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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?

                                                                Story 19
Prediction 8:  The Vatican demonstrating intolerance for the Muslims in Europe.  Possibility of the Pope speaking negatively toward the Muslim faith, its beliefs and the Qur’an.  He could conceivably call for a new "crusade" against Islam. 

Pope cool towards Islam dialogue

By Roland Flamini

The recent terrorist bombings in London and Sharm-al-Sheik were not specifically directed against Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI said Monday, but he stopped short of agreeing that Islam could be a religion of peace.
 

A committed Europeanist, the German-born pontiff sees Europe's burgeoning population of immigrant Muslims as a growing threat to Christian values and the Christian way of life.


The pope is on vacation in the Aosta Valley, in the Italian Alps. He gave a "flying interview" to reporters who had waited for him outside a church near the village of Les Combes. Asked specifically whether Islam could be considered "a religion of peace" he said he didn't want to use grand labels,"but it certainly has elements that could favor peace: but then it also has other elements." Still, he went on, "We should always try to find the best characteristics that help to promote dialogue."

Asked if he thought the London bombings of July 7 and 23, and the Sharm-al-Sheik attack last week were anti-Christian, Pope Benedict replied, "No, they seemed to be aimed at a wider target, not specifically against Christianity."

The pope seemed to be correcting his earlier statement, made immediately following the July 7 suicide bomb attacks on three London underground stations, and the bomb on the London bus. In a message to the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor transmitted through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope Benedict called the attacks "anti-human and anti-Christian."

The pope's comment did not appear on the Vatican's official Web site, and the reference to it being anti-Christian was later left out of the official text, without explanation. However, Vatican sources said that the original wording had been a mistake, and hinted that the Vatican press office had been responsible for the error. Given some the pope's earlier criticisms of Islam the outburst in the heat of the moment is plausible, and indeed human.

But of course, inaccurate -- as the Vatican quickly perceived. The 54 dead and over 700 injured in the four blasts mirrored London's multi-racial society. The bombs claimed both Christians and Muslims victims, and the terrorists both in London and more so in Egypt knew that they would. But to the Islamist suicide bombers the aim was to create chaos through terror; and if a few brethren died in the process they had given their lives in a worthy cause.

A committed Europeanist, the German-born pontiff sees Europe's burgeoning population of immigrant Muslims as a growing threat to Christian values and the Christian way of life. He has spoken out against Turkish membership of the European Union, arguing that Turkey belongs to "a different continent, always in contrast to Europe," as he once put it. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before his election, he fought hard, but without success, to persuade the European Union to include a reference to Europe's Christian roots in the text of the new EU constitution.

In this context the pope's reference to the possibility of dialogue with Islam was doubly interesting. The Vatican has diplomatic relations with several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, but Rome has not been particularly active in promoting dialogue with Islam as a global strategy. Pope John Paul II, recognizing the wisdom of closer inter-faith contact, became the first pontiff to visit a mosque on his trip to Damascus in 2001. He also paved the way for better relations by issuing a formal apology for the misdeeds of Catholics towards Muslims in the Crusades and under colonialism.

It was said that one reason for John Paul II's strong and publicly expressed opposition to the Iraq war was to avoid creating the impression of a conflict between Christians and Muslims. There were, after all, no Islamic countries in the U.S.-led coalition.

It is true that John Paul II promoted dialogue between Vatican prelates and Muslims, some of them radical. But the exchanges were on a theological rather than a social level; and some analysts believe that the Catholic Church is missing an opportunity to play a major role in combating Islamic fundamentalist terror by engagingIslam more closely, particularly in Europe. Observers think it would be surprising if Pope Benedict stepped in where his predecessor did not. He has given every indication of seeing relations between Islam and Catholicism as one of competition over the truth.

As a cardinal, the pope was known to have been unenthusiastic about Pope John Paul's dialogue with Islam because it assumed that the two faiths -- Catholicism and Islam -- were on an equal footing. Rome, on the contrary, regards the Catholic faith as the one, true faith. It is one thing to seek closer ties with other Christian churches, but quite another to treat Islam as an equal. The danger -- the pope felt before and probably still does now -- was that dialogue could give the false impression that Catholics could "shop around" for a religion of their choice.

So the need to create understanding with Islamic communities in the hope of making the ground less fertile for militants is currently left to the initiative of local hierarchies. But does it work? Ironically, one strong advocate of inter-faith dialogue with the Muslim community is Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. He says such contacts are "an urgent need." For the cardinal, "Christianity and Islam have a shared responsibility in defending world peace."
 

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