Analysis; Western Secularism, Not Islam Is Pope's Real Enemy

Manila Bulletin, December 22, 2006 | Go to article overview

Analysis; Western Secularism, Not Islam Is Pope's Real Enemy


Byline: NICHOLAS RIGILLO Deutsche Presse-Agentur

VATICAN CITY (dpa) -- Pope Benedict XVI's September 12 lecture at the University of Regensburg, in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence, made him an enemy in the eyes of many Muslims.

Protesters took to the streets, extremists burned effigies of the pope and al-Qaeda's Iraqi cell likened his late November visit to Turkey to a modern-day crusade.

In fact, a closer look at the Regensburg speech, as well as statements made throughout his 20-month long pontificate, show that Benedict's real concern is with Western secularism. In this context, Islam could even turn out to be a useful ally of the Roman Catholic Church.

Benedict's trip to Turkey, his first to a predominantly Muslim country, effectively buried the Regensburg controversy, with Islamists hailing his ''historic'' visit to Istanbul's Blue Mosque as providing Catholic-Muslim relations with a fresh start.

''Like a Muslim!,'' read the main headline in Turkey's Milliyet newspaper above a photograph of Benedict, his eyes closed while facing the mihrab - a niche in the mosque's wall that indicates the direction of Mecca.

Earlier, on day one of his visit, the pope had told Turkey's most senior Muslim figure about the need for ''authentic dialogue between Christians and Muslims, based on truth and inspired by a sincere wish to know one another better.''

But Benedict didn't travel to Turkey just to bury the hatchet with Muslims, he also sought to improve relations with Orthodox Christians.

And after a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the two leaders signed a Common Declaration that called for the defence of Europe's Christian values and traditions.

''The process of secularization has weakened (Christian tradition); indeed, it is being called into question and even rejected,'' the pope said.

''We are called ... to renew Europe's awareness of its Christian roots, traditions and values, giving them new vitality,'' he added.

On December 14, during a visit to the Vatican by the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Benedict made his intentions even more explicit, saying, ''It is necessary to develop cooperation between Christians in each country of the European Union, so as to face the new risks that confront the Christian faith, which is to say growing secularism, relativism and nihilism.''

On the surface, the pope's call for a Christian alliance in defence of Europe's Christian roots appears to fly in the face of his eagerness to establish brotherly relations with Islam.

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