Thursday, July 18, 2013

Words of Peace from the Pope of Peace

Pope Francis Greets Immigrants at Mass at
Sorry for the hiatus.  I had company visiting from Africa and have been playing the tour guide and then, as if life was not complicated enough, in the move of my offices to another building on our campus I had lost my internet connection for several days.  But now we are back in business and we will return to the saga of Anglican history and pick up with the marriage of Henry VIII to his brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon but first I have some contemporary items that I want to bring up for comment.  And the very first is the greeting of  Pope Francis to the Muslim community when he visited Lampedusa last week.  As I mentioned in a previous entry, the Holy Father had gone to Lampedusa to comment on the plight of “illegal” immigrants worldwide.  Lampedusa, an Island in the Mediterranean much closer to Africa than to the Italian mainland but belonging to Italy, is the landing point for many African immigrants finding their way into Europe illegally.  The Pope made it very clear in his homily at Lampedusa that these immigrants were to be welcomed and Europeans were to look after their welfare regardless of their legal status.  That obviously has huge impact for us Americans as well as the Holy Father’s words should not  be confined to the situation in Europe but seen as a broader statement of the rights of migrant peoples.
Wat I want to focus on today is not the homily at Mass and the stance on the rights of migrants and the responsibility of citizens towards migrants, but the Holy Father’s words to the Muslim population as the majority of these immigrants are Muslims.  The Pope’s exact words are:

"To the dear, Muslim immigrants who today, this evening, are beginning the fast of Ramadan, with wishes for abundant spiritual fruit," Francis said.   "The Church is close to you in the search for a more dignified life for you and your families".

Francis’ “wishes for abundant spiritual fruit” as the Muslims begin the great fast of Ramadan is an affirmation that Islam, while lacking the fullness of Truth held in the Christian Gospel, is an authentic spiritual path.  He also said that we, the Church, support their search for a “more dignified life” for themselves and their families. 
Several months ago I saw and took issue with a particularly noxious blog called “The Tenth Crusade” maintained by a Boston crazy whose ignorance of Church doctrine is only surpassed by the arrogance with which the proclaims her own particular brand of Katholicism.  No one, even the Pope, is above her critique and she took very acerbic issue with the idea that Muslims and Christians (and Jews) worship the same God.  Confronted with papal statements to the contrary she stood her ground with the homicidal passion of a dogmatic George Zimmerman. But then why be surprised.  Cafeteria Catholics come in both the liberal and conservative stripe—those who choose their doctrines to suit their prejudices.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says

841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

The portrayal of Islam as a demonic cult by certain Katholic wing-nuts is in contradiction to the teaching of the Church.  Catholics, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God, albeit with a very different understanding because of our Christian belief in the Incarnation and the Trinity.  Muslims, like Jews, reject the Incarnation and the Trinity.  Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet—indeed one of the greatest prophets—and accept the Virgin Birth of Jesus.  They also have a special place in their teachings for Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Despite these similarities, there ultimately cannot be a reconciliation of doctrine with Muslims—or with Jews—because of our essential differences in this matter but we need to acknowledge our common belief in the God Who revealed Himself to Abraham and we must learn to live with one another in respect and harmony.  Pope Francis has set a much more open tone towards Islam than did his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, returning to the cordiality expressed by Saints-to-be John Paul II and John XXIII. 

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