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  • Pope Francis might review the decisions of former pontiffs who once organized resistance against existential threats to Judeo-Christian Civilization. Several of his predecessors seized the initiative whenever a weak or divided Europe appeared incapable of defending itself.

  • Pope Francis also could author an encyclical condemning radical Islam. This would be wholly within the purview and tradition of the Papacy. Such an encyclical would mirror in significance Pope Pius XI's "Mit Brennender Sorge" (With Burning Anxiety) which condemned the racist supremacy doctrine of the Nazis.

  • Some of the passages in Pius XI's "Divini Redemptoris" (The Divine Redeemer) could also serve as appropriate criticism of various tenets of extremist Islam. One example: "Communism aims at upsetting the social order and undermining the very foundation of Christian civilization." Another: "Entire peoples find themselves in danger of falling back into a barbarism worse than which oppressed the greater part of the world at the coming of the Redeemer (Roman Empire)."

It was uplifting to hear Pope Francis denounce the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey last week and remind the world that it must never again happen.

The Vatican has several other options to meet head-on the challenge of Islamic extremism. Pope Francis could capitalize on his widespread popularity to combat Jihadi aggression by word, pen, and sword. He might also review the decisions of former pontiffs who once organized resistance against existential threats to Judeo-Christian Civilization. Several of his predecessors seized the initiative whenever a weak or divided Europe appeared incapable of defending itself.

Pope Francis could begin his review with Pope Saint Leo the Great. In 452 A.D., he rode out of Rome on horseback to meet Attila the Hun, persuading him not to invade the Eternal City.

Pope Francis (left) could begin his review of the actions of former pontiffs with Pope Saint Leo the Great (right). In 452 A.D., Leo rode out of Rome on horseback to meet Attila the Hun, persuading him not to invade the Eternal City.

Pope Francis could then study the statecraft of Saint Pope Pius V, who helped establish the Holy League in March 1571. This alliance – of Venice, Spain, the Republic of Genoa, the Papacy, and Austrian Hapsburg military contingents – pooled their maritime military assets to fight an overwhelmingly superior Ottoman fleet.[1] If the Turks triumphed, the entire Mediterranean Sea would be theirs. However, on June 7, 1571, the Holy League destroyed the Turkish Navy in the waters of the Gulf of Corinth, southwest of Greece.[2] The Vatican judged the victory, a miracle. This unexpected naval triumph certainly seemed a providential response to the prayers of tens of thousands of sailors and soldiers kneeling on the decks of their vessels.

Pope Francis could also consult the speeches and letters of Pope Urban II, whose solemn and inspirational oratory catalyzed the Knights of Europe to defend the Holy Land's sacred sites. Urban's urging of Europe's professional warrior class "to take up the Crusader Cross" was Christendom's response to Islam's often predatory policy against Christian pilgrims.

In addition, places important to Christians everywhere were being destroyed by the Seljuk Turkish Empire. Anti-Christian pogroms became so intense that, in 1095, the Orthodox Emperor of Constantinople Alexius Comenius I appealed to Pope Urban to send forces to tame the Turks. Urban took up the challenge, calling the Council of Clermont in 1095. He urged European knights to sanctify their violent inclinations in defense of their fellow Christians.

The first of seven Crusades embarked for the Holy Land later that same year, capturing Jerusalem on July 14, 1099. This movement was the beginning of Europe's counterattack, after several centuries of Muslim Conquests of former Christian lands. After hundreds of years of occupation, violence, and slave-like servitude, Christians had become a threatened species in lands once the first to embrace Christianity.

Pope Francis also could author an encyclical condemning radical Islam. This would be wholly within the purview and tradition of the Papacy. Such an encyclical would mirror in significance Pope Pius XI's "Mit Brennender Sorge"[3] (With Burning Anxiety) which condemned the racist supremacy doctrine of the Nazis. This encyclical criticized National Socialism's excessive emphasis on the priority of the state over the sovereignty of God. Somewhat ironically, the encyclical was authored by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who two years later, became Pope Pius XII. He was the Pontiff often criticized for not confronting the Nazis strongly enough, while mass murder occurred in German concentration camps during World War II.

Far more effective was Pius XI's condemnation of Communism in his "Divini Redemptoris"[4] (The Divine Redeemer). This encyclical challenged the suppression of human rights, class warfare, and materialism. Some of its passages could also serve as appropriate criticism of various tenets of extremist Islam. One example: "Communism aims at upsetting the social order and undermining the very foundation of Christian civilization."[5] Another: "Entire peoples find themselves in danger of falling back into a barbarism worse than which oppressed the greater part of the world at the coming of the Redeemer (Roman Empire)."[6]

The Holy Father could seize the opportunity to address the plague of Muslim violent extremism in Islamic education -- as did Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb, head of the Egypt's Al-Azhar University -- the leading center of learning for Sunni Islam, in Februray 2015 -- on an international stage, as he did regarding climate change at a UN General Assembly Meeting also in 2015.

Another international opportunity could be a Vatican call for a convocation of world religions at Assisi, the site of three past such assemblies.[7] Just as dramatic a maneuver, having the potential to revive the ghosts of Christian Europe, would be a Papal address to a plenary session of the European Union. The rarity of such an event would rivet the attention of the continent's political elite. A more emphatic gesture would be a request by the Pope to address a meeting of NATO. Such a move would demonstrate the gravity which the world's most powerful religious institution views the Muslim threat to supplant Greco-Roman ideals and Judeo-Christian values. These initiatives could serve as teaching moments, where the Vatican could detail past instances when an aggressive Islamic thrust threatened to swallow Christian realms. Francis could easily sketch out the jihads of history. He could demonstrate how "we" have seen all this before: outside the Gates of Vienna,[8] in the mountains of the Pyrenees,[9] and the blood-soaked isles of the Mediterranean.[10]

He could challenge Islamic leaders to institute specific reforms which would root-out theological justification for violent and intolerant behavior. He could call upon Muslims of good will to summon their courage to recapture their faith. He could help moderates by suggesting changes in Islam which would be welcomed by both many Muslims and by Western civilization. Pope Francis might host periodic working sessions with moderate Sunni and Shi'a Muslims. These sessions may serve as an opportunity to build a better, more trusting relationship between Christendom and the Islamic World. At these convocations, the Vatican could urge Muslim scholars to "re-open the gates of Ijitihad [independent questioning, reasoning]," to review certain martial passages of the Koran. Nevertheless, the bugle must be sounded without hesitation. The tone must not be tentative. It must be decisive in word, speech, and deed.

The Good Shepherd now must protect his sheep, saving civilization in the process. The Holy Father must assume the role of Supreme Pontiff, indeed, Leader of the West. Like the Prophets of old who counseled Israel's Kings in times of danger, the Pope can don the mantle of spiritual guide of the West and urge its leaders to summon up the courage to fight and the will to endure.

Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was a Military Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Israel.


[1] "The Papal States" by Marino Berengo "Italia" Other elements included the naval forces of Sicily, Sardinia, Duchy of Savoy, Naples, the Knights Hospitaller.

[2] New World Encyclopedia "Battle of Lepanto."

[3] "Mit Brennender Sorge" was published 10 March 1937, when it was read from the pulpit of every Catholic Church in Germany on Passion Sunday, before the beginning of Holy Week.

[4] Catholic Directory: Encyclical "Divini Redemptoris"

[5] Text of "Divini Redemptoris"

[6] Ibid.

[7] The first of these sessions was called by Pope John Paul II, the second by Pope Benedict and the third by Pope Francis.

[8] The Ottoman Turks mounted two major assaults on Vienna, the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the Hapsburg Dynasty. These failed attacks occurred in 1529 and 1683. The first assault was led by Sultan/Caliph Suleiman the Magnificent. The second attack was led by Kara Mustapha Pasha. This assault was halted on the night of 11 September by the arrival of Christian/Catholic forces led by King John Sobieski of Poland and France's Duke of Lorraine.

[9] Charles Martel (Charlemagne) defeated the invading Muslim armies at Poitiers, France in 732, following the Islamic victories in the mountains between Spain and France.

[10] For most of the 1500s Ottoman Turkey and Catholic Spain and Portugal struggled for control of the key islands in the Mediterranean Sea: Cyprus, Crete, Rhodes and others.

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