09/19/2006, 00.00

What the Christian Pope thinks about Islam matters to the Muslim world

by David-Maria A. Jaeger, ofm
Muslims' offended reaction to the Pope's Regensburg speech (or rather to the partial information reported by the media) shows how the Pontiff has become a kind of "arbiter" of universal morality to which even Muslims subscribe. Neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI has ever adhered to the 'Clash of Civilisations' theory.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – What—if anything at all useful—can be learned from the storm of controversy that appeared to engulf the world following the partial media reports of the Holy Father's lecture at the university of Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, on 12 September? A controversy that it is now devoutly to be hoped will abate, thanks to the Pope's "Angelus" address on Sunday, 17 September, following the Cardinal Secretary of State's statement of 16 September, expressing the Roman Pontiff's regret for the pain felt by so many Muslims.

First of all, the episode has emphasised the uniquely universal importance attributed by all to the office and Person of the Vicar of Christ on earth. Thanks especially to the series of exceptionally remarkable Popes since the Second Vatican Council—and before too—the Petrine office is not considered to be simply an internal matter of one religious organisation, but a source of hope and reassurance for all humanity. Muslims, as well as Christians, and many, many others, have been looking up to the Pope as the universal arbiter of moral values, the ultimate defender of impartial justice for all, the depositary and interpreter of all that is best in the cumulative moral heritage of humankind. The Pope as the supreme "father figure" for everyone, everywhere. The truth of this was evident, for example, in a very special way, in the world-wide mourning at the death of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. And it merits emphasising that, to achieve and maintain this position, the Popes have not needed in any way to renounce, or tone down, their explicit and constant witness to the Risen Christ. In fact, the Pope's primary dedication to the preaching of salvation through Christ Crucified and Risen has always appeared to enhance the universal attachment to, and respect for his person and office, as a prime example of courageously coherent faith.

This is why whatever the Pope says matters so much, to Muslims too, among all others.

This is why media perceptions and reports that the "universal father" had unfairly singled out Islam—and its Prophet Muhammad—for the severest possible criticism, had so hurt and pained and outraged so many Muslims in so many places around the world.

This impact was greatly enhanced by the international context today, where some in the supposedly (though only partly) Christian "West" appear determined to demonise Islam and all Muslims, and to hypothesise a "clash of civilisations" to their detriment. Of course, neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI could ever capitulate to this destructive "logic". Of course, no Pope could agree to postulating such an unjust and dangerous division of humanity. Of course, the Pope has - very firmly - denounced violence and terrorism, but always without in any way implying that they were somehow an intrinsic, or an exclusive characteristic of the followers of the Prophet Muhammad. To the contrary—as has now been emphatically re-affirmed—the Pope, whether John Paul II or Benedict XVI, has used every occasion to assert the contrary, and to renew Vatican II's solemn expressions of deep respect for those who worship the One God according to the precepts of Islam.

It was, therefore, to the Pope especially that so many Muslims looked up as to an impartial arbiter of fairness, as to a beacon of light amidst the gathering dark clouds of prejudice and hostility.

This is why it hurt them so much when they were given the false impression—by careless or manipulative media reports—that this was not so, that the Pope himself might have lent a hand to their detractors.

This is why it is now of such transcendent importance, so necessary and so urgent, that all of us in the Church energetically support the Holy Father himself, right now, in eliminating that terrible impression, and in restoring the image and reality of the Church as the Muslim world's respectful friend and partner in dialogue "about God and about all things in relation to God."

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