The election of Pope Francis has been hailed as an invitation to dialogue from other religions. Euronews correspondent in Turkey met Cemal Usak, a Muslim intellectual, according to whom the new pope represents a new hope, “John Paul II was very open to dialogue, especially with Muslims. Pope Benedict, was, on the contrary, very closed – remember Usak – We can say that the confrontation between Muslims, Christians and other religions at the time of Benedict XVI was close to zero. For the first time we have a Jesuit Pope and this change is revolutionary. ” Islamic Conference Organization is hoping for a friendly relationship with the Catholic leadership. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, will also attend the inauguration of Pope, an invitation that has never happened before.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: SUMMING UP
*CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS SERIOUS PROBLEMS
Tuesday, 5 March 2013*
It can only be hoped that the next pope will be better fitted to
grasp the great issues of the day.
Pope Benedict will not have left his mark on history quite as
decisively as his predecessor, John Paul II. The latter’s name
will live after him as an exemplar of openness, of service to
humanity and of dialogue with the world’s spiritual and
religious traditions. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope
eight years ago, it was expected that he would reaffirm the
central position of dogma, of the principles and the laws of the
Roman Catholic Church. He brought with him a reputation for
theological rigour, strictness in matters of doctrine and
practice, and an inflexible attitude toward other Christian
traditions and other religions. The Church was Truth, and must
reaffirm that truth with clarity and courage. This reaffirmation
was the foundation stone of his conception of the papal function.
The outgoing pope’s great knowledge of theology must of course
be recognised, as must his genuine and sincere meditative
intelligence. He was above all fundamentally Catholic, a man of
profound conviction, driven by an ongoing fixation with
consistency. The first years of his papacy quickly revealed his
deficiencies as well as his qualities, as he learned to interact
with the world of media and communication. Benedict XVI emerged
as inward-turning, expressing himself as a theologian immersed
in texts and traditions; more than a few of his public
statements demonstrated a mixture of Catholic consistency and
media awkwardness. He, and his advisors and representatives,
were often forced to rephrase, explain or clarify a statement, a
formula, a speech. He was by no means a media pope, but a pope
of holy writ, more faithful to norms to be respected than guided
by the imperative of responding to contemporary challenges.
This same scrupulous consistency led him to positions that
proved difficult for the broader Christian family to accept. For
him, after all was said and done, the truth, and the only true
salvation, could not be envisaged outside the Catholic church.
Dialogue with the Protestants, the Orthodox or other Christian
churches were, of course, both necessary and positive but he
could never forget that one imperative. It came as no surprise
that he approached dialogue with the Jewish and Muslim
monotheistic traditions, and beyond them, Hinduism and Buddhism,
with the same consistency: as spiritual traditions, and as
religions, they might well contain an element of truth, but they
could never represent a pathway to the salvation of souls.
Dialogue might well focus on shared ethical principles,
respective practices and social realities, but under no
circumstances could any doubt be cast upon the truth that in his
eyes the Catholic church alone possessed and incarnated: a
position that seemed logical enough to those within, but
logically—and dogmatically—exclusivist when seen from without.
So it was that the pope came to stand for the fraught and
close-minded consistency of the dogmatist. It came as no
surprise that interfaith dialogue was biased, diluted, all but
useless except as an adjunct to missionary competition or the
comparison of positive and negative practices.
It is in this light that his lecture at Ravensburg University in
2006 should be understood. His reading of European history was
charged with fears about the modern era. For him, two threats
loomed over the continent: secularisation that drives religion —
as faith, rules and hopes — to the margins of society, and the
arrival of Muslims whose numbers, practices and growing
visibility represented, for him, a major challenge for the
Forcefully, rather clumsily and with historical inaccuracy, Pope
Benedict XVI asserted Europe’s Greek and Christian roots. His
insistence on rereading the past, on reducing the cultural
origins of Europe to the Hellenic rationalist tradition and the
Christian faith, were designed to reaffirm European identity.
While millions of Muslim citizens live in Europe they remain
foreign to Europe’s deep identity, which must be affirmed,
defended and protected.
Historical truth is another matter, of course. Islam, like
Judaism, is part and parcel of the European soul, a soul shaped
by their thinkers, philosophers, architects and authors, their
artists and merchants. Islam is, historically and
contemporaneously, a European religion; the pope’s remarks must
be viewed through the prism of fear, fear of the Muslim
presence, and driven by the urge to revitalise missionary
activity in the very heart of Europe.
Benedict XVI viewed interfaith dialogue through the same prism.
In the course of our encounters, the last one in Rome in 2009,
it proved impossible to broach theological fundamentals and
principles: the discussion quickly turned to our respective
practices, and to the treatment of Christian minorities in the
Of course we could point to shared values, but even then,
dialogue rapidly veered off into comparisons, reciprocity, and
even competition. Debate on the treatment of Eastern Christians
cannot and must not be avoided; discrimination is a fact and
Muslims must respond in full candour, but this cannot become a
pretext for shirking fundamental theological questions, or, more
generally, the obligation to place things in their proper
historical and political context.
The fact that the rights of Muslims are often better protected
in the secular West has very little to do with Christianity,
just as occasional discrimination in Muslim-majority societies
cannot be attributed to certain interpretations of Islam alone.
It is impossible to disregard the political and historical
factors that go well beyond strict interfaith dialogue. To
confine dialogue—with other religions in general and with Islam
in particular — to missionary posturing (against the “threat” of
Islam in the West) and systematic criticism (underlining the
contradictions of Muslim majority societies) can only deprive it
of its value and limit its potential for improving mutual
awareness and promoting fruitful, respectful, pro-active and
The church must face facts: it has a serious youth problem. The
final years of Pope John Paul II and the retirement, at 85, of
Benedict XVI symbolise an era: the church today seems frail, on
the defensive, far from the common people, stubbornly fixated on
principles that millions hear and few apply. The churches of
Europe, and more generally in the West, are emptying; those who
remain are increasingly old.
It can only be hoped that the next pope will possess
youthfulness of spirit combined with seriousness and theological
competence, that he will be better fitted to grasp the great
issues of the day, both within the Church and at the heart of
contemporary society. It can only be hoped that he will be
capable of articulating a less abrasive message, one more open
to other traditions; one that, even though the faithful quite
naturally understand it as the “truth,” never neglects dialogue
and mutual respect, all the while standing firmly for a
pluralist and inclusive West as the embodiment of the Catholic
To the recognition of diversity within (the presence of other
Christian traditions) and without (the world’s other spiritual
traditions and religions) must be added full and open debate
within the church on rules and practices. The celibacy of
priests, the exclusion of women from the clerical hierarchy, the
acceptance of divorce, the use of contraception, or the ethical
response of the Catholic church to contemporary scientific and
technological issues are only a few of the questions to which
the incoming pope will be called upon to respond: not against
Catholic principles, but with the triple exigency of fidelity to
those principles, to the critical re-examination of the sources,
and to the acceptance of responsibility for the state of our world.
Every religious and spiritual tradition must submit itself to
the process of criticism and self-criticism. Such a process will
demand the full support of a Pope, of priests and competent,
self-assured, courageous and qualified representatives (rabbis
and ulama) of other faiths who will reject defensive attitudes
and accept that their first responsibility is to awaken minds
and hearts to the meaning of life and death, to the dignity of
beings in their diversity, and the affirmation of overarching
(universal and shared) goals that any society would neglect at
its risk. The church today awaits this message and pastoral
guidance, as do all of the world’s religious and spiritual
During the past few days, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze and greek-orthodox organized moments of prayer and initiatives to commemorate Benedict XVI as they all await the election the new Successor. Some communities even asked Muslims to express their opinion of Pope Benedict XVI. Many cited the Regensburg speech, in which, according to this article, the Pope’s words were misunderstood.
Pope Benedict XVI was only just in the process of becoming a Pope. He will be remembered by the Turks as someone who got lost in this process. How Turkish Muslims viewed Benedict XVI. By Kerim Balci
The Turks often view global events from the perspective of their own domestic politics. In Turkey, the unexpected abdication of Pope Benedict XVI was compared with the recent resignations of politicians forced to step down from office because of incriminating videos. It is alleged that in the case of the Pope, it was an unknown video – which in all probability does not even exist – that triggered his decision. “He was forced to accept the post and forced to step down” – is the prevailing Turkish view of the voluntary resignation of the Pope.
The clandestine Vatican, power struggles in the vaults of St. Peter’s and the poor elected Pope, without allies and without power – the Turks’ perception of a conspiratorial Vatican is older than that of their own corrupt state. During the Pope’s visit to Turkey in late 2006, seen as an act of reconciliation following his controversial Regensburg address, Turkish bookshops displayed badly written attempts to emulate the work of Dan Brown. One of them is the work of a certain Yücel Kaya and bears the title: “Who Will Kill the Pope in Istanbul?”
Never fitted the same mould as his predecessor
Kaya probably had little appreciation of the potential explosiveness of such an issue. The attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in the year 1981 by Turkish ultranationalist Mehmet Ali Agca was seen as the revelation of what is known as the Third Secret of Fátima. The prophecy of three shepherd children from the Portuguese town dates from the early 20th century and was long kept secret by the Vatican. It was eventually made public in the year 2000 by Joseph Ratzinger, among others.
Following Ratzinger’s advice, John Paul II. used the “Third Secret” as a confirmation of himself as God’s chosen Pope, serving the Church until his death when God willed it. It was alleged that this was a tactical move intended to cancel out the arguments of those demanding the resignation of the Pope due to old age. Using the prophecy to consolidate the papal contract was either the clever idea of his future successor Ratzinger, or of the Pope himself.
At least in the eyes of the average Turk, Pope Benedict XVI never fitted the same mould as his predecessor. In contrast to John Paul II Benedict XVI again wore the traditional red papal slippers. This did nothing to change the fact that for Turkey, the Pope still had a Polish face. An image that has been indelibly etched on the collective memory of the Turks.
The lapse of Regensburg
He never managed to free himself from the persona of the German theologian Dr. Joseph Ratzinger. This is exemplified by the charitable organisation “Joseph Ratzinger Pope Benedict XVI Foundation”, set up by his students. While most of its income is derived from the sale of the papal writings of Benedict XVI, the foundation’s declared goal is “to promote theology in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger”.
This “spirit of Joseph Ratzinger” haunted the Pope during his speech at the University of Regensburg in September 2006, when he infringed upon the sensitivity of the Muslim world with the apparently unintentional accusation that Islam is a religion that has not contributed to the advance of human civilisation.
In order to undo the damage inflicted by Ratzinger’s reference to comments made by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos, Benedict XVI travelled to Istanbul where he met – the Hagia Sophia as a potential location for prayers – urban Muslims for silent prayers at the Blue Mosque, his face aligned in the direction of Mecca. Just as his critical comments had done before, this gesture also had a far-reaching impact.
Trying to reset Catholic-Muslim dialogue
For the Turks ascribed a particular significance to this shared prayer session: Even though the Pope had not been entirely “forgiven” for the Regensburg lecture, many gained the impression that he had drawn a painful lesson from his error and was now ready to reset exchange between the Catholic and Muslim world.
They were not far wrong with this assessment. Benedict XVI paid a visit to the Directorate of Religious Affairs, an unprecedented event in the history of Turkey. The directorate decided to take part in the summit of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, which convened at the Vatican for the first time in 2008.
Benedict XVI also helped give the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) a new lease on life by restoring its former independent status. The council, to which the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims is also affiliated, was placed under the leadership of the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, thereby robbing it of its autonomy. But in 2007, the council was again given its own President, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and is now at least as proactive as it was during the papacy of John Paul II. But the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims continues to lack autonomy – in contrast to the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
Catholic-Muslim bonds put to the test
The durability of Catholic-Muslim bonds was put to the test on further occasions during Benedict’s papacy: once by the murder of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in Trabzon in 2006; and again in 2010 by the murder of Bishop Luigi Padovese, the Pope’s apostolic vicar in Anatolia. The Vatican did not criticise the Turkish government or Turkish Islam following these attacks. In actual fact, the families of the murdered men devoted the pain of their loss into opening up new channels of interfaith dialogue.
But in the end, Benedict XVI’s Muslim interlocutors appeared to be more interested in interfaith dialogue than could be said of the Pope himself. While John Paul II had to wait two decades for a response from the Muslim world to the “Nostra Aetate” declaration of 1964 regarding interfaith exchange, Benedict XVI tried to do justice to a network of Muslims in leading positions from the entire Muslim world willing to enter into dialogue.
This is how the Catholic-Muslim Forum was founded, in response to an open letter from 138 Muslim theologians calling for peace and cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Muslim world. It was a dialogue long advocated not only by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, but also important religious organisations such as the Gülen movement.
No one attempted to kill the Pope in Istanbul. But if you bear in mind the Turks’ susceptibility to conspiracy theories, it would not come as a surprise to see bestselling books on the shelves of Turkish bookshops with titles such as: “Who Forced the Pope’s Resignation in Rome?”
In a statement reacting to Pope Benedict’s decision to step down at the end of this month, Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said:
“We offer the American Muslim community’s best wishes to Pope Benedict XVI as he leaves his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
“In recent years — and despite some passing controversies — relations between Muslims and Catholics have strengthened, particularly on issues related to social justice and family values.
“We look forward to continued and growing positive interfaith relations under the new pontiff as Muslims in the United States and worldwide join with people of all faiths and cultures who seek to make a better world.”
Asked what he thinks of the murder of Monsignor Padovese in Turkey by his driver on June 3, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his deep sorrow but, at the same time, pointed out that it would be a grave error to attribute the responsibility of the event to Turkey or the Turks. In fact, as he explained, the murder was committed for personal reasons rather than for political or religious motives. The Pope stressed that the event must not prevent a dialogue with Islam and said that “Despite the differences, Muslims are our brothers”. He then exhorted believers to find a common and shared vision and to imitate the divine patience that helps to restore peace after having suffered violence. Despite rumours of a link between the murder (by beheading) and Islamic fundamentalists who want to eliminate Christians from Turkey, the Vatican remains cautious.
Over fifty leading Muslim and Catholic scholars and religious leaders from the Middle East, Europe, and America sat behind closed doors in a Vatican building, discussing issues about what divides, and can unite the two faiths. The landmark talks were a hopeful attempt to establish new, positive dialogue after a fall out two years ago concerning a speech by Pope Benedict. The scholars and clerics issued a 15-point declaration asserting a mutual love of God and care for one’s neighbor. Pope Benedict XVI urged Christians and Muslims to overcome their misunderstandings. Some of the topics discussed during the talks included issues on the freedom of religion, freedom of consciences, apostasy, and violence. Noted scholars Tariq Ramadan and Ingrid Mary Mattson praised the meetings, citing positive results that “exceeded” expectations.
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Members of Italy’s Muslim community met on Friday to find new ways to combat extremism. The meeting, held in Rome’s main mosque, was the first of its kind to be organized by the Association of Muslim Intellectuals. “We placed attention on the need to implement strategies to prevent Islamic radicalism and foster initiatives that aim to create a more accurate image of Islam,” said in a statement by the group. The group also asserted that it would support an initiative by Pope Benedict XVI who intends to read from parts of Genesis in a televised speech to be given in October. The president of the organization, Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo said that the group is “happy to participate in a moment of great religious and civil significance.
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Members of Italy’s Muslim community met on Friday to find new ways to combat extremism. The meeting, held in Rome’s main mosque, was the first of its kind to be organized by the Association of Muslim Intellectuals. “We placed attention on the need to implement strategies to prevent Islamic radicalism and foster initiatives that aim to create a more accurate image of Islam,” said in a statement by the group. The group also asserted that it would support an initiative by Pope Benedict XVI who intends to read from parts of Genesis in a televised speech to be given in October. The president of the organization, Ahmad Gianpiero Vincenzo said that the group is happy to participate in a moment of great religious and civil significance.
The Argentine philosopher Mario Bunge in a recent interview in a Spanish newspaper classified the Pope as a man who doesn’t want peace, who wants to engage in a Holy war against Islam-this is a departure from his predecessor who was very active against war and discrimination. According to Bunge, the greatest enemy today is the one who has more power. Islam, therefore, cannot be the enemy as it does not have an army, it is divided among factions and its only wealth is oil. Bunge identified the enemy of in his perspective as the USA.