12/22/2010, 00.00
VATICAN - MIDDLE EAST
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Benedict XVI and the Synod: dialogue and forgiveness in the face of violence

by Samir Khalil Samir
The Pope spoke for the first time about «Christianophobia» and reiterated the fact that violence runs counter to God and counter to Reason. Islamic terrorism is ideological blindness. Gratitude for expressions of solidarity from the Muslim world. The path of the Church and the Synod is a path of dialogue and forgiveness: there can be no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness. A comment from the scholar of Islam Fr. Samir (Part Two).
Rome (AsiaNews) – In his long and complex address to the Roman Curia - a kind of meditative revision of the chief events of the year - Benedict XVI chose to dedicate space to the Middle East Synod. I shall here continue my comments on the Pontiff's words, which I began yesterday.
Having spoken of his visit to Cyprus, where he consigned the Instrumentum laboris to the patriarchs, Benedict XVI turned his attention to the Middle East, "where the followers of different religions - as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites - live together", highlighting the diversity and multiplicity of Christian traditions.
 
1. Blind violence with no respect for the sacred
 
Unfortunately, the Pope noted, over the last few years the long history of coexistence among Christians and Muslims has been disturbed, and tensions and divisions have grown. We are witnessing an increase in acts of violence "in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse", he said.
 
I believe the Pope was alluding to the massacre of 31 October in the Syro-Catholic cathedral of "Our Lady of Perpetual Help" (Sayyidat al-Nagiât), where some fifty faithful were killed as they prayed, including children with their parents and two priests.
 
A massacre in a church during Mass, accompanied by acts of derision against the holy cross and the crucifixion of Christ, and all on the basis of an erroneous reading of the Koran, which denies that Christ actually was crucified and maintains that God intervened to save the prophet Jesus.
 
But the Holy Father is also surely thinking of the many acts of violence perpetrated by Muslim terrorists against mosques, against Muslim faithful gathered in prayer or performing pilgrimages to the holy sites of Shia Islam.
 
Violence is indeed blind, and does not respect any religion. As Benedict XVI stated on 12 September 2006 during his famous address at the University of Regensburg, an address later deformed and politicised by the media and the masses: violence is in itself primarily an act against God and against Reason; in other words, against the specific nature of Man.
 
2. "When Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded"
 
Alas, this violence has become generalised and widespread throughout the world. Yet the Pope makes it clear that, "in the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority" on the planet. This is not a gratuitous or unfounded claim: it is based in numerous studies of recent years such as those of Antonio Socci, I nuovi perseguitati (2002), and René Guitton, Ces chrétiens qu'on assassine en terre d'islam (2009) [published in Italian as Cristianofobia. La nuova persecuzione, 2010]. Western analysis often identify various reasons for this persecution (political, economic, ethnic, cultural, etc.), yet the fact remain that the people who perpetrate it often do so in the name of religion, and not of politics or anything else!
 
At this point in his address, the Holy Father referred to the "wise words" pronounced by Dr. Muhammad as-Sammak, "Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon", whom he quoted as saying: "when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded".
 
A little later the Pope commented: "The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone". This phrase makes us think of the Koran, verse 32 sura 5 (The Table Set): "We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind", which in turn evokes the Jewish saying that "Whosever kills one man, it is as if he killed the whole world".
 
Al-Sammak - a friend of long standing who also attended the 1995 "Synod for Lebanon" in the Vatican - has always maintained, along with other lay and religious Lebanese Muslims, that the Christian presence in Lebanon (and the Middle East) is a positive, indeed an essential, element for the entire political community of the reigon.
 
3. This voice of reason is unfortunately too weak!
 
With great realism, the Pope added: "Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak". Once again, it is important to highlight the contrast he draws between reason and violence. This is a fundamental theme in Joseph Ratzinger's philosophy: violence is an unreasonable act and therefrom an act against God! This link between God and Reason is vital if we are to understand his political-religious vision, on condition that we understand the concept of rationality in the full and Hellenistic meaning of the word, which includes spirituality and ethics. We know the importance of this from his Regensburg address, and from all his philosophical-theological thinking.
 
Such violence is often due to an "alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness", which are two of the most important causes of violence. In my view, the latter is more evident in violence of Islamic origin, which is precisely an "ideological blindness", a blind interpretation of religion and in particular of the Koran and Islamic tradition. Terrorists give a political reading to the holy text: since Islam is the divine religion par excellence, all means are valid to lead humankind to God through Islam.
 
In this sense terrorism, being a blind ideology, cannot be tackled using only military means. I feel that Benedict XVI's approach is important in the current situation, as it goes beyond all forms of terrorism.
 
4. The Synod of Bishops: dialogue, forgiveness and acceptance
 
How did the bishops attending the Middle East Synod react to this state of affairs? "On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality, the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world", the Pope said.
 
Indeed, the Synod was very clear on this point: the only possible response is forgiveness. Let us remind everyone of John Paul II's Message for the Celebration of the 2002 World Day Of Peace: "No peace without justice. No justice without forgiveness". This was reiterated on a number of occasions during the Synod, both in the context of violence and in that of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. These are difficult words to accept when one has suffered almost complete destruction and the loss of loved ones, but they remain essential.
 
Benedict XVI also launched an appeal to political leaders "to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalise the spirit of reconciliation". I believe that Christianophobia is a new theme as I cannot recall ever having heard the expression, which in any case is rare, used by the Holy Father. Yet it well expresses the gravity of the situation, as outlined earlier in the two abovementioned books by Socci and Guitton.
 
As always, neither the Pope nor the Synod limited themselves to merely complaining. Theirs was a more farsighted vision. Beyond the persecution of Christians, the Pope and the Synod invited leaders "to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering", and "to revitalise the spirit of reconciliation". This, as Benedict XVI concluded, is also "the Church's principal task at this hour".
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