Thursday, October 2, 2014

Islam's favourite Pope (and it's not John Paul II)

There was one very unfortunate public moment in the history of Saint Pope John Paul II's pontificate that will live long as a blunder. Sure, when he was shot by a Turkish Muslim was a low, though not a blot on the pontiff's character. Instead, the Pope's most regrettable moment was his ill advised kissing of the Koran, for ecumenical reasons that even the most liberal amongst the faithful would struggle to comprehend. 

The aim, we can only imagine, was to convince the Islamic world that contained within their faith are some of the small truths of the greater Mother Church that is the Catholic faith. The problem there however, is that many Muslims merely interpreted it as an endorsement from leader of a weak willed faith. Could you picture Leo XIII or Pius X doing the same? Even Paul VI didn't go so far. Despite what we can surmise was a well intentioned effort, the otherness of the Islamic world slipped after the September 11th attacks in the United States as well as the ensuing Iraq and Afghanistan wars with their accompanying perpetual Jihadi mindlessness.

Pope Benedict XVI went the opposite way with his outreach to Islam, he took his chances on converting a small number of Muslims and warning away Christians from that set of beliefs. The now infamous Regensberg Address, was actually an intellectual discussion on the merits of faith and reason, which challenged the notion that Islam ever offered something peaceful and progressive to the medieval world. The result was mass violence against Christians as well as threats against the Pope himself. But at least he could hold his head high and proclaim that he had upheld the Catholic faith in a dignified and bold manner.

Even Benny had a few sour moments

Despite the engagement of both these men and of the jokers who inserted the apparent 'holiness' of Islam into the Second Vatican Council documents, Catholicism has rarely ever pierced the light of Islamic opposition to the Church. Save for one striking example. As Europe crumbled during World War I, a Europe that claimed the then Ottoman Empire as a member, decency and generosity were thin on the ground. This was especially true when it came to those who would be looking for help from the monarchs and leaders of Europe, who were preoccupied with staying alive let alone humanitarian pursuits. 

Amidst all of this suffering, Pope Benedict XV ('the forgotten Pope') became the hero of many enduring hunger, homelessness and injury throughout the war. For his tireless efforts to help others, Pope Benedict XV had a statue built in his honour in, of all places, Istanbul, Turkey. This curious artefact bears the phrase  "The great Pope of the world tragedy...the benefactor of all people, irrespective of nationality or religion."  

Pope Benedict XV's statue

Perhaps this strange occurrence contains a message for Catholics struggling to convert our Islamic neighbours. Do good deeds, be unashamed of our faith and let the world see His glory in order to bring all men home to the Roman Catholic Church. Although this statue is in the courtyard of St. Esprit Cathedral, a Catholic Church, the fact that it has remained undamaged for so long is indicative of the esteem that the Pope is held in there. With ISIS crucifying and decapitating everyone from small children to soldiers, may we never forget, even if we have to take up arms against them ourselves, that we are a people who know and love God and bear witness to the truth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

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