, they were usually safe from Saddam's maniacal and bloody purges. Moreover, since Apostolic times, there have been large Christian populations in Mesopotamia. Their identity of themselves was far removed in time and probably thought from Saddam's Iraq. When, in the mid seventh century, Muslim legions conquered Sassanian Persia's satrapies in Mesopotamia, large portions of the Christian population fled, converted, or were slaughtered. Most of the living descendants of the Assyro-Babylonian peoples are, however, Christian; about half of them, Catholic. The Ba'athists saved most of their attacks for the country's majority population of Shiites, periodically massacring them in large numbers.
There are now seven Catholic dioceses in Iraq. The most eminent of Shia clerics in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani, maintains distant but correct ties with his Catholic counterparts. Sistani publicly complemented Pope Benedict on his Regensburg lecture. Rather than reacting to it with fear and condemnation, he said he viewed it as a call for Muslims to embrace the spiritual essence of Islam and to reject politically motivated agendas. Sistani, unlike Iran's Shia theocratic clerics, says that he rejects the "valayat-e-faqih" principle, endorsing the union of the political and religious dimensions epitomized in the "daftar-e-rahbar" (Office of the Leader).
Sistani apparently seems to fear that Iraq's Christians will continue to emigrate in great number, as did Iraq's considerable Jewish population decades ago. He seems to view non-Muslim minorities as a bulwark against renewed Sunni intolerance. He apparently realizes Sunni extremists and al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists are rapidly reducing once large pockets of Christian communities in Iraq's central provinces, as in the ancient province of Nineveh and the metropolis of Mosul, which have seen drastic reductions. In the last few years, scores of Iraqi Christians have been killed in Iraq, about a third of them in Mosul. Some Iraqi Christians are migrating internally to more tolerant surroundings in Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Jordan. Others have applied for asylum in the United States, many settling in Iraqi-American neighborhoods such as Detroit, Michigan and Brooklyn, New York.
After the brutal kidnapping murder of Archbishop Paulos Farah Rahho in February 2010, the Pope with great emotion hailed his martyrdom in St. Peter's Square and on a subsequent Mass: "He took up his cross and the Lord Jesus even to the agony of death. And so as the servant of the Lord, he contributed in bringing justice to his devastated country….by bearing witness to the Truth." Ayatollah Sistani, noting the Archbishop of Mosul's efforts to join with Muslims in outreach programs to Iraq's handicapped, called for the capture of the guilty parties.
Perhaps the most demoralizing murders of Christians in Iraq also occurred in Mosul in late May, 2007. Coming home after celebrating Mass, Father Ragheed Ganni and three sub-deacons were shot dead and bombs were tied to their corpses so that they lay in the open as an object lesson for other Christians. Father Ragheed was multilingual, courageous, and embodied hope for a better Iraq. He had returned to Iraq rather than accept an influential post in the Vatican bureaucracy; for this choice, he paid the ultimate price.
Vatican Demands Reciprocity: Awaiting Arabian Action
When he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict in his role as Chair of the Congregation of the Faith served as the guardian of Catholic doctrinal rectitude. In this capacity he realized that the Church's "Christology" is the principal theological impasse between Islam and Catholicism. His writings as Cardinal feign no illusion about the theological chasm that separates the two faiths. Moreover, he possesses a historian's memory of the centuries of ill will and conflict that have deepened that division. He argued that it is possible to have permanent progress between these two religions. He insists, however, that Muslims must agree in theory, and implement in practice the principle of reciprocity. He concedes that huge mosques and high minarets are fine in Europe. But Muslim rulers, particularly in Arab Gulf states, must agree to permit churches on their soil. Moreover, non-Muslims must be permitted to practice their religion openly, and that Islam's representatives must embrace equity's demands.
Benedict, when he was still Cardinal, is on record for insisting upon an inter-cultural dialogue between Muslims and Catholics. He also insists, nevertheless, that first the parties agree openly to discuss the societal consequences of various religious decisions. Only acceptance of this prerequisite, he attests, will legitimate Muslim and Catholic interfaith discussion.
The Bishop of Tunis, Maroun Elias Lahham, comes close to Benedict's sense of realism when considering inter-religious dialogue with Muslim clerics and theologians. Lahham warns against Christian "self-deception which underestimates Islam's self-assurance that it has no need to be enriched by another religion." This arrogance elicits the Holy See's insistence that Muslim discussants affirm the equality of conscience principle freely to choose one's religious affiliation. This requirement difficult for any Muslim to accept; it is a grave sin for a Muslim to leave Islam. The Papal Encyclical "Dignitatis Humanae" is most clear about this prerequisite. For some Muslims, acceptance of this principle is anathema, as would be recognition of the liberal democratic understanding of human rights among secular regimes in the West.
The Holy See has the advantage of having negotiated with would-be world conquerors for centuries. Despite coming up woefully short in World War II Europe, the Vatican's record, particularly with the Muslim World's "men on horseback," has so far been promising. Although there is no papal intervention as dramatic as Pope Leo the Great's turning back of Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome, there were, as a consequence of direct Papal intervention, other remarkable victories at critical moments in the history of the West. Papal diplomacy helped forge together several coalitions of nominally Christian rulers when it appeared all hope should be abandoned -- alliances that usually lasted just long enough to delay, attrite, and sometimes defeat forces that seemed bent on continental conquest, as with the Ottoman Caliphate's repeated attempts to Islamize Europe. There were also several mid-to-late 16th century Papal initiatives which crafted together enough West European naval strength to turn aside Turkish aggression on the high seas. Papal negotiating skills, especially among Renaissance Italy's maritime city-states, such as Venice, also proved decisive.
These efforts followed quickly upon the extraordinary boost for Christendom elicited by the European naval victory at Lepanto in October 1507. The religious symbolism of this victory could not have been more profound from the worldview of Christian leaders. Just prior to the conflict, the entirety of allied armies knelt on the decks of their ships and prayed the rosary. They were in prayer by their leader Don Juan of Austria. Don Juan, as the grandson of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was a warrior worshiped as a young David. Vatican Archives record "that at the exact time of the dawn engagement at Lepanto. Pope Pius V led thousands in the same rosary prayer in the Church of St. Maria Maggiore in Rome." The greatest Spanish author, Cervantes, wounded three times in this battle, attests to these dramatic events. The Catholic Church still celebrates that victory, on 7 October, as a feast day, Our Lady of the Rosary (also Our Lady of Victory). One might expect some Muslim organization to request, as a sign of Vatican good faith, the striking of this feast day from the religious calendar, but that is unlikely to happen during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI.
Vatican Relations with Muslim Majority States: A Summary and Policy Options
The Papacy's general approach to diplomacy with Islamic states will acquire more definition as the Vatican presses for Muslim regime recognition of the rights of man. Tensions are likely to develop over this issue as the Vatican insists that this demand is universal and includes all male and female citizens, even in Muslim countries. Papal pilgrimages to some of these lands will serve as a Vatican platform for such initiatives. Pressure for reciprocity, such as the construction of Catholic churches in Islamic lands, will be applied by the Vatican at international forums and in private papal audiences with individual heads of Islamic states.
If Christians continue to be persecuted in locales where Muslims are the majority and the ruling class, the Papacy will be tempted to employ the United Nations annual General Assembly meeting as a bully pulpit -- and the Pontiff will be equally tempted to employ the learned and intrepid voice of his UN Observer, Archbishop Chullikat.
The Egyptian Revolution and the Christian Minority
During the decades of the Sadat and Mubarak regimes in Egypt, Cairo kept extremist Muslim clerics in line. At least these regimes did not permit hate-filled sermons delivered in the mosques to break out onto the street. This was not done out of any great conviction but out of concern for political stability and economic practicality. Besides, a Sharia-like atmosphere would hurt the tourist trade. Nonetheless, anti-Jewish themes in the Egyptian media were permitted even encouraged. Egypt's entertainment industry was awash in Jew-baiting programs and movies. Anti-Semitic songs always seemed to top the charts.
The Vatican, as part of its engagement with Muslim intellectuals, welcomed the establishment of a collaborative arrangement with Egypt's al-Azhar Seminary. This Cairo-based institution of Islamic learning and theological exegesis is probably the oldest and most respected such institution in the Islamic world. Despite Egypt's clerical establishment's contemptuous disdain for the Christian Orthodox Copts, this cooperative enterprise appeared to thrive. The secular Mubarak regime protected the Copts, who in turn became supporters of the autocratic order. However, the Copts, who comprise about 15% of Egypt's population, were more vulnerable than the Vatican realized. As the old order began to disintegrate, incidents of mob violence against Copts increased. The security forces were less feared and could no longer serve as an effective shield against Sunni Muslim bigots. As attacks against the Copts became regular events and ever harsher in cruelty, the Vatican took up the cross of the Copts. When the worst anti-Copt violence, in Egypt's second largest city of Alexandria, elicited the Pontiff's condemnation, the Mubarak government, in protest, withdrew its Ambassador to the Holy See. Moreover, the greatly annoyed Ahmed al-Tayyeb Grand Mufti of the al-Azhar Seminary, the eldest in Islam, discontinued its long-standing relationship with Vatican theologians.
It was not, however, until the revolutionaries had swept away the old regime that the world understood how vulnerable the Christian Copts had become in the new Egypt. Not long after the false unity of Tahrir Square had dissipated, incidents of mob violence against Copts again surfaced. Some Egyptians remain resentful of the Copts, whom they accuse of having enjoyed special status during the half century of secular military rule. Others, under the more Islam-friendly Egypt, wanted to relegate these unbelievers to a second-class, dhimmi, status.
During the months of protests that preceded the resignation of President Mubarak, even though most of the violence was inflicted by pro-regime thugs upon unarmed demonstrators, this was not true of Egypt's second largest city and chief port. Alexandria, at the mouth of the Nile, was home to some radical Sunni and al-Qaeda cells. These groups, seemingly dormant in the past, were responsible for murdering 21 worshipers at the Coptic "Church of Saints" on the night of 1 January 2011. When Pope Benedict dared to utter concern for the fate of Egypt's Coptic community, these radical groups stirred up anti-Christian mobs throughout the country.
Another incident in Cairo, in mid-October cost more Coptic lives, but this time the murders were carried out by post-Mubarak military personnel. Since the collapse of the Mubarak dictatorship, matters have only worsened for the Copts. Nearly 100,000 of them have fled Egypt, and incidents against them have not abated. One student last autumn, after refusing a request from his teacher to remove his cross, was strangled to death.
Vatican-Iranian Relations: Warm but Not Cozy
The Vatican's Pontifical Council on Inter-Religious Dialogue has been meeting with Iran's Islamic Culture and Religious Organization (ICRO) for the past several years. Surprisingly, a reservoir of good will has been built up, which has sustained this relationship despite the rhetoric and rumors of war surrounding the Islamic Republic's relations with the rest of the West. The Islamic Republic's representatives have praised the state of Vatican-Iranian relations. Curiously, the ICRO serves as an arm of recruitment and penetration of foreign state governments, and has had quite an active agenda in Italy. One wonders whether the mullahs have recruited any Curia clerics in their Vatican charm offensive. Of greater significance, the ICRO also serves as a direct conduit to the Supreme Leader's Office. Mahdi Mostafavi, Chairman of the ICRO, hosted a meeting in Tehran with Vatican officials in Spring, 2010. In September of 2011, Iranian clerics traveled to Rome for a similar gathering. Because of the propensity of Shia to be relatively gracious and humble, these engagements between Catholic and Iranian Shia clerics, have apparently been pleasant. Moreover, Shia clerics seem not to be inordinately suspicious of Vatican intent or accusatory of the Church's historical relations with Islam. Vatican meetings with Sunni theologians have been less fruitful.
There exists a theological empathy between the Catholic and the Shia faithful, as in a book that illustrates this affinity: "Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims," by James A. Bill. Catholic discussants with Iranian representatives acknowledge doctrinal similarities with Shi'i Islam on several theological concepts, such as the purgative value of suffering, saints as models for moral living, and the redemptive role that a leader's sacrifice can play in securing salvation for humankind. Extending the analogy a bit farther, Sunni Islam in some ways appears similar to Protestant sects of Christianity. Non-Catholic Christians focus on the written word of the Gospels, as do Sunni Muslims on the Koran. Protestant Christians have little use for statues, shrines, and saints. It is entirely possible that during any future confrontation between Iran and the West or between Iran and Israel, this relationship might prove useful in helping international negotiators step back from the brink.
The Catholic University of America (CUA) also maintains links with the Islamic regime's unofficial presence in Washington D.C. CUA Professor Robert Destro organized a delegation of Iranians to meet Pope Benedict, who was visiting Washington in April of 2008. Additionally, Catholic University's School of Law faculty member, Ahmad Iravani, who has had his own seminary inside Iran's "Vatican City" of Qom and close ties to some high-ranking Shia in Iran, helped organize a multi-religious clerical delegation, which visited Iran in June, 2003, an especially tense period just after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. The delegation included the then-Archbishop of Washington D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
Iravani himself has been low-key, almost dismissive, when commenting on the significance of Benedict's Regensburg lecture, and later expressed pleasure that "things are moving again." The topic of Iravani's doctoral dissertation, "Is it Possible for Monotheists to Maintain Their Faith in a Two-Dimension Society" [in which Church and State are Separate], is a testament to his non-ideological approach. Iravani is no narrow-minded Salafi scholar. He is a serious reader of Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, St. Thomas Aquinas, and other prominent "Doctors" of the Church. It would be historic, but not surprising, for Iravani and other high Shia clerics to be invited to the Pontiff's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.
One role that the Vatican could play in the future would be to intercede on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned non-Catholic Christians in Iran. Many of these are evangelical Protestants, incarcerated in Iran for proselytizing; however, the regime's treatment of Christianity's Protestant sects, particularly Evangelical types is reported to be particularly harsh. Those who have left Islam for Christianity often endure more severe punishment, such as the death penalty or threats of execution, as in the case of Pastor Youssef Nadharkani, recently spared a death sentence, and released from prison only after intensive international pressure.
Iranian security personnel regularly conduct sweeps of suspected domiciles which might double as Christian gathering spaces; during Christmas services, worshipers have been arrested and interrogated while a library of Christian reading material was confiscated; the Islamic Republic's version of "Morals Police" conducts Bible-burning operations.
The regime, however, has permitted Catholic Churches and schools to remain open and Catholic social organizations to operate – gestures of relative permissiveness compared to many Sunni Muslim regimes.
The Church, for its part, has honored the regime's directive that Christians and other non-Muslim denominations not seek political office in Iran.
Tiber's Testy Ties to Turkey
Ankara has had little liking for this Pope. When Benedict was still Cardinal Ratzinger and Chair of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he consistently and pointedly opposed membership for Turkey in the European Union. "Throughout history," he said, "Turkey always represented another continent in permanent contrast to Europe." He also argued, "that the EU is a cultural not a geographical fraternity, to equate the two continents would be a mistake." He voiced the fear of others, when he alluded to the demographic imperative when addressing the possibility of Turkey's EU 1999 application for membership as endangering the Christian majority. This policy builds on the marker set down by John Paul, who voiced similar sentiments, albeit not as boldly put as Ratzinger.
So long as Turkey's AKP ("Justice and Development" Party) government continues its drive to Islamize the country's once secular populace, the Vatican's diplomatic links to Turkey are likely to remain chilly -- especially after the Regensburg lecture, when the increasingly Islamist government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan started looking for a way to bar Benedict from coming on a long-scheduled visit to Turkey. The Vatican is certainly aware of the Erdogan administration's intensified Islamization program. Both Orthodox and Catholic Churches were stung by Erdogan's decision once again to transform Orthodox Christendom's greatest cathedral, "Hagia Sophia" [Holy Wisdom] -- visited by both Pope Paul VI and his successor John Paul II when it was a "secular museum" -- into a mosque. Ankara's administration, apparently not wishing formally to affront the Vatican -- a decision which would have further damaged Ankara's already bruised ties with the European Union (EU) -- had its pro-government media organs' Justice and Development Party underlings issue an insulting commentary. The Vatican's diplomatic corps, shrewdly gauging Ankara's intent, did not react as Ankara expected and cancel the "pilgrimage."
Benedict's agenda apparently annoyed Ankara's officials. There were the normative pastoral meetings with the minute Catholic community, prayerful moments at early Christian holy places and the obligatory visits to tourist sites. There was, however, another brazenly ecumenical purpose for the Pope's visit -- in fact, the primary purpose of the Papal visit: Benedict had planned to honor the Office of East Rome's Orthodox Patriarch. This was a visit not to Istanbul, but to Constantinople. This tribute to Orthodox Christianity was part of the Vatican's plan to heal the millennium-old schism between the Western and Eastern wings of Christianity, split asunder following the Council of Nicaea in 1054. By honoring Patriarch Bartholomew I, Pope Benedict was announcing that "we are one before God, now let us become one again on earth." In contrast, Turkey's government did not recognize the Patriarch's official title; it merely treated him as a private citizen. The Pontiff might hope that this act of humility and honor will accelerate ecumenism, resulting in the re-unification of the all-Orthodox entities with Rome.
Apparently just as infuriating to the Turks were the Vatican's frequent contacts with the Armenian Orthodox Church when Benedict insisted upon meeting the Armenian Church's Patriarch, Mesrob II, during his visit. The Vatican's "case of the slows" regarding Turkey's request for EU membership may well have some connection to Ankara's reluctance to admit responsibility for its World War I massacre and ethnic cleansing of its Armenian population.
Since it became clear that complications delaying Ankara's admission were making eventual entry to the EU doubtful, ties between the EU and Turkey cooled. Further, Turkey's re-orientation of its foreign policy to the Near East also has created additional distance.
The Erdogan administration also set a diplomatic trap of sorts for the visiting Pope. Ankara successfully pressured the Vatican to add a last addition to the Papal schedule -- a visit to the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque. While there, the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Mustafa Cagrici, and the Imam of the Blue Mosque, Emrullah Hatipoglu, escorted Benedict to the mirab -- the niche which indicates the direction of Mecca -- where the Grand Mufti asked the Pope to join him in prayer. The Pope outwardly complied by two minutes of silent meditation with eyes closed. While this submission to Muslim religious rectitude may have been for the Pope a gesture of courtesy, for some Muslims, it was a symbolic acknowledgement of supersession and the triumph of Islam that they hope approaches.
The Vatican has apparently decided that Turkey is no longer a bridge to the Islamic world but part of it. The martyrdom of Italian priest Father Andrea Santaro in Trabzon and other violent assaults on Catholic clergy in Turkey in 2009 only buttressed this view. The highest priority of the Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, and it seems personally of Pope Benedict, is to extend the ecumenical embrace of Orthodoxy -- a détente between the Vatican and the Patriarch which Ankara is likely to view as a contemptuous attempt by Rome to treat Istanbul as it were still Constantinople.
Vatican-Algerian Relations: Façade of Fraternalism
One of the Catholic Church's most ancient and exotic dimensions is that of the Faith's presence in North Africa. Central to this relationship are the convergence of two historical trends. First, as the political will and moral fiber of Roman Empire elites in the West eroded, political power began to shift east and south. Second, as Rome became less capable of holding back the Teutonic tribes from northern Europe, the Roman people and army throughout the imperial realm were becoming more Christian. By the time the Barbarian leader Odoacer assumed the throne in 476 A.D., at least three-quarters of the men who made up Rome's legions were Christian. This amazing transformation was even truer on the empire's North African littoral.
Parenthetically, the ancient diocese of Hippo was made famous by the Berber Saint of Souk Aras in Algeria (Thagaste), St. Augustine, one of the greatest minds of the classical era and among the early Church's most famous of saints. Although he later came to love Milan more, his roots lay deep in Carthaginian lore. Remembering Augustine helps one recall that North Africa was Christian long before it was Muslim. Also, it was Catholic long before there was a France or French empire. Consequently, Catholic religious orders, particularly the priestly order of Augustinians, have never apologized for their presence in Muslim Algeria. The Augustinians are determined to maintain a foothold in the country. Unfortunately, this determination has threatened to compromise their independence and often caused them to appear as pawns in Algeria's regime.
Other Catholic clerics have more boldly remonstrated with the Algerian government that they should remain in the country of their ancestors. In October, 2010 the Massachusetts-based, Augustinian-run Merrimack College sponsored a symposium on Algerian-Augustinian Relations. The panel topics, guest speakers, the entire agenda resembled the posture of a mendicant, reflecting a pattern of accommodation at any cost, and resembling in its lack of intestinal fortitude, the supine and obsequious profile patented by Georgetown University's "Imam" School for Christian and Muslim Understanding: The Christians are to do all of the understanding.
The hosts of the conference, Merrimack College and Father Padraic O'Hare, have refused to disclose any information on what transpired at the conference.
The Augustinian Fathers are, anyhow, justifiably proud of their unique position in North Africa; the Center's curriculum even boasts a course on the subject. However, they have been most careful to do nothing to threaten their stay in Algeria or their standing with the regime, even when truth demands it – such as that scores of non-Catholic Christians have been arrested over the past couple of years for various dhmmi-like "crimes," for example praying in "unregistered places" and "unauthorized worship." The more serious penalties have been reserved for Islamic converts to Christianity or for those proselytizers responsible "for stealing Muslim souls from Allah." For these "crimes," five year sentences are meted out. A sense of justice requires fellow Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike to inquire of the Augustinian Order to what degree it has prevailed upon their Algerian host to release these innocents.
Algeria's Christian Martyrs
Many Algerian Christians have also been murdered – scores in the last two decades alone. There is also silence by Conference Director Merrimack and Algeria's Ambassador to the U.S. on the topic of the former Archbishop of Algiers Tessier's comments on Algeria's policies towards non-Muslim religions.
There is also a serious need to inquire of the Ambassador his opinion of French President Sarkozy's indignant remarks about the testimony of a retired French General who accused the Algerian government of murdering seven Catholic monks nearly two decades ago. Until recently, it had been accepted that Islamic terrorists murdered the Trappists of of Notre Dame de Atlas Monastery in Tibhirine in 1996.
For years, the accepted truth has been quite another version. According to it, a handful of terrorists intruded upon the monks at their bucolic monastery in Tibhirine, a village in Algeria's Atlas Mountains. Reportedly they had been warned to leave this location by followers of Imam Ali Benhadj, apparently a zealot. The Cistercian monks had in fact experienced earlier ugly encounters with Benhadj's followers: the monks were scandalized one evening as they approached their statue of the Virgin Mary, which stood upon a rock high above their monastery, to find her hands sliced off and her abdomen gashed with a chisel. However, those responsible were quite aware that the Koran honors Maryam, the mother of the Prophet Isa (Jesus) with her own sura (chapter). They had apparently concluded that her statue was repugnant and un-Islamic in its depiction of a person. It was assumed by the media and most terrorist analysts that the Algerian Islamic Group [GIA] was responsible for both the statue's desecration and for the subsequent murders of the monks. It had, after all, been found guilty of the murders of tens of thousands of its fellow citizens. Consequently, it was not out of character for them to murder a handful of foreign infidel monks.
However, fifteen years after the incident, a French investigation seemed to imply that the Algerian military's use of helicopter gunships had accidentally killed the monks in a failed rescue attempt. Moreover, the testimony of France's military attaché to Algiers, General François Buchwalter, to the Investigatory Commission lends credence to this accusation. While the investigation was inconclusive, it left open the possibility that both Algerian and French intelligence agencies colluded to cover up the fiasco. Nevertheless, both governments laid the blame for the murder solely upon the shoulders of Islamic terrorists.
What is unusual is the failure of the Vatican, and especially the Augustinian Orders, to trumpet the holy martyrdom of these priests. For these monks, the distribution of blame was meaningless. If the monks were indeed victims of a heavy-handed attack by Algerian counter-terrorist forces, then the monks may have been posthumously decapitated to make it appear that GIA terrorists were responsible. Their heads were ultimately found on the side of a road near the town of Medea. The accusations against Algeria's military for the murder of the monks do appear believable. This is especially so, as the world has just witnessed the blunders by Algerian Special Forces in retaking the huge oil refinery from terrorists in western Algeria in a strike that cost the lives of at least 30 hostages.
Despite the Augustinian order's disingenuous attempt to put the best face on things, Benedict is not accepting what appears as a cover-up. In late September, 2009 just prior to the Synod of African Bishops in Rome, the Pontiff appointed Tessier as an ex-officio member of the conference (Synod). Tessier's commentary sheds light on the split between the Algerian government's Ordinance of 2006 and subsequent measures that contradict the benign nature of this document.
Although the February 2008 document guarantees freedom of worship, two contradictory decrees promulgated by Algiers in May, 2007, severely restrict the practice of non-Muslim faiths in Algeria. One decree stipulates that any person convicted of encouraging an Algerian in word or deed to abandon Islam can be jailed for up to three years. Another decree bans the public worship by non-Muslim religions unless they are granted an exception by the state. Bishop Tessier claimed that this had been meant to prevent Catholics from running schools, nurseries, clinics, and social programs.
In May 2007, the regime, under the auspices of protecting Christian missionaries, urged all foreign Christian clergy to leave Algeria: the government could not guarantee their safety. Algiers offered that with the increase in terrorist violence by Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, the lives of foreign missionaries were particularly endangered. By October of 2007, it became virtually impossible for foreign clerics to obtain visas to Algeria. Subsequently, the Algerian regime moved more aggressively against foreign Christian clerics. Algiers expelled four young Brazilian Catholic volunteers who had been hired to help tutor Portuguese-speaking Africans in Algeria. These immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa had migrated to Algeria for work as menial laborers; lived outside the country's big cities; and hailed from Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome Principe and other Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa.
These immigrants are almost all Catholic. The government appears determined to deny them even the private practice of their Catholic faith. Many isolated incidents of religious suppression reflect an official government policy decision to suppress Christianity itself. One Easter, Italian construction workers were prevented from holding Mass at their worksite. A priest in Oran was arrested for traveling to a village where many Catholics from Cameroon lived to celebrate Mass. Gendarmes acting like Saudi Arabia's religious police, have accosted Christians in the street and confiscated any outward sign of religious identification. Tourists have suffered the loss of religious books in their luggage at airports.
In a more recent sign of official intolerance, the government appears to be concentrating on evangelical Christian groups. This anti-Catholic, and larger anti-Christian, campaign is being implemented by the Bureau of Religious Affairs, a bureaucracy which represents the interests of Algeria's Sunni Mullahs. This is a familiar arrangement in the Muslim world: often autocratic, secular regimes accommodate arch-conservative clerics by employing the instruments of state power against minority faiths, such as the arrangement entered into by Mubarak in Egypt against its original Egyptians, the Christian Copts. The late Shah of Iran made the same accommodation with conservative clerics in pre-Islamic republic Iran against, principally, Iranian Baha'i. Algiers has presumably taken the precaution not to include the more radical clerical supporters of terrorism in such an arrangement. The lack of such an accommodation, however, did not stop the Augustinians of Merrimac College from heaping praise on the Algerian Ambassador to the United States.
Papal Policy and the Arab Gulf States
Like drops of water eroding a rock of ages, the Vatican's quiet diplomacy and persistent insistence is creating a miracle of sorts on the "Peninsula of the Arabs." For the first time in thirteen centuries Catholic Mass is being celebrated. One of Mohammad's last dreams, a Hadith testifies, was that Allah desired an infidel-free Arabia. The Prophet's 7th century legions had little problem in cleansing the Peninsula of Jew and Christian. Since then, the strict and intolerant Wahhabi sect that governs religious affairs on the Peninsula has assured that Muhammad's dream remain a reality. This dream is a nightmare for non-Muslims on the Peninsula. But now, the Holy See has made it clear to the Saudi ruling family that the Vatican demands that the principle of reciprocity be accepted in theory and practice even by the House of al-Saud -- an implied threat that the Vatican can make things difficult in Europe for the Islamic agenda. The Vatican will insist that conservative Sunni Muslims and their still more reactionary Wahhabi Sunni sect cousins, dominant in the Arab Gulf States, demonstrate greater flexibility on the issues of religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Though the Church has been weakened in Europe, the Vatican still can mobilize practicing Catholics in the parishes, through its private school systems and over its media organs, to challenge Muslim political and social initiatives.
The Vatican's other advantage lies in the Arab Gulf States' dependency on foreign workers to perform much of the labor that natives are either unwilling or unable to do. These foreigners, now in the millions, are almost all infidels. Most of them are Christian; well over half are Catholic. For decades there has been an underground church in Arabia, but no longer. On the 15th of May 2008, however, a tall Swiss-born Catholic Bishop with Patrician countenance, Bishop Paul Hinder, celebrated the first regular Mass in Qatar's first Catholic Church of St. Mary's. There was standing room only in the 2700-seat church. Its aisles were filled with Catholics from the Philippines, India, and Sri Lanka. Hinder with an almost imperceptible wink noted that the Vatican is negotiating for a second church. It is a safe inference that the Church is helping the Emir of Qatar make good on the reformist image he has worked so hard to project in the West; and Bishop Hinder mentioned in a subsequent interview that there is already one Catholic Church in Bahrain. Hinder is clearly the Pope's point man on reciprocity in the Arab Gulf. When the Church was initially dedicated in a five-hour ceremony in March of 2008, over 10,000 Catholics cheered Pope Benedict's emissary, Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Vatican's Prefect for the Evangelization of Peoples -- a sign that the Holy Father has not placed Muslims even within the heart of Islam off-limits to proselytizing efforts. This bold maneuver has not gone un-noticed by Muslim theologians.
The morals' police in Saudi Arabia remain undeterred nonetheless by any atmospherics of toleration discussed on a bilateral level by Riyadh and the Vatican, and any rhetorical bow to tolerance does not seem to protect Christian athletes in Arabia. Many Christians have been arrested, even for unconscious gesticulations during soccer games, similar to Latin American baseball players' making a quick sign of the cross as they enter the batter's box).
The Jordanian Initiative: Pontiff and Monarch
Pope Benedict in 2008, in response to fallout from his Regensburg lecture, agreed to several Catholic-Muslim encounter sessions, hosted by the Vatican and the ruling Hashemite House of Jordan. The first meeting was held in Vatican City. The second of these sessions was held in November 2010 in Maqtas (Maghtas), a town south of Jordan's capital, Amman. The setting, near the Jordan's acclaimed site of the Baptism of Jesus by St. John the Baptist, was poignant. Representatives included 24 scientists, philosophers, and theologians. The Vatican delegation was chaired by the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, the sober and very French Cardinal Jean Louis Tauron. The Muslim contingent was chaired by Sheikh Habib Ali al-Jifri -- one of the most influential voices for religious co-existence in the Islamic World -- of Jordan's al-Ahl Beit Institute for Islamic Thought. The Conference, entitled, "Reason, Faith, and Mankind," was dominated by the familiar Catholic-Muslim fault-line over the role of reason and faith in discovering the existence and the nature of God. The essence of this divide largely concerns differing concepts over the nature of man rather than theological doctrinal differences: The Vatican embraces the Judeo-Christian belief in the autonomy of man, his possession of the faculties of free will, and a conscience which counsels him on good and evil and therefore makes him responsible for his choices. This postulates the legitimacy of reason as well as ethics outside the bounds of religion. This is the basis of the appeal to Natural Law: an intelligent, just, and reasoned Creator would not act in opposition to the universal order He had created.
This is not sanctioned by many Muslim theologians. They object, in part, because if they legitimate the role of reason, it minimizes the role of divine revelation, which threatens the belief in the Koran as the divine, eternal, and unchangeable word of God. The Catholic participants floated their approach on a Thomistic (St. Thomas Aquinas) vehicle, which appealed to mankind's innate sense of reason. This faculty separates humankind from the rest of creation. Pope John Paul II in a November 1979 visit to Turkey employed Koranic scripture to underline the natural law and the God-given gift of reason to all humankind: "Allah breathed into man his spirit and endowed him with hearing, sight, and heart."
This millennium-old Vatican belief that one can dialogue even with Muslims was, as St. Thomas counseled, "if you approach them as natural human beings" possessing souls and an innate sense of reason. The delegations were addressed by both King Abdullah II and his Chief Advisor for Religious and Cultural Affairs, Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal. The next meeting is scheduled for Rome in 2013.
The Papacy and Indonesia: Relations with Islam's Most Populous State
The Catholic Church's links with Indonesia are fragile. There were the dark days of Autumn, 1999, when Jakarta was sponsoring paramilitary squads which roamed the streets of East Timor, killing priests and nuns and burning down churches and convents. Jakarta was furious that it was unable to digest the morsel of East Timor that it had swallowed in the invasion of 1975. Catholic Prelate Bishop Carlos Belo, with the full backing of the Vatican, helped keep alive the resistance of the Portuguese-speaking Catholic population. For his extraordinary courage and brilliant negotiating style, Belo was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize for Peace Even after many atrocities by Indonesian military terror squads, Belo counseled his flock to refrain from revenge killings. John Paul II's advice to Catholics to embrace ever more closely their moderate Muslim countrymen, combined with Belo's own diplomatic demeanor, frustrated the strategy by some radical Muslim elements, who attempted to turn this war of liberation into a religious war. Many God-fearing Muslims in Indonesia turned against the extremists, especially after the practice of beheading East Timorese became routine. The alternate strategy of trying to encourage nationalism by tarring the resistance as Christian lackeys of Australia and America also failed.
Upon the independence of East Timor, human rights violations of Catholics decreased across the Indonesian archipelago. Moreover, politically moderate Muslim forces, which still form the majority in Indonesia, seemed to regain their public confidence. Consequently, the Vatican's relations with Jakarta have improved. Much of Muslim mistrust of Christianity is the rapid growth of the faith. Christians now make up about 7% of the Indonesian population. However, there are still occasional instances, as in Sulawesi, of anti-Christian outbursts against which local authorities are slow to react. These attacks usually break out following heated sermons by local mullahs at Friday noon mosque gatherings. Frequently, when these mobs approach their target Christian church for burning, local gendarmes assigned to protect these sites disappear. There is little sign, however, that these incidents of arson are encouraged by central government policy. Culpability lies in the lack of sovereignty and an attitude of indifference.
The Church's Strategy in Malaysia
Christians make up about ten percent of Malaysia's population. They are doubly stigmatized in this nation, as are almost all of the Christians who are ethnically Chinese or Indian. These two ethnic groups, which together comprise about 40 percent of Malaysia's citizenry, have never been socially accepted as "real Malaysians" by many Malays. There were Malay Jihadi warriors in the ranks of Saladin's legions in the late 12th century. Islam is, moreover, the official religion, even though Muslims, most of whom are ethnically Malay, make up only about 60 percent of the country.
The Catholic Church in Malaysia makes no apologies for its presence: it has been there since early 15th century with the arrival of Portuguese and Spanish explorers, traders, and clergy; Catholic clerics first came into contact with Malay Islamic zealotry during the Crusades.
The Church uses Malaysia's civil constitution to check growing Islamic radicalization in the country. In late December 2009, the diocese of Kuala Lumpur petitioned Malaysia's Supreme Court to permit the Catholics to refer to God as Allah. This is an attempt by the Church to win converts to Catholicism more easily. Muslims opposed to this petition see it as a maneuver to get their faithful to leave Islam. On 31 December, the Court overturned a government ban on the use of the word Allah to denote the Christian God. The country's leading Catholic newspaper "The Herald" has aggressively sparked the effort. The local church's strategy is disarming, as it has had the effect of simultaneously challenging the efficacy of the "common Abrahamic-root" model and has forced Muslims to decide whether they really do worship the God of Abraham. Is Allah the Judeo-Christian Yahweh or not? The current Papacy's criticism of the Muslim description of Allah appears to signal the Vatican's differentiation of the Judeo-Christian God from Allah. What really has exacerbated the debate in Malaysia is when Christians refer to Jesus as the Son of Allah. Muslims consider giving Allah partners or progeny the one unforgivable sin of shirk, or polytheism.
Today, the anti-Catholic furor is deepening in Malaysia. There are increased physical attacks on Church property and personnel. Radical Muslims in Malaysia are now using Facebook to mobilize instant jihadi mobs to target any perceived violation of the unofficial second-class-citizen dhimmi regulations to which Christians, Jews, and practitioners of other faiths are expected to adhere. One such mob of about 25,000 helped raid a Church where apostasy of Muslims was rumored to be underway. There are other degrading, dhimmi-like administrative requirements, enforced by local police at the urging of some Imams, such as demanding that Christians submit their names and other identifying data to apply for permission to travel from one Church to another on major feast days. Sometimes, the pressure to force compliance with Sharia comes from higher realms. Late last year, the Sultan of the Malaysian Federation's State of Selangor Sharafuddin Idris Shah al-Hajj "ordered Islamic organizations to take strategic steps against [Christian] proselytism and to collect data to encourage former Muslims to return to Islam."
Pope Benedict, in an attempt to reverse negative trends last summer personally stepped into the crisis in Malaysian-Vatican relations. Pope Benedict invited Malaysian Prime Minister Naji Razak to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. The Holy See and Kuala Lumpur established diplomatic relations. Subsequently, Razak had several positive meetings with Vatican Curia officials.
The Vatican and Pakistan: The Fruits of Martyrdom
While Pakistan theoretically guarantees freedom of worship, legal restrictions and social stigma on them are so severe that it is most difficult to practice any religion other than Islam. There is little doubt that the ultimate goal of some is to asphyxiate all "foreign faiths." Part XV of the Criminal Code, enshrined in Pakistan's constitution, for instance, enumerates the penalties for blasphemy, which range from monetary fines to the death sentence.
Two recent high profile assassinations underscore the entrenched opposition to any amelioration of attitude toward relaxation of the blasphemy laws. Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, was murdered, on 4 January 2011, by his bodyguard for supporting the repeal of the blasphemy codes. The murderer was hailed as a hero, not only by the public, but also by lawyers. Less than two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's only Christian Minister responsible for religious minority affairs, was also assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban on March 2, 2011, for the same "offense." Private Vatican efforts at improving the lot of Pakistan's tiny Catholic minority have been for naught. Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan's population, which translates to about 3 million souls. This is still too many for those Islamists who demand a "Christian Free Zone." Moreover, Pakistan is the only country founded on the basis of Islam; there are no diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Pakistan.
One Catholic priest described how all Christians in Pakistan are treated as dhimmis. After the massive flooding throughout the country several years ago, many Christian students were denied readmission to academic institutions. Others were denied financial support available to Muslim students to help resume their education. Another Catholic cleric outlined the strict rules governing the construction or remodeling of churches: not one additional square foot of Pakistani soil can be employed for construction. Police ostensibly assigned to patrol outside some Christian churches also have the responsibility of reporting on any suspicious activity, such as the attendance of new Pakistani parishioners. After all, if they are newly minted Christians, they are the most likely to be guilty of apostasy and therefore, under Pakistani law, criminals. This virulent intolerance by Pakistani Sunni Salafists is extended to their fellow Muslims of the Shi'i branch of Islam. Assassinations of Shi'a are a daily occurrence in Pakistan, and may well explain why Pakistan was one of only three states which recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks on America.
One can also see in Peshawar, for example, the masochistic tendency rife in the U.S. government and academia: a depraved self-criticism along with a double standard – a harsh one for our allies and another, forgiving and lenient one, for our enemies. This tendency may be rooted in the need, by some, to express impartiality. However, it could just as easily be attributed to an arrogant view that, because we are morally superior, we should be held to a higher standard. This attitude is the reverse of the reciprocity principle upon which the Vatican insists. While giving lip service to the right of freedom of conscience on religious matters, it cedes to Muslims alone the privilege of faith proselytizing. They live under constant threat of bodily harm -- so much for the supposedly protected nature of having a dhimmi status.
Catholicism, Islam, and Africa: The Drive for Supremacy
As one message posted in Africa boasts: Africa will become the first all-Islamic continent. However, it is in Africa that the Catholic Church has found its new spring, and grown fastest in recent decades. Pope Benedict has praised the fresh, enthusiasm of African Catholics. He has even speculated that his immediate successor might be an African. Others in the Curia undoubtedly trust that things will return to "normal," and that the College of Cardinals will elect an Italian.
Some Muslim commentators resent Catholicism's successes in Africa. They accuse Catholic missionaries of compromising their own faith by permitting the continuation of pagan native traditions to win converts. Muslim clerics, however, financed and trained in Saudi Arabia are also fanning out on the continent, with the assigned task of revitalizing the once revered centers of the Islamic faith. The hope is presumably that these radicalized centers will embrace the Wahhabi Sunni sect and launch an aggressive effort to proselytize the rest of Africa. Sunni, Wahhabi websites issue triumphant messages about supposed mass conversions to Islam taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. This of course runs counter to the assumed great geographical, racial divide of desert North Africa and the grasslands of the sub-Saharan portion of the African continent.
Representatives for Muslim advocacy in sub-Saharan Africa describe Islam's attraction to non-Arab Africans. They attest that these peoples are susceptible to Islam as a vehicle for unification and peace in a tribally divided continent. Another Sunni Muslim stated that "We Muslims explain to Africans about how imperial western governments divided them to better control them. We educate Africans on how the Christian religion of their oppressors was part of a plan to render them subservient." Of course, these zealot proselytizers never fail to omit Muslim slave traders who enslaved millions of black Africans during the halcyon days of the Omani-Zanzibar Caliphate on the east coast of Africa. This enterprise contributed massively to the maintenance of slavery in America. Nevertheless, this dark history does not temper some Muslim commentators from issuing hypocritical condemnations of America's having stripped Islam from the memories of its slaves in order to implant the idea of a false Christian concept of obedience to authority. One Muslim writer claims that many of the African slave revolts in the Americas were inspired by Islam.
Another Shi'i Muslim, a language instructor and lexicographer, championed Swahili's contribution to sub-Saharan African cultures by asserting that Swahili was to Arabic as English (as well as French, Spanish, Italian) is to Latin -- disregarding that the Arabic in Swahili represents the language of the conqueror, whether Arabic or English, incorporated into host country's native tongue. Many of the Arabic words adopted by East African Swahili dialects are descriptive of religiously Islamic concepts, as is also true of Hausa, the second most popular tongue in black Africa. Almost all of the Hausa people are Muslim, whether they live in northern Nigeria or Niger, and always live under Sharia [Islamic Law].
These distinctions are reflective of the Pope's cautionary approach to Islam, partly, perhaps, because of its inability to separate the human from the divine, and the political from the spiritual.
Historically, the Arab conquest faltered at the desert's edge where the sands of the Sahara met the grasslands of the Sahel, terrain not conducive to the camel. It is precisely along this divide that a monumental battle for supremacy is shaping up. The struggle is for men's minds and men's souls. The United States has dispatched Special Forces teams to many of African countries in the Sahel in an effort to prevent exploitation of this minimally governed territorial expanse by radical Islamists. Neglected, as we are seeing, it will become a fresh field of cultivation for radical Islam. An extremist incubus here could become a launch point of Islamization of sub-Saharan black Africa.
Nigeria: Bloody Internal Borders
Nigeria, one of the richest and most populous countries in Africa is deeply divided by ethnicity and faith. Shortly after its independence, Nigeria was beset by tribal civil war, a fratricidal struggle precipitated by the southern-based and largely Christian Ibo people's attempt to secede from the union. Now, however, it is the mostly Muslim northern-based Hausa people who are demanding a virtual separate state within the federated republic. At least ten provinces are governed by Sharia, not federal, law. Within this Muslim autonomous entity dwell extremist, Salafi groups, the most vicious of which is the Boko Haram (BK), the epicenter of which is in northeast Nigeria. The BK has developed close ties to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (North Africa), an alliance it publicly announced in mid-February, 2012. The BK also maintains communication with the Somalia-based al-Shabab terrorist organization. While many of the BK's initial victims were their less radical fellow Muslims, these terrorists have now killed hundreds of Christians. Mass shootings and Church burnings have become a frequent occurrence. The BK has now begun to enter Christian schools in northern Nigeria, assassinating teachers in the process. Moreover, the BK is sending its agents into the homes of suspected Christians, dragging them from their domiciles, and murdering them in the street. While the overwhelming majority of these acts of violence are perpetrated by extremist Muslims, media reports often cast the clashes as religious gang fights. Coverage usually focuses on groups of young people, both Christian and Muslim, as being equally to blame. The worst examples of this violence occur in villages of mixed religious persuasion or along Nigeria's divide between Muslim and Christian majority states. This pattern reflects a strategy of religious cleansing, particularly by the BK, a black African ally of al Qaeda. These murders were roundly condemned by Pope Benedict in his 2011 Christmas Day annual speech, "Urbi at Orbi" [To the City and to the World].
The Vatican is aware that Nigeria lies along the geo-religious fault-line of the African continent. If radical Islamists are successful in forcibly purging the northern provinces of its minority Christian populations, Nigeria will be split apart or driven into civil war. It could become a tragic model for the rest of the continent. Consequently, it has mobilized its resources to influence the outcome of the struggle for souls between Islam and Catholic Christianity. However, it seems uncharacteristic that Pope Benedict did not select one African in his latest elevation of 22 Catholic clerics to Cardinal. Perhaps Benedict is awaiting the drama of the moment when he next visits Africa. One likely candidate is Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Ayau, author of the "Nigerian Bishops Appeal" to end the inter-religious strife in Nigeria. Another is the gifted Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, who delivered a poignant radio address after the Christmas Eve massacre of Christians in Nigeria's Niger State. Kukah's Sokoto State diocese was once the heart of West Africa's Sokoto Caliphate. Reportedly, Kukah's sanctity has won the heart of Sokoto's Muslim Imams.
The last two Pontiffs, while on pilgrimage to African countries, have been conciliatory in underscoring both Biblical and Koranic calls to holiness. Pope John Paul II, speaking to a gathering of Nigeria's Muslim clerics, reminded them that, "the Koran calls upon you to excel in good works." Employing the Arabic words for virtue ([l-birr], goodness [al-hsun], and uprightness [al-Salah], the Pontiff referenced the Koran's Sura al-Baqarah, similar in content to Christ's call to holiness on the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee. Catholic and Muslim leaders in Nigeria are doing their best to prevent the radicalization of relations between their communities; it would only strengthen groups such as the Boko Haram.
Ethiopia or Abyssinia: At the Tipping Point?
Probably the most welcomed prize of Muslim political proselytizers on the African continent would be the movement of Ethiopia into the "Dar al-Islam" [The Abode of Islam]. There is a divided view among Muslims of this empire-nation. When Islam was in its infancy and in danger of being strangled in the cradle by the Mecca-based Quereshi family's militia, the Negus of Abyssinia, a Christian, granted Muslims sanctuary. In desperation, Muhammad had dispatched a band of "The Faithful" to ensure the survival of the nascent faith. Remarkably, one of these refugees later became the third caliph of Islam, Uthman ibn Affan. The first Islamic Muezzin, the cleric who summons Muslims to prayer five times a day, was the Abyssinian slave, Bilal, bought by the Uncle of the Messenger [Muhammad], and Successor to the Prophet Abu Bakr. These same Abyssinians were probably the "People of the Elephant" [Ashab al-Fil] whose attack upon pre-Islamic Mecca was supposedly turned back through Allah's intervention.
Moreover, Ethiopia has been the one regional Christian power that has long frustrated the advance of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula as it attempted to secure the Islamization of East Africa. Muslim potentates' frustration at their failure in Ethiopia occasioned one mid-19th century local ruler to appeal to the Shia Fatamid, Caliph of Egypt, to assist in a jihad to Islamicize northern Abyssinia.
Ethiopia also became the center of militant Orthodox Christianity, which possessed just enough power to check the combined strength of the pro-Islamic vectors of the Oman-Zanzibar empire, based on slave-trade, and Yemenite Islam. It was the Amhara tribe's Christian Orthodox royal families who launched Christian assaults against East African Muslim peoples. It was, for instance, Emperor Tewdros, "the Slave of Christ," who secured a great Christian victory at Wallo in 1855; followed by the establishment of a Christian alliance in 1878 between Emperor Yohannes of Tigre and King Menelik of Shala. Their combined strength allowed them to dictate to Ethiopia's Muslims an ultimatum to convert to Christianity within a two-year period. During this time, many Muslims were killed; hundreds of mosques were transformed into churches, and much of Muslim clerically-owned property, seized. Additionally, most madrassahs (Islamic religious schools for boys) were shuttered in an attempt to prevent the passing of Islam to the next generation.
In mid to late 20th century, Ethiopia continued to be an obstacle to Islamic expansion in the Horn of Africa. It was Addis Ababa, under the Amhara Emperor Haile Selassie, and later the pro-Soviet Communist government of the Dergue military junta, which expropriated land in the Ogaden desert region -- previously been considered by Muslims to be Islamic -- from Muslim Somalia. In contemporary times, Ethiopian troops again have been deployed inside the failed state of Somalia. This Ethiopian insertion came at a critical moment, and has been credited with preventing the triumph of militant Muslim groups seizing total control of Somalia – an act for which the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab terrorist organization has vowed unholy vengeance against Ethiopia's rulers.
Militants' hopes are buoyed, however, as Ethiopia's population now appears to have reached a point where statistics increasingly indicate that an emerging Muslim population majority. The largely Muslim Oromo people easily make up 40% of the population, dominating the Ethiopian states of Ifat, Fatagar,Waji, Hadiyya, Dawro, and Bali.
There are two additional reasons why African Muslim leaders would be pleased to see the Ethiopian flag fly at the headquarters of the Organization of Islamic Countries in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One resembles the Holocaust survivors' collective cry of "Never Again." Orthodox atrocities meted out to Muslims in the aftermath of one particular military victory in 1879 were so brutal that they are still recalled today by the Oromo as "Baru Harka fi Harma Murra Anole" [The Year of Hand and Breast Cutting]. Another reason is that Ethiopia is perceived by some to be Israel's closest collaborator on the African continent ever since Israel rescued thousands of Ethiopian Jews along an air-bridge.
So where does the Vatican enter this imbroglio? For centuries, Catholic missionaries were banned from proselytizing in Orthodox Ethiopian lands. Since the eclipse of the Amhara imperial house and the de-coupling of Orthodox Church-State alliance, Catholic clerical and lay teachers and preachers have been active, especially among the Oromo, about two-thirds of whom are Muslim. Neither Orthodox nor Islamic centers of influence are pleased with this Vatican initiative. Missionaries assigned to Ethiopia are being trained in the Oromo rather than the Amhara, mother tongue of the Orthodox imperial past. Moreover, within the walls of Vatican City is the ancient Ethiopian College. Pope Benedict has been keeping close ties with the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abuna Poulos. While their progress is resented, the present Ethiopian regime remains heavily dependent upon Western assistance for survival. Consequently, Addis Ababa has not erected obstacles to "freedom of conscience" conversions.
Vatican Commentary on Islamic Doctrine May Derail Dialogue
The fear of a rapid deterioration in relations might well be the primary reason why the Vatican has thoroughly warned against theological dialogue with Islamic scholars. Catholic high prelates believe that theological common ground is not possible between Christianity and Islam. However, logic demands that because these two faiths increasingly meet along bloody borders, communication in all dimensions must improve.
There are some within both camps who want to force a showdown discussion, replicating the appearance of Moses before the Egyptian Pharaoh, or when St. Patrick employed the Irish shamrock to explain the three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity. Muslims have their own version of a similar defining moment, cited in Chapter 3, Verse 61 of the Koran. This confrontation is reported to have taken place at the Mosque of the Prophet in 10 A.H. (632 A.D.) when Muslim and Christian Arabians from Najran prepare to test their God. However, before the actual test, the Christians supposedly back down.
Some of the questions, which the Vatican, Curia, and Clerical Orders have consciously avoided answering, include: Is Islam a revelatory religion? If so, what role does Islam play in the evolutionary process of providential revelation? If the Jews are our "elder brothers" in the process of revelation, what spiritual relationship do we share with Muslims? Is Allah Yahweh? Do we worship the same one true God? Is Mohammad a Prophet? Was he even a good man? A frank Vatican response to any of these questions will elicit the same type of response as did the Pontiff's lecture at Regensburg. An honest response to all of them would likely ignite violent anti-Christian uprisings the world over.
There are, nevertheless, some who feel no obligation to wait for the Vatican to decide when the time is right to offer responses to these questions. Also, how should we look upon those who lack the Vatican's restraint? Are they hate-filled incendiaries like their counterparts in the lands of Islam, who persecute any public display of other faiths? Or are they intrepid souls who love "the truth" more than they fear the consequences of its propagation? Although there are those who have described the Koran as a massive mix of forgery and stolen ideas from Judaism and Christianity, and those who insist that Muhammad was a power-crazed charlatan, mass murdering womanizer and child molester. But it is not likely that you will find any within the Holy See to voice these opinions.
Vatican Embrace of Muslim Believers in Salvation History
Some Muslims believe that the Koran condemns to hell all "People of the Book" -- Jews and Christians -- who have rejected Islam after having been presented with "The Truth." However, the Catholic Church at the highest level has accepted sincere Muslims as incorporated into the divine plan of salvation. In The Encyclical Lumen Gentium, Pope Paul VI endorsed as reality that "both religions worship the one true God." Moreover, Pope John Paul II came the closest to bridging some theological chasms when he praised the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, without mentioning Mecca or the Kaaba. He lauded the transformative powers of pilgrimages in both faiths. John Paul endorsed the pilgrimage as an instrument used by God to create a spiritual environment for pilgrims "to embrace contrition and seek forgiveness for sin." These comments were made more meaningful as they were uttered in the presence of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at the al-Aqsa Mosque. Later, in the encyclical "Redemptoris Anno" [The Year of Redemption], Pope John Paul II acknowledged the significance of "al-Qods" ("The Holy," meaning, to Muslim believers, Jerusalem). However, he avoided passing judgment on the veracity of the Miraj, or the Night of Power, when Muhammad was ushered into Allah's presence by the Archangel Gabriel.
Defending the Faith
After the failure of John Paul's effort to persuade European Union bureaucrats of the virtue of citing Europe's Christian roots in the EU's Constitutional Preamble, Ratzinger, as the "Pope's Rottweiler," began to plot a return from Elba. In this vein, the Pope has called for a "creative minority" to arise in Europe to defend the legacy of Christian civilization. Benedict's sense of history is such that he believes that an "inspired remnant" is all that is needed to mobilize enough will and energy to derail Islam's political express.
Some Concluding Observations
The Vatican knows well the costs of tempering the threat of totalitarian systems. It does not want to err by doing too little, too late, again. Even now, European Christianity appears mortally wounded. Too close an embrace of Islam might incapacitate a call to arms to defend Christianity against this ancient, heathen threat.
The Vatican overview of Islam remains divided. On one level, the Vatican sees an ally, a monotheistic partner, a people of faith. It calculates that Muslims can help stem the tide of secularism, atheistic materialism, moral relativism, intolerant humanism, consumerism, and the one-dimensional concept of mankind. On another level, the Holy See views Islam as its universal rival, its only viable contender for the souls of men. Both of these views exert pressure on Vatican policy makers. Ultimately, the Vatican may be forced to choose one perception over the other and act upon it. As the victims of anti-Christian attacks mount, one hopes that the Church will come down on the side of self-preservation.
That would be a huge and precarious step for the Vatican to take: it would be chastised by every advocate for Abrahamic religious harmony and condemned by every apologist for Muslim intolerance. However, the alternative is also costly: an uncertain or muffled trumpet might fail to arouse the faithful in time to rejuvenate or defend a reduced Judaic-Christian Civilization. Already, Pope Benedict has already drawn a boundary for Catholic Bishops, Curia bureaucrats and "let's play dialogue" theologians: There will be no collapse into doctrinal "unity" with Islam's theologians. The Vatican will undoubtedly move decisively, if gingerly, at first, to discipline those within the Church who run counter to this policy. And there will be some who do. These aberrations are likely to materialize when Catholic clergy, in discussions with Muslims, disingenuously craft conciliatory fantasies that can have the effect of blurring doctrinal differences in the process.
The Holy See has already gone the distance in accommodating Islamic sensitivities over historical clash and perceived offense. There will most likely be no more "mea culpas" for the Crusades, no more apologies, after Papal lectures, for offending the feelings of Muslims.
Nevertheless, dialogue between Muslims and Catholics will continue on several levels. These discussions, however, will probably concern schemes on which the two faiths can cooperate on the world stage, such as disaster relief operations and bio-ethical issues.
Church hierarchical structures realize that theological chasms are too vast to suggest that more substantive cooperation might emerge. The Vatican may well assume that theologically-loaded agendas for discussions will generate more heat than light. Therefore the Papacy will most likely be disinclined to agree on any agenda containing fault-line issues, such as the Holy Trinity and the Tawhid [the unique oneness of Allah] or the Gospels and the Koran, or an analysis of the personalities of Jesus and Muhammad.
The current pontiff, Pope Francis I, like his predecessor Benedict, is keenly aware that Catholicism in Western Europe is waning and Islam is ascendant. Conversion to Islam by fallen-away Catholics is a particularly worrisome development. Muslim proselytizing is aggressively pursued while the Church strives to be politically correct. The Vatican still is loath to initiate a "Crie de Coeur" [a Cry from the Heart] for fear of eliciting an outburst of Islamic indignation and secular condemnation of the Church's intolerance.
Pope Benedict, like all recent Pontiffs, preferred to exercise private pressure on Islamic-led governments to combat the increased intolerance, which some believers in Muslim-majority countries have displayed toward Christian minorities. These sessions, for the most part, will be conducted at the diocesan level with local bishops and government officials of the country in question. With the triumphs of the "Arab Spring" revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, anti-Christian attacks have increased. The Vatican realizes that both it and its flock are more vulnerable in countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and Tunisia, where fallen dictators once protected minority Christian worshipers.
The Holy See's diplomatic personnel are shrewd realists with a centuries-old catalogue of lessons learned. Papal representatives and local bishops report back regularly regarding state-to-state pleas for protecting Christian minorities. These initiatives, especially in archipelago Southeast Asia, in Indonesia and Malaysia, are harvesting diminishing returns. Everyone is aware that in some instances, this amounts to official indifference. However, even where there is sincere cooperation, as in the Philippines, the question of insufficient sovereignty remains. The Vatican views Islam's renewed sense of self-confidence as giving more power to local Imams in Muslim-majority locales at the expense of state power.
Pope Francis, despite his seeming pacifist predilections, may be forced by events to mount his pulpit in St. Peter's Square. He may have been chagrined when even his timid remarks on the persecution of Egypt's Christian Copts elicited a fusillade of Muslim institutional recrimination. As the "Vicar of Christ" on earth, and direct successor to St Peter, he cannot engage in self-censorship much longer.
Moreover, the Vatican's past temperate handling of totalitarian threats offers a valuable lesson: not to defend vigorously the smallest minority under assault by the enemies of liberty is a self-inflicted wound; it merely postpones the inevitable knock on the door for the majority, as well.
The Vatican is deeply sensitive and un-accepting that anti-Christian incidents have also occurred in nominally Christian majority societies. The pattern is also apparent in African countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria, where neither Christianity nor Islam is a clear majority.
Initial signs of a "Vatican Voltafaccia", or about-face, are likely to emerge on the African continent. However, Africa is where Catholicism at the turn of the millennium was winning converts at a rapid rate. In fact, Christianity is winning converts there at twice the rate of Islam. Some Sub-Saharan African Cardinals are enthusiastically evangelizing their countrymen. They also seem preferred to their aggressive Muslim counterparts and are disinclined to leave the field to Islamic proselytizers. A few of these Cardinals are even looked upon as "papabile," those judged by their colleagues as probable contenders in any future papal elections.
Pope Benedict will likely address the anti-Christian violence during his next pilgrimage to Catholic communities on the African continent. That will be his "Solidarity Moment," named after his predecessor's visits to Communist-controlled Poland.
A papal encyclical lends credence to this conclusion. Benedict's "Africe Munus" [The Church in Africa], contains a bluntly worded message to Muslim communities in Africa. Benedict leaves no doubt about his demand for Muslims to implement the principle of reciprocity. He warns that there can be no substitute for reconciliation, justice, and peace in Africa. He insists that as prerequisites for improved Christian-Islamic relations in Africa, there must genuine freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This last demand is code for Muslims to refrain from persecuting former co-religionists who become Christians. Pope Benedict also laid down a marker against punishment of apostates from Islam. The most symbolic testament to this decision was his public embrace of a prominent Italian journalist and convert from Islam to Catholicism at the Easter Vigil Mass at the Vatican in 2010. Until that moment, Magdi Allam had been living in hiding following death threats for his apostasy for the previous several years.
Discussing his conversion to Catholicism, Allam states incredulously: "In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their new faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us."
This Papacy will expend a good deal more energy attempting to heal the millennium old cleavage with Orthodox Christianity. Benedict will also engage in ecumenical efforts with Lutheran and Anglican Protestantism. Both of these commitments are part of a long-range effort to consolidate Christian strength in Europe to withstand the double assault of illiberal secularism and radical Islam.
High Profile Atrocities Forcing Policy Changes
The recent increase in anti-Christian "incidents" in majority-Muslim countries defines a clearly murderous trend. Yet, the Vatican response inexplicably remains muted. While recent hate-motivated murders beg for specific condemnation, the pontiff's references have been general and indirect. Even when darkness has struck in the heart of Europe, as in the massacre of Jewish children in Toulouse, the Vatican response has been uncharacteristically non-specific. Father Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office, merely described the Toulouse atrocity as "a horrible and ignominious act."
The Vatican's failure to acknowledge the connection between the exodus of Christians from the Mideast and acts of Islam-inspired terrorism may be motivated by a desire not to further hatred. However, these movements mirror the similar historic pattern of purist intolerance which drove the ancient Jewish populations of the Middle East from their native climes to Israel, North America, and Europe; and the silence with which these deeds were greeted served only to escalate the persecution.
Pope Benedict's temperate statements were not evidence of a policy of appeasement. Nor does the Vatican's caution indicate a lack of will to resist. The Church knows too well the consequences of showing passivity in the face of abject aggression. However, the unintended consequence of a perceived tentative attitude will be to invite greater boldness on the part of those who believe that Islam is destined to dominate the globe. Muslim extremists consider dhimmi status to be the only existence permissible for non-Muslims in an Islamic world.
Pope Benedict's closest approach to a response came during his 2012 Easter Sunday "Urbi et Orbi" address in St. Peter's Square, when he prayed for those in Nigeria who had been subjected to terrorist violence:
"To Nigeria, which in recent times has experienced savage terrorist attacks, may the joy of Easter grant the strength needed to take up anew the building of a society which is peaceful and respectful of the religious freedom of its citizens."
These words were uttered after Muslim extremists had celebrated Easter by killing 67 more Christians during religious services in Kaduna State and elsewhere in Nigeria.
Perhaps the 85-year-old pontiff wishes to refrain from particular criticism which would invite accusations of "Islamophobia" from Muslim leaders. Perhaps it is time for the Vatican to demand reciprocal public condemnations from the same Islamic clerics who objected to the Pope's remarks at Regensburg. If the Pontiff's pleas are met with silence or lukewarm commentary, it will underscore the hypocrisy of those Islamist ideologues that employ political correctness as a tactic to neutralize opposition to their own aggressive behavior.
Benedict might do well to seek counsel from the prayerful wisdom of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. In a once-private meditation uttered on 21 April 1981, John Paul called for the individual "in the midst of oppression to pray in silence, bear with patience, invoke pardon and conversion for those who persecute you." However, only two days later, staring down the threatening rhetoric of Moscow's and Soviet-controlled Polish authorities at Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Poland's holiest Catholic shrine, he invoked the example of Slavic Saint Woitech Adalbert, saying, "Be swift to defend with force the dignity and the rights of every man against the oppressions and vexations of the powerful."
Departing Benedict Hints at More Sober Relations with Islam
In his penultimate pilgrimage, Benedict laid the foundations for a more nuanced relationship with the Muslim World. He prepared the ground for his successor to adopt a realistic approach toward Islam. That policy will require Muslims to take responsibility for the violent behavior of their faithful. It also will demand that Islamic leaders scrupulously implement the principle of reciprocity. If this does not happen, the stage will be set for an acrimonious relationship between the Vatican and Islam.
It was inevitable the other papal slipper would drop following the failure of post-Regensburg efforts to restore the veneer of normalcy between the Vatican and Islamdom. Even apologists for an entente between Islam and the secular world realize that the rhetoric of the common Abrahamic root between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam no longer obscures unsettling trends.
The flood of Christians fleeing their ancestral homelands in the Muslim-dominated Middle East has accelerated at a rate which, if not slowed, world reduce the Church of the East to an historical memory. The frequency of episodes of organized violence visited upon Christians in Muslim lands throughout the world required the Holy See to adopt a more direct and public posture on the issue. It is now known that the Bishops of the Middle East frequently have implored the Vatican to give more attention to their persecuted flocks in Muslim lands. These entreaties led to Benedict's decision directly to address the faithful in Lebanon last September. Despite apprehension among some within the Curia that such a course risked making a bad situation worse, Pope Benedict honored the pleas of his Bishops.
He moved deliberately, but decisively, announcing in late 2009 that a special Synod of Catholic Church experts on the Middle East would be convened in 2010. Consequently, for 15 days that October, hand-selected bishops from the Arab Middle East, leaders of Eastern Rite Catholic communities in union with Rome, and Vatican orientalists met in Rome. The Synod drafted 41 propositions for the Pope to consider for adoption.
These propositions reflected the views of both Curia factions on the Catholic Church's ties to Islam. The proposals included the views of those who still favored continued, unrestricted access to the Islamic world. That camp was tempered by those high clerics who remain concerned about the increased intolerance exhibited by some Muslims in Islamic states.
The Synod's propositions also included an appeal for Christians to settle millennium-old jurisdictional disputes over religious sites in the Holy Land. In his Exhortation, Benedict also warned that excessive nationalism among the region's various ethnic groups would politicize the Catholic faith, emptying it of theological substance.
Finally, a few bishops attempted to persuade the Pontiff to deliver a significant statement on Israeli-Palestinian issues. Although he refused to do so, he did lament publicly upon the mass exodus of Christians from the Holy Land. But Benedict did not submit to the pressure exerted by some to lay the blame for that exodus at the door of Israel's relations with Arab states in the region. Benedict's refusal to capitulate on this issue constitutes the Catholic Church's rejection of the thesis that the main reason for Christian Palestinian emigration is Israeli policy in the West Bank. Sadly, the primary reason for the exodus of Christian Palestinians is the hostility of their fellow Muslim Palestinians.
Benedict gave no hint of how he was weighing the efficacy of the Synod's propositions before his visit. However, his efforts resulted in the formulation of a policy document that laid the groundwork for a new official Vatican policy in the Middle East. This new policy was articulated in the document on the last day of the papal visit to Lebanon in mid-September, 2012.
He did so during an open-air Mass along the Beirut waterfront, attended by nearly a half-million faithful from Levantine and Mesopotamian Christian communities. Most of the attendees at the Mass were from Lebanon. However, there were also pockets of Catholics from Syria, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. Some even came from as far as Egypt. The document is a 91-page apostolic exhortation to Catholics in the Middle East, entitled: "The Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness". In Vatican diplomatic parlance, the title of the exhortation reveals its essence. The document counsels Christians in the region to pursue two objectives. One is to move toward unity in face of the common danger. The second is for the faithful to remain in their lands and suffer the torments of those who hate the Faith. There is no doubt about what the common danger is and who the haters of the Faith are. This is stern parlance indeed in Vatican-speak. Pope Benedict is counseling his flock to endure martyrdom at the hands of extremist Muslims.
The first concern is a call for unity under Rome of all of the national rites in the Mideast: Armenian, Greek Catholic, Syrian Melkite, Lebanese Maronite, etc. However, the document also warns of the danger of excessive identification with political movements of the aforementioned national rites, identification which erodes doctrinal unity. Moreover, the Pope warns religious leaders of Uniate rites with too close an alliance with a particular national culture lead inevitably to a politicizing of the Faith as well as diminution in the numbers and trust of the Faithful.
While other factors like Muslim military power and intolerance also played a role, it could not have transpired without too close a post-Pagan Rome's relationship with the Catholic Church. He acknowledges, with the language of lament, the Great Schism of 1054 A.D., which resulted in a millennium of estrangement between Rome and Byzantium, crystallizing in Christendom's division into Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Left for the faithful to infer is that disunity leads to disaster, hence the schism between Latin and Greek Christendom. The Vatican knows well the self-destructive outcome when religion becomes indistinguishable from the machinery of the state. The fusion of Christianity and the Roman state, which began with Emperor Constantine in 303 A.D, made Christendom easy prey for Islamic zealots in North Africa. The disappearance of Christian North Africa was, in large part, a direct consequence of this fusion with state power. After Constantine overcame his pagan rivals and became Emperor, he made Christianity the state religion. This weakened Christianity when confronted with armed Islamic onslaught under the Damascus-based Umayyad Dynasty. This in turn, led to the virtual disappearance of the early churches of Asia Minor with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Benedict's exhortation to the Christians of Mesopotamia and the Levant is not to flee their ancient communities. He asks those who have already become refugees, to return to their lands. In the exhortation, Benedict counsels these Christians not to abandon their cultures. The text claims that the region would no longer be the historic Middle East if it became monochromatic, and only safe for the faithful of one faith (Islam). This was an indirect shot across the Islamic bow as ancient Jewish communities of the region have already been cleansed from Arab lands.
Message to Muslims
The Exhortation, however, addresses other audiences and stresses additional themes. For instance, the document contains a clear message to Muslims that the Christian presence in the Middle East, is at least, as legitimate as that of the followers of Muhammad and older by half a millennium. Moreover, as all of the first followers of Christ were Jewish-Christians, he claims Jerusalem as the patrimony of Christendom. He reminds Muslims and Christians alike that this "Chosen Land" which gave birth to the earliest of Christian communities belongs to no one faith alone.
The theological dimension of the exhortation is perhaps the most emphatic recognition in recent times of doctrinal competition between Christianity and Islam. The pontiff reminds Muslims that Christians too claim divine origin of their faith. He posits that the personage of Christ is the perfect model for all humanity.
There is no mention of Muhammad. There is only the oft-repeated perfunctory phrase "We esteem Muslims." Moreover, the text contains a reminder to Muslims that Christianity will continue to pursue its universal mission to bring the message of the Christ to all. This is a reiteration of the post-Resurrection charge which Christ gave his apostles to go forth and teach all nations. In fact, it was the first time that Jesus made it clear that his message included non-Jews. St. Peter followed up in his famous epistle which urges the early Christian communities to spread the message of Christ to the farthest ends of the earth and to the hearts of men and women, even where the darkness is deepest. It is this claim of universality which renowned scholar of the Middle East Bernard Lewis asserts will continue to bring Christianity and Islam into conflict.
After underscoring the historical legitimacy of Christianity in the region, this document of exhortation takes the offensive regarding the intolerance of radical Muslims toward their minority Christian cohabitants. The Holy Father makes it clear that second class citizenship is not good enough. The document asserts that it does not suffice merely to tolerate minorities, and that only full citizenship is satisfactory. This statement is a definitive rejection of Koranic doctrine that requires dhimmi status for all non-Muslims in Dar al-Islam.
Pope Benedict then presses his offensive, targeting still another Islamic doctrine by demanding freedom of conscience for all men and women. This is where the document is suffused with the language of challenge to Muslim rule, even within Dar al-Islam. This is a direct assault on the efficacy and justice of Sharia (Islamic law) as the measure of what God (Allah) supposedly wants for his creatures. This challenge should remind the reader, whether Christian or Muslim, of the central message of Benedict's 2006 Regensburg lecture. The attributes of a just god must include reason. Even his will is limited by the freedom of choice he gave to his creatures. The pope demands that all men and women must have freedom of conscience, including the right to change their religion. This assertion was underscored by the high profile baptism of former Muslim journalist Magdi Allam at a March 22, 2008 Easter Vigil Mass in the Vatican.
The exhortation publicly repeats its heretofore low-key criticism of the failure of Muslim clerical and political leaders to embrace the principle of reciprocity. Many Church leaders are exasperated at the lack of tolerance shown Christian minorities in majority Muslim lands. Those close to the Pope now insist that Islamic leaders reciprocate the equal treatment given Muslims in Christian majority countries. This is not the case, especially on the Arabian Peninsula. There are almost no Churches in Arabia and millions of Christians are forced to attend services in private homes. Moreover, they are harassed by morals police, and forbidden to display any public sign or participate in any public activity that would identify them as Christian. This is particularly a problem within the Arab Gulf States of Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Benedict writes that religious freedom also includes the right to public worship. This reference is to the restrictions placed upon all non-Muslims in Islamic lands to confine their services to inside permitted premises. There follows a demand by Benedict that millions of Christian believers be permitted to exercise this fundamental right on the Arabian Peninsula.
Addressing Islamic Terrorists
The most severe language in the exhortation, however, is saved for violent extremists who profess to act in the name of religion. He excoriates the violent fundamentalists who would sow the seeds of discord among the Children of Abraham. This is an unmistakable reference to both Jew and Christian as dual victims of Islamic radicals. The document, labels these so-called holy warriors, as liars. The Exhortation states that these extremists are not true believers in any faith. It asserts that no faith can excuse the murder of innocents. He calls upon these same extremists to accept the existing world order rather than to attempt to replace it with their own version. Benedict instructs that inalienable human rights trump all differences among religion. Benedict made it clear that no matter how passionate practitioners of any religion may be, there is no sanction for persecution.
Sermonizing the Faithful
In addressing the faithful, even the most devout of Christians in the Middle East must have swallowed hard. Essentially, the Pontiff calls upon the faithful to endure. He reminds them that intrinsic to the Christian life is one's sharing in the Cross of Christ. He warns them not to fall
into the trap of hoping for a political messiah to remove from their shoulders the burden of persecution. He offers them the same scriptural solace that Peter, the first pope and leader of the Jerusalem Church, gave to the earliest of Christian communities in Asia Minor, who were then undergoing severe persecution. Benedict repeats Peter's words: "to have no fear of those who hate you because I have seen the Risen Christ and that he who suffers and maintains belief saves his soul for all eternity." Benedict urges the faithful to embrace the confidence of a church that has endured over time, despite human failings, because the Faith was divinely instituted. Finally, he tells the Christians of the Islamic East to continue to evangelize, despite the intolerance from Muslims that this will engender. He adds that the best manner in which to evangelize amidst persecution is by the example of living a Christian life. Finally, he gives them some hope of redress by promising to focus the energies of the universal church upon their plight. He hints at his agenda to safeguard their collective wellbeing by bringing their situation before the United Nations under the auspices of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Apostolic Exhortation and the Jews
Benedict embraces the imagery of his predecessor Pope John Paul II in referencing the Jews. He refers to them as "The Root.". The Exhortation dwells on the Jewishness of the earliest Christian communities. He writes glowingly of the noble alloy produced by the moral values of Jews and Christians. He salutes this meld as having been responsible for the birth and expansion of civilization.
Purposeful Omissions of the Exhortation
There were no more Papal mea culpas for past Christian excesses. There were no apologies for the Crusades. There was no plea for understanding, nor were there any additional explanations concerning the Regensburg lecture.
The Exhortation contained no moral judgment of Israel regarding its occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). This lack of condemnation of Israel, along with the omission of past statements of moral equivalency between Arab terrorism against civilians and Israeli occupation of the West Bank, underscores the waning of the Arabist faction within the Curia. This omission also highlights the evolution of Benedict's analysis of worldly dynamics. He apparently has been chastened by the growing ferocity of extremist Muslim persecutions of Christians in Islamic lands.
This document is not, however, a call to arms, nor is it evidence of a panic-stricken hierarchy over the rapidly reducing numbers of Arab Christians in the Middle East. It is indicative of a passive aggressive posture, a declaration that "we shall not be moved."
Talking to the True Believers in Islam
Benedict, employing some of the phraseology of dialogue with Islamic leaders made familiar in past papal documents calls upon Muslims of good will to continue to work together in the social service area. The Pontiff reminds Muslims that the Christian and Islamic communities have long cooperated on charitable matters and that they traditionally have shared social welfare and medical facilities. Many Muslims in the Levant bring their sick and impaired relatives to Christian institutions, just as Arab Palestinians do in Israel. The Holy Father on the final day of his pilgrimage on the Beirut waterfront proclaimed that service is a foundational element of the identity of the followers of Christ. He strongly implies that service transcends political and religious differences. Archbishop Louis Sako of the Catholic Chaldean Church of Iraq comments that the Pope in a private meeting with the Catholic hierarchy in the Mideast had urged them to pray for Muslims and love them, as all are brothers.
Catholic Hierarchy Identifying the Threat
In contrast to the diplomatic language of the Exhortation and in the sessions leading to its final draft, Benedict was treated to several unvarnished assessments of the state of the Church in the Muslim Middle East. The following comments represent the true feelings of the shepherds for their flocks:
One of the more colorful comments was recently uttered by Fouad Twal, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, who said that the Holy Land is on the brink of becoming a spiritual Disneyland replete with glittering spiritual attractions but without flesh and blood Christians.
The most accusatory comment was delivered by Thomas Meram, the Iranian Archbishop of Urmya. Quoting from a Psalm of King David, Meram said: "For you we are massacred every day." He added: "Every day Christians hear it said from the loudspeakers, from the television, from the newspapers, that they are infidels, and for this reason they are treated as second class citizens."
There also have been several statements from the Catholic hierarchy to seize the theological offensive in the face of growing Muslim intolerance. A most courageous commentary during the meetings leading up to the draft of the Exhortation was that of the current Chaldean-Catholic Archbishop of Tehran, Ramzi Garmou. He called for a renewed emphasis on proselytizing. He stated that a new missionary impulse is vital to overcoming the ethnic barriers that threaten to strangle the churches of the East. Equally intrepid was the statement of the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Luxor, Egypt, Youhannes Zakaria, who said: "Despite the dangers, we must not hesitate to follow the mandate of Our Lord to preach his gospel everywhere."
Benedict also addressed the plight of the migrant millions of Catholics who have taken up residence in the Arabian Peninsula as service and manual labor workers. Synodal statements indicate that this figure is approaching three million. Another Vatican estimate, that the total migrant Catholic worker population in the region now totals eight million, is startling indeed. This number approaches half the total number of Catholics throughout the entire Middle East. The Catholic Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, claims that in order to gain entry visas to Arabian Peninsular states, thousands of Ethiopian women have had to change their Christian names to Muslim names. He wrote that they are forced to wear veils while they are there, and states that in effect, Christian women are coerced into publicly renouncing their roots. He lamented that these Christian women are subject to widespread exploitation and abuse. The Syro-Malabar Indian Bishop, Bosco Puthur, described the fate that these migrants must endure as bitter, on any scale of civil and religious liberty.
Pro-Arab Prelates: A Diminished Minority
The Catholic hierarchical element that still labels Israel as the regional provocateur generating displaced anti-Christian sentiment among Muslims has diminished in number and influence. During the October 2010 Synod, this group had little presence inside the Vatican convocation. Some did not even receive an invitation from Benedict to attend the Synod. Those who were invited, such as the anti-Israeli firebrand Michael Sabbah, found little sympathy for his placing blame on the "foreign entity" (Israel) for the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Moreover, "His Beatitude" Sabah was forced to carry on his activities to outside the Catholic Church. Sabbah, along with a Greek Orthodox Bishop, Atallah Hanna, and the Lutheran Bishop of Jerusalem, Munib Younan, had spearheaded the drafting, in 2009, of "Kairos: A Moment of Truth." This document calls the Israeli occupation of the territories a sin against God and humanity. It also blames the West for displacing its guilt for the Holocaust by creating Israel in the first place. Younan also dispatched a copy of the Kairos document to the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva. The authors may have employed a degree of subterfuge in affixing some names as signatories who had not entirely read its content. This appears to be true for the Custodian of the Holy Land, the Franciscan friar Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and may also have been so for others.
Vatican Resistance to Religious Cleansing
The Holy See does not have to prove that an Islamist central nervous system is promoting a global policy of confessional cleansing within Islamic lands. It has only to view the facts on the ground. It has only to recall the "purification" of Arab lands of Jewish populations. Though Jews were resident in the region long before the birth of Christianity within a few decades following the establishment of the State of Israel, these communities were virtually no more. Christian communities in the Mideast appear destined to share the same fate as the region's Jews. The trajectory of trends is so ominous that, in the near future, Christians in the Holy Land will be reduced to virtual invisibility.
The Vatican is being forced to make a decision that will cost blood, treasure, and good will, no matter what course it takes. If the Vatican does not build upon the foundation laid down by Benedict in Beirut, the Christian faithful will be driven out of their natural habitat. Before this becomes a reality, many clergy and lay people will be martyred. Moreover, if the Vatican lacks the moral courage to publicly resist with utmost vigor, local Catholic communities will move to protect themselves. This is already underway in the Muslim-dominated north in Nigeria, northern Mali and within the Islamic Mindanao region of the Philippines.
We should expect the shepherd to become increasingly vocal in defense of his sheep in the coming months. With his apostolic exhortation Communion and Witness, Benedict has staked out a public and incontrovertible position. Those in the Church who will accept peace at any price will not prevail in Vatican policy-making toward the Islamic world. It appears that legal scholar and author Andrew McCarthy is correct that there are those among the educated elite of the West who embrace peace above all. There are also many within the Catholic clerical and lay intellectual elite who still believe in the efficacy of a "Just War", a doctrine long ago blessed by the Church to do combat against intrinsic evil. Just months before his resignation Benedict made some moves that indicate that the Vatican is planning a counter-offensive against Islamic proselytizing inside states which were once the dominant region of Catholic Christianity. In late September, he began to pray in Arabic at the traditional Wednesday greeting to pilgrims to the Vatican. The Holy See has recently increased its Arabic language broadcasting. A Papal address to the United Nations General Assembly decrying radical Muslim anti-Christian pogroms might be an option that the Vatican will consider. However, due to the election of the new Pope, Francis I, it may be some time before there are any papal initiatives directed at the Muslim world.
Post-Benedict Vatican and Islam
When the fanfare of the selection of the new Pope recedes, the Vatican may sooner or later be pressured to address again the intensified targeting of Christians by Jihadist Muslims. This time, however, the response is likely to be more vigorous, but only after a period of attempts at cooperation. Within the College of Cardinals, apparently a consensus is forming that it is time for the Catholic Church to take the offensive against radical Islam. This consensus is being fueled by two separate constituencies within the Vatican: the Italian bloc of Cardinals that supported the candidacy of the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Scola, and the Cardinals of Africa led by Peter Turkson. It will not be diluted with the rhetoric of political correctness. There were "straw in the wind" signs that the Holy See might have been re-evaluating its passive profile regarding anti-Christian atttacks by Muslim extremists before Benedict's announced resignation. These indicators served to educate and sensitize the Curia hierarchy to the global phenomenon of extremist violence against Christian minorities in Muslim majority countries. Certainly, this is the view of the former Vatican City Administrator and now Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. It is too early in the papacy of Pope Francis to determine if the Vatican Diplomatic Corps will adopt a more assertive posture toward Islamic intolerance.
The clearest sign of a Vatican policy change toward the Muslim world was encapsulated by Benedict's September, 2012 release of the document, "Exhortation to the Catholics of the Middle East." There have been less definitive hints that a substantive change in Curia attitudes toward co-existence with Islam was underway. For instance, in October, Cardinal Turkson, Chair of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace delivered a lecture on the self-destructive tendencies of the West. He characterized Europe's post-Christian proclivities as embracing a culture of death. Turkson, from Ghana, warned that Europe has entered a period of irreversible demographic decline. He warned that this trend was juxtaposed by the rapid expansion of European-based Muslim population growth. He added that when combined with immigration from Muslim lands to continental Europe, the process of Islamization of the population is accelerating. Turkson showed a seven-minute YouTube film entitled, "Muslim Demographics," which was attacked by some as an inaccurate and alarmist portrayal of Muslim population growth in Western societies.
In part, as a consequence of his august position in the Church hierarchy, Turkson drew a large of audience of senior clerics. Reportedly, his appearance caused a stir within the ranks of the Curia for several days. So tumultuous was the positive and negative commentary following his lecture that Papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, distanced Cardinal Turkson's views from the views of Benedict. The outcry from those who have been careful not to offend Muslims following Benedict's 2006 Regensberg lecture pressured Turkson into an explanation that he had no intention of debasing Islam. However, Turkson did not retract any of his comments. His behavior, in fact, underscores past commentary where he clearly stated "that theological dialogue between Christianity and Islam is impossible." Turkson cryptically added that the Church must indeed adopt a spirit of re-evangelization to reverse several negative trends in society, possibly referring to Muslim demographics; his closest friend and relative in his formative years was his paternal uncle, a Muslim.
That the new Pontiff, Pope Francis, is from Latin America may portend a focus on third world poverty and social issues. More significant would be a shift in policy toward the world of Islam by the Vatican's Curia bureaucracy. The genesis of this more realistic Church face toward Islam may have begun with Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan. Scola, in 2009, established the Oasis Foundation, which publishes a biennial intellectual journal. Originally, it was to be an instrument of outreach to Christians, particularly Catholics living in majority Muslim countries; it was chiseled to ease the sense of abandonment felt by millions of Christians in the Holy Land and Mesopotamian regions. In time, Oasis began to feature articles by Muslims who felt challenged by the radicalization of their faith. Other articles addressed issues about Islam that concerned the high clerics of Catholicism in the Middle East, including Sharia, Islam and the State, Islam and Pluralism, Freedom of Conscience, and Saudi-based Islamism.
Scola has not been timid in his discussions with Muslim and Christian theologians. Last November, he addressed the House of Lords in London on how the "cross-breeding of civilizations" is impacting the West. Later the same day, he addressed the staff of the Heythorp Society, the most prominent Catholic voice in Britain sponsoring a dialogue with Muslims. The following three comments by Scola shed light in what direction the Catholic Church is moving toward engaging Islamdom. Scola said, "The growing presence of Muslims presents a challenge far greater than any other realities to the Western structure [of civilization]." In some of his talks, Scola has quoted the martyred Bishop in Turkey, His Excellency Luigi Padovese, who warned shortly before his murder by a Muslim assassin, "In Muslim lands like Turkey we can remain safely invisible, which is a dead street. Or we can and must bear witness to the ancient Christian traditions in these lands, but we will suffer for it like the martyrs gone before us." Scola apparently believes that the evangelization in these lands will mean the shedding of blood, as Benedict prophesied during his recent trip to Cyprus. Finally, Scola points the way of the future for Catholicism in these lands. He says the Church has a secret weapon: the millions of Catholic Christians in the Middle East: "Do not underestimate the power of our faithful from India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines and what evolutionary change they might inspire." The new papacy's commitment to the evangelization of Christianity will put the Catholic Church in direct conflict with Islam. Francis recently punctuated the Vatican's new determination to define "the rules of the game" in the Church's relations with Islam. On May 12, 2013, he canonized all of the more than 800 Catholics martyred in 1480, by Muslim invaders of Italy's Adriatic coastline town of Otranto. This mass canonization of Catholic martyrs is a message of hope to Christian minorities throughout the world who suffer persecution by Muslims. It is also a direct challenge to Islam. The Pope is in effect proclaiming that we also will honor our martyred fallen and that we will no longer apologize for perceived wrongs by the Church against Islam.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin is an Irish-Catholic father of five children who lives with his wife of 39 years in West Virginia. Franklin is the former USAF Reserve Colonel Military Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Israel. He also was the Iran Desk Officer in the Office of the Secretary of the Defense under Donald Rumsfeld. Franklin's doctorate is in Asian Studies. His primary foreign language is Persian Farsi. During the Cold War, Dr. Franklin served as the Defense Intelligence Agency's Senior Political-Military Analyst in support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has executed missions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and is well-traveled throughout the Middle East with many tours of duty in Israel.
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Leuvan, Peeters, 1998.
Volf, Miroslav Allah: A Christian Response
Harper One/Harper-Collins, New York, 2011.
Waardenburg, Jacques, Muslim-Christian Perceptions of Dialogue Today
Peeters: Leuven, 2000.
Weigel, George, Catholics and Freedom
National Review Online, November 28, 2011.
World Council of Churches, Studies in Theology and Spirituality: Catholics and Shia in Dialogue," Issue #45, Geneva, July, 2006.
Zenith News Agency, "Address of His Holiness to Muslims in Cologne"
August 20 2005, Cologne.
As the decades pass, there is an excellent chance that a grave in a cemetery in the environs of Florence, arguably the city which best epitomizes Western Civilization's creative genius and love of liberty will become a mecca for those who still care about such matters. It is the resting place of Europe's most prescient modern author whose career as journalist and writer reflected a level of courage in word and action rarely approached in today's relativist society. It is the grave of Oriana Fallaci.
When Pope Benedict XVI dared to repeat a medieval monarch's criticism of Islam during an academic lecture at a Regensburg-based seminary, he must have had two other items in mind. One was that it was the day after the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and the other, the dying days of a favorite author, Oriana Fallaci, who expired three days later. Pope Francis and his immediate successors will require her courage.
 Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 16, Verse 18. The above Latin text that celebrates the words Jesus spoke to Peter is from a polyphonic motet of great beauty by the sixteenth century Catholic Church musician Giovanni da Palestrina. This motet was first performed in the Vatican at the Basilica of St. Peter. The imagery of the setting is both profoundly theological and aesthetically overwhelming. Emblazoned above the high altar on the baldacchino sculpted by Bernini are those very words: Tu Es Petrus. Many meters below are the bones of the first Pope and leader of the Apostles, Peter of Galilee
 Koran, Part 15, Surah 17, Verse 1
 Bible, Books of Genesis and Nehemiah
 Inside the Dome of the Rock, rising about five feet is a perforated rock, which Muslims believe bears the forged footprint of the Prophet-Messenger Muhammad. It is from this rock that Muslims hold that the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) escorted Muhammad, mounted on his miraculous steed, "Buraq," to the seven levels of heaven, after being transported from Mecca to Jerusalem. Today the al-Aksa Mosque is located with the Dome. The twin-sites are often referred to as the Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary
 Moreover, Benedict has an "Old Europe" historical sensitivity to past Muslim (Ottoman) military, political, and religious aggressiveness. Like his predecessor, John Paul II, he is well equipped to counter totalitarian ideologies which employ revolutionary or religious rhetoric to mask their universal aspirations of conquest.
 The late Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat employed the Mosque's name for the military arm of his Fatah Movement, (al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade), a major group within the Palestinian Liberation Organization
 Islam and the West: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis, The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, Washington D.C., April 27, 2006.
 Koran, Sura Barrah/Repentance, Verse 5
 "In Spain, Anti-Semitism is New Left" Ignacio Russell Cano, Ynet News, July 20, 2008.
 The Ottoman Turkish Caliphate had twice come close to overthrowing Europe's most prestigious monarchical family, the Hapsburgs, once in 1529 and then again in 1683
 The Soviet leadership was apparently furious at this Polish Pope who finally had answered Stalin's question, "How many divisions does the Pope have?" The Pope taught the Polish people, led by Lech Walesa, who formed Poland's first independent trade union, Solidarity, how no longer to be afraid. People came out in the millions to cheer his call for human rights to be respected. Consequently, the foundation of the Soviet empire began to quake. The KGB sub-contracted to its Bulgarian Communist counterpart a plan to assassinate Pope John Paul. The KGB hired Ali Acga, a Muslim extremist from Turkey and a member of a Turkish nationalist group, The Grey Wolves in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which had been penetrated by East German intelligence.
 A daughter of King Priam of Troy, Cassandra's nightmares foretold the destruction of the city-state by the Greeks. Bat Ye'or, in her book, Eurabia, depicts a Europe transformed in the near future into a continent headed for demographic changes that could lead to the eclipse of traditional European nation-states in favor of Muslim majorities by way of birthrates and immigration from Muslim lands.
 Oriana Fallaci's message was a wake-up call to Europe that its embrace of multiculturalism threatened its traditional heritage. Her thesis describes the societal stakes at risk. Her views were immediately denounced by many leftist intellectuals as extreme, divisive, and prejudicial. However, her opinions have now been embraced by a widening caste of European leaders, such as Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and former President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.
 Ratzinger, Joseph and Pera, Marcello. "Without Roots."
 LTG Edward L. Rowny, U.S. Army was President Reagan's lead strategic arms negotiator with the Soviet Union.
 Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth: A Conversation with Cardinal Ratzinger with Peter Seewald
 Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth
 Ratzinger, Turning Point for Europe: The Church in the Modern World, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1994.
 Supersession has a theological connotation. The Christian belief that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament. His coming renders both Mosaic Law and the Old Testament as having served the will of Providence and in this sense, are superseded. Muslims believe that Islam through Allah's Messenger Muhammad now supersedes Christianity and with him revelation is complete.
 Pope Clement VII and his successor Urban II justified the proclamation of a Crusade to recover the Holy Land because of Sunni Seljuk Turk repeated interference with Christian pilgrims' free access to the "holy sites." The Seljuks were originally from the steppes of Central Asia who had by the mid-11th century completely enveloped the old Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad. They were zealous in their newfound faith of Islam. This interference took a blasphemous turn when the Seljuk Turks seized Jerusalem in 1071. In many instances the brutalization of Christian pilgrims was horrific as graphically described by Pope Urban II's oratory at the Council of Claremont in 1095 where he officially proclaimed the First Crusade.
 Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth
 The Catholic defenders of Otranto delayed the Muslim army's march north just long enough to save Rome from being sacked. The interval enabled the King of Naples enough time to mobilize an army to block additional Islamic advances in southern Italy. This was Caliph Mohammad II's final effort to carry out his pledge "to turn St. Peter's Basilica into a stall for his horses." It was this same Sultan Muhammad who had extinguished the light of East Rome (Byzantium), changing the name of Constantinople to Istanbul in 1453. The Muslim force that reduced the town of Otranto was led by Pasha Ahmed.
 The landing of Muhammad II at Otranto was an unplanned consequence of a strong ill wind that forced, by coincidence or Providence, his landing 50 miles farther south and thus farther away from Rome. Ironically, it was from Otranto where 12,000 Crusaders left for the Holy Land on the First Crusade in 1095 under the command of Prince Boemondo I of Altavilla
 Chiessa, August 14, 2007 by Sandro Magister and Il Foglio, July 14, 2007 by Alfredo Montovano. Benedict followed up John Paul II's interest in accentuating the murderous events at Otranto by referring Primaldo to the Prefect for the Congregation of Saints Cardinal Jose Martins.
 Regensberg Lecture and post-delivery commentary.
 "Nostra Aetate" (Our Age) Encyclical by Pope Paul VI. This encyclical built on Pope John XXIII's opening to Jews. John, as Nuncio to Bulgaria during WWII, arranged for the issuance of approximately 80,000 false baptismal certificates to mostly Hungarian Jews, saving them from the Nazis. To underscore Pope John's inspiration of the document, it was published on the anniversary of his elevation to the Papacy, 10/28/65.
 Fitzgerald's influential predecessor who championed aggressive outreach to the Islamic world was the Melchite Rite priest Louis Messignon. He was prominent at the Second Vatican Council during the Pontificate of John XXIII. He helped formulate the encyclical "Nostra Aetate" which advocated dialogue with non-Christian religions. Renowned Shia scholar Seyed Hossein Nasr, at an Islamic seminar in 2011, told this author that no one yet has been able to step into the vacuum created by Messignon's passing.
 "Ecclesiam Suam" His Church Encyclical, Pope Paul VI, 8/6/94.
 Tabah Foundation Papers Series, Karim Lahham, July, 2008.
 Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) Encyclical, Pope John XXIII, 4/11/63.
 Ecclesiam Suam "His Church" Encyclical, Pope Paul VI
 Dome of the Rock Arabic Inscription
 Dome of the Rock Arabic Inscription
 On May 6 1527 the entire contingent of Swiss Guards battled a mutinous band of Imperial Troops of Emperor Charles V on the very steps of St. Peter's Basilica. Of the 189 Guards, only 42 escaped martyrdom against impossible odds. However, they fought long enough for Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican through the then secret "Passetto de Borgo" to the walled battlements of Castel Sant' Angelo.
 Koran, Surah al-Nisa/The Women, Ayat/Verse 157.
 Koran, Surah al-Nisa, Ayat 171
 This Koranic admonition is repeated at least thrice more in Surah 5, al-Ma idah/The Table Spread, Ayat 75, Surah 6, al-An am/The Cattle, Ayat 101, Surah 18 al-Kahf/The Cave, Ayat 4.
 Islam and Christian Theology: The Modern Blackwell, Oxford Ayatollah Sidiqqi
 Pope John Paul II used to meet with his Papal Nuncios whenever they happened to be visiting the Vatican.
 As the former U.S. Air Force Reserve Attaché to Israel, the author was granted telephone access to Colonel Marcel Aviv who headed the IDF operation outside the Basilica. The IDF Commander was calm and professional expressing no desire to storm the Church. Subsequently, he informed me about the discovery of several booby traps, explosives, and automatic weapons found inside the Church. He also said that the Palestinians had used some of the clerics who had remained inside the Basilica as human shields. Later, the Franciscan Catholic clerics, some of whom were determined to fulfill their role as Custodians of the Holy Sites informed the media that a few of the Palestinians behaved like common thieves. They apparently were intent upon expropriating some of the sacred vessels until persuaded to relinquish their stash.
 Sheikh Abdel Majid Ata, November 24, 2011, Latin Patriarchate Newsletter by Christoph Lafontaine.
 The following criteria must be present to justify war as a just cause: to protect the human rights or to defend the innocent; the decision to bear arms must have a reasonable probability of success; all peaceful means must have been exhausted; expected benefits should outweigh the human costs; the employment of force must be sanctioned by a competent and lawful authority, and the rightful intention must be present, such as to restore order and justice.
 30 Giorni, a Catholic international monthly published in Rome by former Italian Prime Minister Guilio Andreotti.
 Borgomeo, Pasquale, General Director of Vatican Radio, August 6 2002
 Cardinal Daoud, Ignatius-Moussa, Syrian Bishop, September 3 2002.
 Allen, John, All The Pope's Men, Doubleday, New York, 2004.
 Another Pope, Julius II, the patron of Michelangelo was amazed at the (Indonesian) island of Ache's appeal for military assistance from the Ottoman Caliphate. This missive to the Turkish Sultan followed the Portuguese invasion of the sultanate island in the second decade of the 16th century. Indeed the Caliph of Istanbul did dispatch a fleet in response. However, it arrived too late and much ravished from the journey, to impact upon Portuguese military operations.
 Iraq's clerical Shia hierarchy all reject this principle, peculiar to some seminaries in the Iranian holy city of Qom, which invests Iran's leader with spiritual infallibility and temporal authority. Iran's Shia Supreme leader is chosen by the 86-member Assembly of Experts (all clerics). The Leader is the Vicar of the Imam Zeman. This is the 12th Imam who is in occultation but who will return at the end of time. The velayat-e-faqih principle, a controversial accretion of normative Shia Islam, was espoused by the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeinei. This principle is analogous to the Vicar of Christ role that the Pope plays in Catholicism. This doctrine grants to the Pope infallibility on matters of faith and morals under certain conditions. This gift is based on the promise of Christ that the "gates of hell will not prevail against it (his church)." The Velayat principle is embodied in today's Iran in the personage of Ayatollah Khamenei.
The Office of the Leader dispatches representatives throughout Iran. Every administrative, political, social, religious and economic dimension of the Islamic Republic is penetrated by Rahbar's tentacles. Daftar-e-Rahbar is the office of the Leader of the Revolution, Ayatollah Khamenei. The Leader's physical office is in downtown Iran. However, he carries this office with his person as does the U.S. President. The Rahbar has his personal representative in virtually every institutional and constitutional entity in Iran. Like Charlemagne's "Missi Dominici", i.e. "Messengers of the Lord," this apparatus implements his will and serves as a reporting mechanism back to his person.
 Baghdad's Jews, until modern times, made up a full quarter of the population.
 Pope Benedict's immediate reaction to the discovery of Rahho's body in Mosul on 12 March 2008 was melancholy. His emotion was also on full display during his subsequent remarks during a subsequent Sunday Angelus address.
 Ayatollah Sistani's message of regret to Pope Benedict and to Iraqi Chaldean Catholics of Ninevah Province.
On trips to the Arabian Peninsula, you must immerse yourself in the foreign worker sub-culture to discover where you can attend Mass on Sundays. You first have to gain the trust of migrant laborers that you will not reveal which domicile is hosting Mass on a particular weekend. On one Sunday a Catholic oil pipeline worker from Bangladesh was an escort. On another it was a Thai Catholic house servant. An indiscretion of mine (probably an overheard or monitored conversation) once resulted in getting a Catholic young man from Sri Lanka fired from his hotel job in Qatar, a situation about which haunts me to this day. One must admire with spiritual pride the embattled but fervent faithful of these Third World Catholic laborers. Three young Arab men who have detailed knowledge of how their fellow Christian countrymen are treated in the Arab Mideast have just entered the Franciscan Order. Ironically, it was the Franciscan Order which was commissioned by the Vatican in 1342 to be custodian of the sacred sites of Christendom in Jerusalem. It was the founder of this order, St. Francis of Assisi, who personally remonstrated with the Caliph of Egypt to entertain conversion to Christianity -- and in the middle of a Crusade, which had the re-capture of Jerusalem as its principal goal.
 When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was still Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he granted an extensive series of interviews with author Peter Seewald. In these series of interviews, the future Pope offers his candid comments on Islam. His responses lack diplomatic guile and there is precious little of the obfuscating language of political correctness
 Dignitatis Humanae (Of Human Dignity) Encyclical. A Declaration of Religious Freedom, Pope Paul VI, December 7, 1965. This document underlines the consistent Vatican policy line on the right of all men and all communities to social and civic liberty in matters concerning religion.
 This was accomplished following after a one-on-one meeting in a town just outside Mantua in 452 AD.
 Novak, Michael, "Remembering Lepanto" National Review on Line, October 7, 2006.
 Catholics often refer to October as the month of the rosary, and hold additional church services where the rosary is recited. There are four separate menus of the rosary, each with five decades. The menus are the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. All of these mysteries celebrate events in the Life of Christ. A decade consists of three prayers: a single Our Father, ten Hail Marys, and a closing prayer in praise of the Holy Trinity, i.e. the "Glory Be" or Doxology. A fourth menu was added by Pope John Paul II, the five mysteries of Light, including Christ's institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
 Al-Azhar, founded about 970 A.D., is associated with the Al-Azhar Mosque.
 A similar arrangement existed between the late Shah of Iran and his nemesis, the reactionary clique of Shia clerics who were permitted to conduct periodic pogroms upon the Baha'i.
 Vatican "intelligence" was fully aware that this particular operation was directed by extremist Salafi cells in Alexandria with probable al-Qaeda connections.
 Bill, James, and Williams, John "Roman Catholics and Shi'i Islam University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2002. The spark that energized the authors to write this book was the March 11, 1999 meeting at the Vatican between Pope John Paul II and President Khatami of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the two quintessential representatives of the great contending civilizations of contemporary times, Christianity and Islam.
 Pope Benedict has kept alive his predecessor's tradition of inviting many of the world's most eminent scholars, scientists, and philosophers to Castel Gandolfo. One, the eminent Mideast specialist Bernard Lewis had the honor as John Paul hopped from table to table, picking the brains of his guests.
 Le Figaro August 8, 2004, Catholic News Service Interview
 Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) has reversed nearly nine decades of separation of Islam and state established in 1924 following the deconstruction of the Ottoman Caliphate. Istanbul was the center of the Muslim world for six centuries. Attaturk as part of his secularization of public life in the new Turkish Republic had changed Hagia Sophia's status from mosque to museum in 1935. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II toured Hagia Sophia during their Pontificates.
 The Catholic Church's greatest schism was made permanent in 1054 when the mass of eastern European bishops withdrew their allegiance to Rome as the focal point of theological and administrative primacy. The secessionist dioceses established the Eastern Orthodox Church. Its center was Constantinople, the seat of Byzantium's Emperor and Patriarch. Historical, linguistic, and cultural differences helped prepare the soil for such a cleavage centuries prior to the actual formal fissure
 Archbishop Henri Tessier, an Algerian citizen, who retired in 2010, from his post as Bishop of Algiers, has been highly critical of 'the government of Algeria's duplicitous policies towards non-Muslim religions. Tessier implies that the government presents a magnanimous policy of toleration to the world. However, Tessier asserts that in reality Algerian authorities have applied stringent restrictions on the practice of religions other than Islam.
 Ordinance of 2006, Document Preamble which permits non-Muslims to practice religious rites, Algiers, February, 2006.
 USA Today. Washington D.C. March 26, 2008
 Koran, al-Sajdah (The Prostration), Verse Nine
 Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 16. Saint Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most revered theologian in the history of the Catholic Church authored one of the most riveting denunciations of Islam. He reserves special invective for its Prophet Mohammad, likening him to a tyrant and a thief. He refers to him as a fabricator, a man of violence who tempted his followers with concupiscence of the flesh. What if the Pope had quoted Thomas instead at Regensburg?
 The Nobel Peace Prize 1996 was awarded jointly to Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Horta "for their work towards a just and peaceful solution to the conflict in East Timor."
 Ibrahim, Raymond Gatestone Institute "Muslim Persecution of Christians," August 2011.
 Ibrahim, Raymond, Gatestone Institute "Muslim Persecution of Christians," January 2012.
 Any non-Muslim religious practitioner is in a precarious position in Pakistan. How a government treats its ethnic and religious sub-cultures can be an indicator of a regime's self-confidence. The Catholic clergy informed me of fearsome tales of beatings and burnings of victims. Their only crime, in most cases, was to have embraced Jesus as the long-promised Messiah.
 Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the other two states. Both societies are dominated by the ultra-conservative Wahabbi sect of Sunni Islam.
Servants of Allah:African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf
New York University Press, N.Y., 1998.
 The nations of the Sahel include Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, and the southern extremities of Mauritania and Algeria. The word "sahil" in Arabic means the edge of a coastline. It is a figurative allusion which draws a line in the sand, between the desert and grasslands of Africa. Sahelian states have formed the Joint Security Task Force (Maiduguri) to combat infiltration by Muslim-terrorist organizations, like Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram.
 People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad Arabic: جماعة اهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad), better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram, is a terrorist organization based in the northeast of Nigeria a Boko Haram translates as "Western education is sacrilege" or "a sin."
 Lumen Gentium "The Light of Nations"
 Pope John Paul II, March 26, 2000, near al-Aksa Mosque, Jerusalem, Israel.
 Redemptoris Anno "The Year of Redemption"
 Elba was the site of Napoleon's first exile after losing the Battle of Nations at Leipzig in 1813. He escaped from Elba to return to power for a brief period until he was vanquished at the Battle of Waterloo in 1814. He then was exiled to St. Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic.
 Barrett,David and Johnson, Todd World Christian Encyclopedia: A Compendium Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2 Volumes. World Evangelization Research Center: Richmond, Virginia, 2001.
 Letter from Magdi Allam to Director of Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mielli.
 The World Seen From Rome, ZENIT, October 24, 2010. The 41 Propositions of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops on the Theme of the Catholic Church in the Middle East.
 John Allen, The National Catholic Reporter. September 12, 2012.
 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. Libera Editrice Vaticana. September 14, 2012.
 The so-called eastern churches of Catholicism are in union with Rome, that is, they are in doctrinal agreement and under papal authority. These churches practice different rites from the Latinate Rite. Chief among them are: the Maronite (Lebanon), Melkite (Syria/Damascus), Syriac (Iraq, Iran), Syro-Malabar (India & Mideast), Armenian (Lebanon), Chaldean (Iraq/Baghdad), and Coptic-Catholic (Egypt). N.B.: The rite practitioners are not limited to the countries in parentheses.
 First Letter of Peter Verses 2-9. This scriptural selection by Benedict is meant to remind Catholic Christians that even in the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East, their duty is to remain resolute and have faith that ultimately the message of Christ will reign triumphant.
 Dhimmi is an Arabic term and Muslim concept which governs and supposedly protects non-Muslims who live in lands governed by the principles of Islam (provided a head tax was paid). However, historically, dhimmi status often saddled non-Muslims with intolerable burdens (see Note 68).
 Dar al-Islam is the totality of lands governed by Islamic law or Sharia. It literally translates to the House, or Abode, of Islam.
 There are millions of Christians who work in the Muslim states on the Arabian Peninsula. In most places, there are no Christian places of worship. Nor are Christians permitted to display any sign of their faith in public. In some cases, Christians who worship together in private domiciles are subject to harassment and arrest. These migrants, largely from South and Southeast Asia as well as some from African countries, perform manual labor and service tasks which Arab natives judge as demeaning.
 The Christian population in every country in the Arab Middle East is in decline. In some cases, such as Iraq, the exodus has reached dramatic proportions. For instance, only a third of Christians remain in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Christians are also leaving Syria in droves as anti-Assad elements are targeting their neighborhoods. The Christian population of Lebanon continues its long decline. In Palestinian Arab territories, the Christian population is minuscule, with the residents of Bethlehem and Nazareth now being almost totally Muslim. Ironically, throughout the Levant and Mesopotamia, it is only in Israel that the Christian population is on the rise.
 John Allen, National Catholic Reporter, September 16, 2012. Bishop Sako is the most vocal of Iraqi Bishops in describing the dwindling Catholic faithful. Most of his Chaldean-Catholic flock are descendants of the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians who still live on Mesopotamian lands of the Fertile Crescent.
 Brad Jersak, Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, April 10, 2012.
 Sandro Magister, wwww.chiesa.espressonline.it, October 19, 2010. Rome.
 Douglas Knight Resources for Christian Theology, Synod on the Middle East, November 4, 2010.
 Kairos: A Moment of Truth, December 9, 2009, Bethlehem.