By Bishop Fred Henry

Calgary Sun, Canada
Oct 1 2006

Death threats issued to Pope Benedict XVI, Muslims burning the Pope in
effigy, promises to conquer Rome and slit the throats of Christians,
at least seven churches in the region of Palestine torched, a nun
murdered in front of a children's hospital.

This state of affairs is sadly ironic -- violent protests from a
religion of peace!

We all have to move to a position where it is not sufficient to
reject violence generically, nor to attribute such violence to "a
few radicals," nor sit back in silence. Even brothers can be wrong.

Many of us cannot help but ask where is the outrage, condemnation
and apologies from Muslims?

The position of the Pope concerning Islam is unequivocally that
expressed by the Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate: "The Church
regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living
and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of
heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit
wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham,
with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself,
submitted to God."

The Pope's option in favour of inter-religious and inter-cultural
dialogue is equally unequivocal. Dialogue is not an option but
a necessity.

In his first encyclical letter, Pope Benedict defended the truth that
"God is Love." At Regensburg, he was defending the foundation truth
that "God is Logos -- Reason." This is not simply the result of
enculturation or the "hellenization of Christianity" but something
that is always intrinsically true.

Pope Benedict criticizes attempts in the West to "dehellenize"
Christianity by the rejection of the rational component of faith (the
sola fides of 16th century reformers); the reduction of reason to the
merely empirical or historical (modern exegesis and modern science);
and by a multiculturalism which regards the union of faith and reason
as merely one possible form of enculturation of the faith. All this
is a Western self-critique.

To highlight the inability to engage with the other in our modern
world, Pope Benedict chose an example, drawn from the resources
of history, which also demonstrates one of the pressing issues of
our time.

It is true one could argue over whether he should have considered
how his carefully crafted prose could be misread and manipulated by
the ignorant to fan the flames of religious intolerance.

Nevertheless, the dialogue between the emperor of Constantinople,
Manuel II Paleologus, and a Muslim scholar from Persia on the
irrationality of spreading the faith through violence was not a mere
academic exercise.

Byzantium was increasingly threatened in the 14th century by an
aggressive Islamic force, the growing Ottoman Empire.

The Byzantine Emperor seems to have committed the dialogue to writing
while his imperial capital, Constantinople, was under siege by the
Ottoman Turks. It would fall definitively in 1453. Muslims were
military enemies, engaged in a war of aggression against Byzantium.

Yet even in these circumstances the Christian Emperor and learned
Persian Muslim could be candid with one another and discuss civilly
their fundamental religious differences. As Benedict described the
dialogue, the subject was "Christianity and Islam, and the truth
of both."

The Emperor was able to engage his Muslim interlocutor by appealing to
a shared, natural human reason and its ability to apprehend the truths
of God. As the Pope summarized, the Emperor was able to articulate
"the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something

He continued: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and
the nature of the soul."

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion
is this: "Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's

I also think his lecture ought to be read in the context of the
Pope's coming visit to Turkey and absence of religious freedom and
the persecution of Christians in Turkey.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Barthlomew I, invited
the pope in mid-2005.

The Turkish government formally invited the pope February 2006. But
shortly before this, on the 5th of the same month, there was the
killing of an Italian priest, Father Andrea Santoro, in a church in
Trabzon, on the Black Sea. After this, other priests were the targets
of threats and attacks.

For a few months, a number of the representatives of the Catholic
Church in Turkey have been living under the protection of unarmed,
plainclothes police. Their phone conversations are monitored, and their
mail is often open when it is delivered. More than being protected,
they have the feeling of being watched.

Last June, another important Church leader, the "Catholicos" of the
Armenians, Karekin II, visited Turkey. A reference he made to the
massacre of Armenians carried out by the Ottoman Empire during its
final phase earned him a penal trial for offences against Turkey,
brought against him by the magistrate of Istanbul.

Religious liberty is largely lacking in Turkey. This is also true for
the non-Sunni Muslims, the Alevi. Their places of worship are still
downgraded as "cultural centers."

There is growing hostility in the Turkish media toward everything
that is Western, European, and Christian.

Secular opinion is outstripped by opinion with an Islamist imprint,
which is increasingly more combative.

An extremely mediocre book of political fiction published in Turkey
at the end of August, written by a journalist who specializes in
intrigues, Yuecel Kaya, has had spectacular commercial success.

The title says it all: Attack on the Pope: Who Will Kill Benedict
XVI in Istanbul?

In the view of Benedict XVI, the heart of the question is always
the same one the emperor of Constantinople and his learned Persian
counterpart discussed in 1391:

"Not acting according to reason is contrary to the nature of God." /Henry_Bishop_Fred/2006/10/01/1930106.html