The previous Pope, before he passed away, was a man who made serious attempts to bridge the ideological gaps between faiths. He did much to heal the centuries-old hostility and suspicion between the Roman Catholic Church and Judaism, Islam and the Orthodox Church. The world of faith improved that bit more under his leadership and open heartedness.
But his successor, Pope Benedict, has gone the other way, stomping on toes. I wonder whether it’s a reflection of his Teutonic heritage.
Just this week, Pope Benedict in delivering a speech at Regensburg University in his homeland quoted, for whatever reason still unexplained, a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Even though that was all he said about Islam in his speech, at the end of which he did state that reason could be the basis for ‘that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today’, it was too little too late, for the hurt was done.
Pope Benedict subsequently admitted that what he later had said were ‘brusque’ words about Islam.
Predictably, the Muslim world is in an uproar about the Pope’s insult to the prophet Mohamad (pbuh) and his teachings of Islam, despite a Vatican spokesman hastily attempting to institute PR damage control, averring that ‘it certainly wasn't the intention of the Pope to carry out a deep examination of jihad [holy war] and on Muslim thought on it, much less to offend the sensibility of Muslim believers.’
Ali Bardakoglu, a cleric who is head of the Turkish Government's directorate of religious affairs, commented on the Pope’s coming visit to Turkey: “I do not think any good will come from the visit to the Muslim world of a person who has such ideas about Islam's prophet. He should first of all replace the grudge in his heart with moral values and respect for the other."
Aiman Mazyek, president of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the German press that the Pope should recall the episodes of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the Vatican's relations with Nazi Germany, before badmouthing Islam’s prophet.
Ouch, ouch & ouch! A lesson for us that people who lived in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!
I am also glad that Aiman Mazyek employed an intellectual approach to smash the Pope's hurtful statement than for Muslims to take to the streets burning this and that, like they are the aggressors rather than the victims of religious bias and insensitivities.
Given those ‘things only evil and inhuman’ perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church, maybe the Pope shouldn't be pointing any finger at extremist activities in other religions. But in the final analysis, with just one thoughtless sentence that quoted a medieval Christian statement, he has effectively destroyed the good work of his predecessor.
But why in the world did he choose to quote the biased opinion of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, who was no better nor more enlightened than any people of that era?
Only God knows!