Pope Francis: God merely ‘permits’ Islam

Hard to see the debate over “willed” or “permitted” having any material effect apart from theological debates:

Pope Francis has further clarified his controversial statement issued in Abu Dhabi, in which he appeared to state that God “wills” the existence of many religions.

This appears to contrast with the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church, which teaches, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, that the “one true religion subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men.”

The informal clarification came at today’s general audience, as the Pope reflected on his recent trip to Muslim-majority Morocco. In unscripted remarks, he said to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square:

But some may wonder: but why does the Pope go visit the Muslims and not only the Catholics? Because there are so many religions, and why are there so many religions? With the Muslims we are descendants of the same Father, Abraham: why does God allow so many religions to exist? God wanted to allow this: the Scholastic theologians referred to the voluntas permissiva [permissive will] of God. He willed to permit this reality: there are many religions; some are born of culture, but they always look to heaven, they look to God. But what God does will is fraternity among us, and in a special way — hence the reason for this journey — with our brothers, who are sons of Abraham, like us, the Muslims. We must not be afraid of the difference: God has permitted this. We ought to be frightened if we do not work in fraternity, to walk together in life.

The Feb. 4 statement incited controversy among Christians for asserting that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions” — like the diversity of “color, sex, race and language” — are “willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings” — a claim many believe to be contrary to the Catholic faith.

Some critics argued the Pope’s statement seemed not only to “overturn the doctrine of the Gospel” but also to align with the ideas of Freemasonry.

Observers pointed out that the potential for confusion was compounded by the fact that both Al-Azhar and the Catholic Church asked in the document that it “become the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of formation.”

To remedy the confusion arising from the statement, four days later Bishop Athanasius Schneider issued a statement on uniqueness of faith in Jesus Christ. Three weeks after that, at a Mar. 1 ad limina meeting of the bishops of Kazakhstan and Central Asia with Pope Francis at the Vatican, Bishop Schneider privately obtained from Pope Francis a clarification that God only permits but does not positively will a “diversity of religions.”

The Pope explicitly stated that Schneider could share the contents of their exchange on this point. “You can say that the phrase in question on the diversity of religions means the permissive will of God,” he told the assembled bishops, who come from predominantly Muslim regions.

Bishop Schneider in turn asked the Pope officially to clarify the statement in the Abu Dhabi document.

In light of the Abu Dhabi statement and today’s informal clarification from Pope Francis, LifeSite spoke with Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy, a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission and former chief of staff for the U.S. Bishops’ committee on doctrine, about the controversy.

In 2017, Fr. Weinandy wrote a letter to Pope Francis (which was subsequently made public) saying his pontificate is marked by “chronic confusion” and warning that teaching with a “seemingly intentional lack of clarity risks sinning against the Holy Spirit.”

In our interview with the Fr. Weinandy on the Abu Dhabi statement, he identifies what he believes is its most problematic element, and offers his perspective on both on the Pope’s private clarification to Bishop Schneider and his public remarks at this week’s general audience.

Fr. Weinandy says while he believes Pope Francis is motivated by a “noble desire” to “foster mutual understanding” and “undercut some Islamic factions that foster terrorism,” his signing the Abu Dhabi statement “has doctrinal consequences well beyond what he may have envisioned or desired.”

“What I find very sad and scandalously troubling” he added, “is that, in the midst of it all, Jesus is being insulted. He is reduced to the level of Buddha or Mohammed when in fact he is the Father’s beloved Messianic Son, the one in whom the Father is well pleased.”

Source: Pope Francis: God merely ‘permits’ Islam

Pope Francis on immigration: Political leaders ‘risk becoming prisoners of the walls they build’

Well said:

Pope Francis said on Sunday that political leaders who want walls and other barriers to keep migrants out “will end up becoming prisoners of the walls they build.”

The pope made his comments to reporters aboard the plane returning from Morocco in response to a question about migration in general and about U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to shut down the southern border with Mexico.

“Builders of walls, be they made of razor wire or bricks, will end up becoming prisoners of the walls they build,” he said.

Francis, who did not mention Trump in his response, has sparred with the U.S. president before over migration, which was a theme of several questions on the plane as well as during the trip to Morocco.

Trump has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for his promised U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“I realize that with this problem (of migration), a government has a hot potato in its hands, but it must be resolved differently, humanely, not with razor wire,” the Argentine-born pope said on the plane.

Addressing Moroccan leaders on Saturday, Francis said that problems of migration would never be resolved by physical barriers but instead required social justice and correcting the world’s economic imbalances.

“With fear, we will not move forward, with walls, we will remain closed within these walls,” he said on Sunday.

Besides the United States, migration has again risen to the fore of national political debates in a number of North African and European countries.

On the plane, Francis repeated some of the key points of his views on migration.

He said wealthy countries should help eliminate the root causes of migration such as poverty, war and political instability.

Migrants should be accepted, protected and integrated and if a country cannot handle the numbers, the migrants should be distributed among other countries, he said.

Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

Pope Francis captures the essence of fake news:

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Full text below:

A writer in the New York Times once called Pope Francis “the anti-Trump,” which we guess would make President Donald Trump something like the antipope.

The essay’s premise was that the two often agreed on the same world problems but proposed antithetical solutions. Example: “Both pope and president are critics of a neoliberal globalism” – but while Francis wants people to help desperate migrants who are the victims of capitalist greed, Trump wants to wall out immigrants so Americans can get richer.

But that’s the New York Times, which Trump has accused of peddling “fake news.” Actually he’s applied that label to almost all mainstream outlets by now, and went so far as to rank them according to fakeness.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Francis released a papal message titled “Fake news and journalism for peace.” And while, like Trump, he think it’s a big problem, his take on it could hardly be more different.

Whereas the president would tell you what is fake news (CNN is, he says; Fox News is not), the pope would rather you figure it out. In fact, his message is more or less a how-to guide.

Francis gives only one example of fake news in his treatise. He is the pope, so no surprise, it’s from the Bible.

“This was the strategy employed by the ‘crafty serpent’ in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news,” Francis wrote. He means the serpent in the Garden of Eden, who tricked Eve and Adam into eating forbidden fruit by making up a story about how great it would turn out.

“The tempter approaches the woman by pretending to be her friend, concerned only for her welfare, and begins by saying something only partly true,” Francis wrote. ” ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ ”

False premise. “In fact,” Francis wrote, “God never told Adam not to eat from any tree, but only from the one tree.”

Eve tries to correct the serpent, and in doing so, falls for his trap. It’s a bit like when you argue with a Facebook troll and get sucked into a long comment thread, eventually saying things you never meant to.

“Of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it nor touch it, under pain of death,’ ” Eve tells the serpent, very specifically.

“Her answer is couched in legalistic and negative terms,” Francis wrote, “After listening to the deceiver and letting herself be taken in by his version of the facts, the woman is misled. So she heeds his words of reassurance: ‘You will not die!’ ”

And then, like with a chain email, Eve shares the serpent’s news with Adam, who turns out to be just as gullible. And while they don’t die when they eat the fruit, they do get the human race kicked out of paradise forever.

That’s how fake news worked back in Genesis, Francis wrote, and it’s not much different and no less dangerous in the internet age.

So, he asked, “How can we recognize fake news?”

He listed a few characteristics of the genre: Fake news is malicious. It plays off rash emotions like anger and anxiety. “It grasps people’s attention by appealing to stereotypes and common social prejudices,” Francis wrote.

But in most respects, fake mimics truth. On the surface, they can be hard to tell apart. For example Trump once retweeted a video titled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The video was real, but police said the attacker wasn’t even a migrant.

So finally, here is the pope’s solution. “We can recognize the truth of statements from their fruits,” he wrote, “whether they provoke quarrels, foment division, encourage resignation; or, on the other hand, they promote informed and mature reflection leading to constructive dialogue and fruitful results.”

Fake news is as fake news does, in other words. It “leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred,” Francis wrote.

So if you’re feeling those things while browsing Facebook, or find yourself in a flame war, be especially wary of what you just read. Ask yourself if there might be another side. Listen to those who disagree with you, instead of yelling at them.

“The best antidotes to falsehoods are not strategies, but people,” the pope wrote. “People who are not greedy but ready to listen, people who make the effort to engage in sincere dialogue so that the truth can emerge; people who are attracted by goodness and take responsibility for how they use language.”

If you’re wondering, no, the pope does not mention Trump in this message. Not that Francis mentioned him by name either during the 2016 campaign, when he told reporters, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

But the contrast between these two men’s notions of fake news is glaring. If Trump’s appeals, you can find it on his Twitter account. If what Francis wrote makes sense to you, you might try it out the next time your scroll through Twitter.

Ask yourself if what you read makes you feel hateful, or like quarreling. Ask if the pope might find it fake.

And you could ask the same of everything you read, including this article, which brought Trump into the pope’s message, even though the pope did not.

Indeed, Francis wrote toward the end of his essay, “If responsibility is the answer to the spread of fake news, then a weighty responsibility rests on the shoulders of those whose job is to provide information, namely, journalists, the protectors of news.”

Just as everyone should check their emotions against the news, he wrote, the news should avoid inciting them.

Source: Pope Francis vs Donald Trump: Each one has a guide to fake news — and they couldn’t be more different

Pope gets political in Italy’s debate on citizenship for immigrants

Not totally surprising:

While in the United States, the concept that the Vatican might influence public policy is outrageous, in Italy, the relationship between politics and the Catholic Church is like a well-made cappuccino: The espresso and milk foam may seem separated at first, but once you drink it, they blend into one.

Popes theoretically handed in their temporal power almost 150 years ago, but their voice and opinions still hold considerable weight in public discourse, which, in Italy as well as in many parts of the world these days, is centered around the immigrant crisis.

In the past, Pope Francis has been hesitant, if not downright opposed, to using his hefty popularity to intervene directly in matters of Italian public policy. But while the pope remained quiet as Italy’s parliament passed a law on de facto-couples, which critics say opened the road towards gay marriage, he was vocal on a recently proposed law concerning citizenship to the children of long-term immigrants.

The legislation is based on the concept of ius soli, which establishes citizenship depending on where you are born and not ius sanguinis, requiring a blood lineage, and would offer citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy who have completed at least five years in the Italian school system.

Under Italy’s current ius sanguinis system, it’s difficult and somewhat rare for the children of immigrants to the country to acquire citizenship. Under a ius soli standard, it would become much easier.

The country’s senate is currently at a standstill on the law, with opposing parties entrenched in a battle where no political blows are spared.

At the weekly general audience Sep. 27, Francis extended his arms wide toward St. Peter’s square and called faithful to welcome migrants and refugees.

“Just like this,” the pope said, “arms wide open, ready for a sincere, affectionate, enveloping embrace.” He then praised the work done by the civil organizations involved in collecting signatures in order to push the ius soli legislation forward.

This wasn’t the first, nor most adamant time the pope publicly expressed his support for the legislation, causing distress and outrage on the part of those who strongly oppose it. Matteo Salvini, leader of the populist right-wing party Northern League tweeted that if the pope “wishes to apply the law in his State, the Vatican, he can go ahead. But as a Catholic, I don’t believe Italy can welcome and sustain the entire world. To God what is of God and to Caesar what is of Caesar. Amen,” to which he added his staple hashtag ‘stoptheinvasion.’

The pope had used the same quote from the Gospel in an interview with sociologist Dominique Wolton, where he stressed how “the lay state is a healthy thing,” but Francis’s recent statements on the ius soli show that when the topic is close to his heart, he is not willing to back down.

…A chorus of priests, bishops and cardinals joined in their support of the ius soli legislation, with Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishop’s Conference (CEI), saying that if a way was found to accelerate things with regards to the rights of same-sex couples, “the same attention should be given to the rights of Italians left without citizenship.”

“The Vatican doesn’t vote,” the bishop clarified, “but the Church is bound to call out the heart of the matter.”

On Sep. 25 the president of CEI, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, also joined the ranks in favor of the controversial law, adding that while welcoming immigrants is an important first step, “there is another responsibility, promulgated over time, that has to be tackled with prudence, intelligence and realism.”

Many reporters spotted a difference of expression between Francis’s “open arms” approach and CEI’s call to caution, but Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, quickly shot them down.

“You can welcome people with open arms, but also with prudence,” Parolin told reporters Sep. 27, before taking part in Rome’s Lateran University’s conference sponsored by the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need on the situation facing Christians in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains area.

“The fundamental thing is welcome, because they are our brothers and sisters,” Parolin said. The prelate said that in the context of this “very intense Italian political debate,” it’s best if the Vatican sticks with “recalling principles.”

“What’s important is that these people not just be welcome but integrated, so that they can be inserted in a positive way into the fabric of our society,” Parolin said.

Source: Pope gets political in Italy’s debate on citizenship for immigrants

Why Pope Francis’ approach to Islam breaks the mold of Benedict and previous popes | America Magazine

Interesting long read by Christopher Lamb on the contrast between Pope Francis and his predecessor in their efforts to engage Islam:

The global growth of Islam and in particular the rise of Islamic extremism have forced recent popes to set out, with increasing urgency, a strategy for engaging the religion.

As Pope Francis’ brief trip to Egypt over the weekend demonstrated, the most recent pontiffs have come up with starkly different approaches—though it’s not yet clear if one is better than the other, or if either will be effective.

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI addressed the question of Islamic extremism he did so during a speech at a university in his Bavarian homeland where, as a priest and professor, Joseph Ratzinger had worked decades earlier.

That 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, was a theological master class on the relationship between faith and reason. But it also angered Muslims who object to Benedict citing a 14th-century Christian emperor who claimed that the Prophet Muhammad had only brought the world things that were “evil and inhuman.”

Moreover, Benedict also delivered his message to Islam from afar.

Francis, on the other hand, has made it his business to try to build bridges with the Muslim world with the energy of a missionary.

That approach was on display during his 27-hour trip to Egypt, viewed as the leader in the majority Sunni Islamic world, and a nation that is making a serious—though controversial—effort to crack down on extremist-inspired violence.

So important to Francis, in fact, is the “personal encounter” with Muslims that the pontiff put his own safety at risk by going to Cairo, a trip that took place less than three weeks after 45 worshippers were killed in bomb attacks on two Egyptian churches.

The pope even shunned a bulletproof vehicle and when he arrived at a sports stadium for an open-air Mass he greeted the crowds from an open-topped golf buggy.

“Whereas previous popes — even in more secure places — have ridden in bulletproof vehicles, Francis showed his courage in Egypt, and his will to be close to the people, by this simple gesture,” explained Gabriel Said Reynolds, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Reynolds took part in a recent Vatican-Muslim forum at Cairo’s Al-Azhar university, a major center of Sunni-Islamic learning with global influence and expertise in interpreting the Quran. The dialogue that Reynolds is part of only restarted under Francis—who was elected in 2013—after relations had soured under Benedict.

Yet even as the current pope pushes for a personal encounter with Islam, his predecessor’s legacy of engaging Islam via a theological challenge to extremist elements among Muslims continues to hold some sway.

Indeed, just as Francis was heading to Egypt a letter appeared from the retired pope to the president of Poland in which Benedict accused “radical Islam” of creating an “explosive situation in Europe.”

Catholic defenders of Benedict’s Regensburg address insist that he correctly addressed some uncomfortable truths within Islam and they point out that the speech led 138 Islamic scholars to write to Benedict in 2007, a letter that paved the way for a new Catholic-Muslim dialogue initiative.

Yet while it was Muslims who approached Benedict a decade ago, under Francis things are the other way round.

Francis’ approach to Islam is characterized by a willingness to “cross over to the other side” — Egypt is the seventh Muslim majority country he has visited in his four years as pope. And a papal visit to Bangladesh, where almost 90 percent of the population are followers of Islam, is planned for later this year.

Francis’ approach to Islam is characterized by a willingness to “cross over to the other side”

In Egypt, this was symbolized by his embrace of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar mosque, following the pope’s address to their peace conference.

It was a powerful image of Muslim and Christian fraternity that had echoes of St. Francis of Assisi’s mission to Islamic leader Sultan Al-Kamil 800 years ago.

This personal approach has been bolstered by Francis’ consistent refusal to link the Islamic faith per se to terrorism, and has made the Islamic world take notice.

It also meant that when Francis issued one of his strongest and most detailed condemnations of religious violence during his Al-Azhar address, his speech was welcomed and frequently interrupted with applause.

“He knows that the only effective way for his message of peace to touch the hearts of the larger global community is to speak together with leaders of other religious communities,” Reynolds explained.

“He is counting on the prestige of Al-Azhar and its grand imam in particular, to join with him in broadcasting this message.”

Source: Why Pope Francis’ approach to Islam breaks the mold of Benedict and previous popes | America Magazine

In Egypt, Pope Francis Upstaged By Top Islamic Imam | The Huffington Post

Commentary by Daniel Williams, Author, Forsaken: The Persecution of Christians in Today’s Middle East:

The Pope seemed as determined to put distance between the image of Islam and the global terrorist wave as address the Christian plight. For instance, Francis dropped statements he had made in other countries that Christian communities in the region face genocide.

Instead, and maybe hopefully, it was left to Ahmed al-Tayeb, the chief imam of al-Azhar, the influential educational and religious complex in Cairo, to offer up a prescription for ending persecution of Christians and other minorities.

Two days in advance of the Pope’s visit, al-Tayeb dismissed the formal discrimination against Christians (and Jews) as practiced under Islamic Caliphates dating from the Seventh Century until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s. Presumably, this would include the special poll tax demanded from Christians and Jews living under Islamic rule and any other kind of inequity.

“The Caliphate era was being ruled by certain legislations suited to its era regarding non-Muslims and their rights in the Caliphate. However, it makes sense, and according to Islam as well, that if the political system changes, many related legislations change with it,” Al-Tayeb said.

“There is no doubt that citizenship is the true guarantee to achieving the absolute equality of rights and duties between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Two months earlier at al-Azhar, a conference between Muslim officials and representatives of Eastern Christian churches concluded with a call for equal citizenship under “the practice of coexistence in a single society founded on diversity, pluralism and mutual recognition.”

The meeting’s closing declaration endorsed the concept of a “National Constitutional state founded on the principles of citizenship, equality and the rule of positive law.” Under such an arrangement, no one could speak of citizens, including Christians, as belonging to a minority, the statement said.

In addition, the conference demanded that any “association of Islam or any other religions with violence be brought to a stop.”

The endorsement of equal citizenship is clearly welcome for anyone seeking an end to persecution of minorities. Al-Azhar is a prestigious institution throughout the Islamic world, although neither al-Tayeb nor any one religious leader speaks for all Muslims.

Of course, the call for a constitutional state and rule of law might ring hollow in Egypt itself, governed as it is by an ex-general who seized power in 2013 from an elected, if incompetent and authoritarian president, Muhammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader.

Morsi and thousands of suspected Brotherhood followers have been jailed. Many have death sentences hanging over them. Human rights groups report widespread torture and disappearances.

Although Sisi’s anti-Brotherhood campaign is being carried out in the name of anti-terror, he has found time to imprison secular opposition figures, including some who were involved in the 2011 popular uprising to oust long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak. Sisi has pledged to put Egypt on the road to democracy, yet freedom of the press, speech and labor rights to strike have all been proscribed.

And Copts, the main Christian sect in Egypt, continue to be subject to terrorist brutality and the government’s inability to curb sectarian violence. The Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic churches in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and in Alexandria that took 46 lives were the worst so far this year. In December, a bomb killed 29 worshippers at a church in Cairo. Francis visited the Cairo church on Friday.

Sisi is dealing with a terrorist uprising centered in the Sinai Peninsula, but which has also spread to other parts of Egypt with groups claiming allegiance to the Islamic State, the fundamentalist rebel organization in Iraq and Syria.

In that context, perhaps al-Tayeb was simply limiting his call for plurality and tolerance to the religious realm, and put civil rights issues aside so as not to offend Sisi. This, unfortunately, puts the al-Azhar establishment and even the Coptic hierarchy as tacitly complicit with Sisi’s iron rule.

Francis did a little better, calling for, “unconditional respect” not only for equality and religious freedom but also freedom of expression.

Pope Francis Gives a TED Talk—and a Warning – The Daily Beast

Another good message from Pope Francis:

He first compared himself to the many migrants and refugees of today, explaining that he was also the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina and wondering if he could have ended up like so many who are now living in the margins.

“I often find myself wondering: ‘Why them and not me?’ I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s ‘discarded’ people,” he said. “And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: ‘Why them and not me?’.”

He then moved on to the importance of the development of new technology. “How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion,” he said. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.”

Midway through his 18-minute talk, he introduced another favorite theme: hope. “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naïve and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing,” he said. “Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flavor to all aspects of life.”

“A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.”

Francis, who will be taking a lightening-speed trip to Egypt on Friday, considered by a many a very dangerous trip, then ended with remarks he hoped the world leaders would take to heart. He wasn’t specific, but his listeners in Vancouver—and around the globe—could make their own inferences.

“Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other,” said Pope Francis.

“There is a saying in Argentina: ‘Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.’ You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.”

“The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us.’ We all need each other.”

Source: Pope Francis Gives a TED Talk—and a Warning – The Daily Beast

Pope to meet with UK imams in bid to promote moderate Islam – The Washington Post

More effective approach than his predecessor:

Pope Francis is scheduled to meet Wednesday with four British imams two weeks after the London extremist attack, part of his effort to encourage Muslim leaders who renounce using religion to justify violence.

The audience was scheduled long before the March 22 attack, in which a man mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing three, before fatally stabbing a policeman on the grounds of Parliament.

The head of the British Muslim Forum, Muhammad Shahid Raza, said in an interview Tuesday that the pope’s support and message of solidarity after the attack “strengthened our position that we, like other communities, condemn all terrorist activities.”

Francis will try to further the cause later this month when he visits Al Azhar university in Cairo, Sunni Islam’s main center of learning.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, is accompanying the imams to the Vatican. He said the aim of the visit was to help promote Muslim leaders who denounce violence carried out in God’s name.

The Muslim community slowly is gaining the confidence to speak out and condemn Islamic extremism, Nichols said.

“That is the voice that has to be heard to counter the rather more undifferentiating, unappreciative and even hostile voices that view Islamic people in Britain as somehow alien and unwelcome,” he said.

Source: Pope to meet with UK imams in bid to promote moderate Islam – The Washington Post

Shias, Catholics and Protestants: Sectarian splits are widening in Islam and lessening in Christianity | The Economist

Worth reflecting upon:

ONE OF this week’s most arresting news photographs featured Pope Francis in smiling conversation with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who is touring Europe in the hope of asserting his country’s emergence from international isolation. The Iranian visitor asked for the pontiff’s prayers, and the Vatican announced afterwards that “common spiritual values” emerged during the conversation. It was the first meeting between a pope and an Iranian president since 1999.

A 40-minute chat, with interpreters, probably wasn’t long enough for much investigation of those shared sensibilities. But among observers of the world of religion it has often been suggested that Islam’s Shia-Sunni split corresponds in certain ways with the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christendom. Of course, as with any broad generalisation about religion, you can’t push it too far.

But Vali Nasr, an Iranian-American scholar-cum-diplomat who is a leading world authority on Shia Islam, finds the parallel quite striking. As he has argued, both Shia Muslims and Catholics have a respect for clerical authority and for theological tradition as it has evolved over time; that is in contrast with the stress put by many Sunnis, and Protestants, on going back to the original divine revelation and ignoring whatever came later.

In the Shia tradition, as in the Catholic one, there is a long line of succession through which sacred authority is thought to have been transferred over the centuries. Both among the Shias and the Catholics, there is emphasis on the idea of martyrdom leading to redemption. Some images of the slain Ali, whose murder in 680 is a primordial event for Shias, bear at least a passing resemblance to Christian depictions of Jesus Christ.

Of course, you can find points of similarity between any pair of religions and cultures if you look hard enough and set aside the major differences. But John Allen, a commentator on Vatican affairs, has argued that Catholics and Shias have geopolitical reasons for keeping in touch, as well as the religious and cultural reasons cited by Mr Nasr.

When it looks at Syria, the Vatican is instinctively protective of the Iranian-backed Assad regime, because it fears that the government’s overthrow by Sunni militants would spell doom for Christians. (That has not prevented some individual Catholic priests speaking out bravely against the Syrian regime’s atrocities.)

In September 2013, the Holy See strongly resisted American threats to bomb government forces in Syria. Then, at least, the Iranians had good reason to feel grateful to the Vatican. Another point is that wherever fundamentalist Sunnis (from conservative monarchs to populist Muslim Brothers) have held power, they have generally been anti-Shia and anti-Christian in equal measure.

But there is one big difference between intra-Muslim and intra-Christian divisions. The former are tending to grow wider, as tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia exacerbates the sectarian chasm in every other place where different forms of Islam coincide, from the civil-war zones of Syria and Yemen to the streets of Beirut and Islamabad.

Among Christian leaders, meanwhile, it is generally agreed that everything should be done to overcome division. As well as welcoming his Iranian guest, Pope Francis announced this week that he would go to Sweden in October to attend the start of a year of commemorations of the religious Reformation initiated by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517. In some ways, that is an extraordinary thing for a pope to be celebrating; the fact that the Vatican lost its sway over northern Europe, and blood-letting between Catholics and Lutherans convulsed the centre of Europe for a couple of centuries.

But a joint reflection by Catholic and Lutheran theologians has come up with an elegant way in which both churches can mark the event; it stresses that Luther’s original intention was to reform Catholicism from within, not to start a new church; and that everybody can agree that some reform was needed.

In the same sort of spirit, Shia and Sunni theologians get together from time to time and stress that whatever their differences, they recognise one another as Muslims and monotheists; but at the moment Islam’s sectarian hotheads seem to be making a much louder noise. If the pope and Mr Rouhani had a bit longer together, they might usefully have reflected on how people can be persuaded to stop killing one another because they have different interpretations of events in sacred history that took place long, long ago.

Source: Shias, Catholics and Protestants: Sectarian splits are widening in Islam and lessening in Christianity | The Economist

Pope Francis says interfaith dialogue needed to battle extremism

Part of the puzzle but requires an openness for dialogue. And many of those susceptible to radicalization may not be open to such dialogue:

Pope Francis said on Thursday dialogue between religions in Africa was essential to teach young people that violence and hate in God’s name was unjustified, speaking in Kenya which has been the victim of a spate of Islamist militant massacres.

Bridging divisions between Muslims and Christians is a main theme of his first tour of the continent that also takes him to Uganda, which like Kenya has been victim of Islamist attacks, and the Central African Republic, riven by sectarian conflict.

“All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies,” the pope told Muslim and other religious leaders gathered in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

“Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential,” he said at a morning meeting with about 25 religious leaders in the Vatican embassy here.

He stressed that God’s name “must never be used to justify hatred and violence.”

He referred to Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamists’ 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall and this year’s assault on Garissa university. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past two years or so, with Christians sometimes singled out by the gunmen behind the raids.

The chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supreme), Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, also called for cooperation and tolerance.

“As people of one God and of this world we must stand up and in unison, clasp hands together in all the things that are essential for our collective progress,” he said at the meeting, adding doctrinal differences should be put aside.

Source: Pope Francis says interfaith dialogue needed to battle extremism – World – CBC News