Month: April 2007

Fr Samir Khalil Samir, SJ – Articles & Interviews

Fr Samir Khalil Samir, SJ is a professor of Oriental Theology at St Joseph’s University in Lebanon. Born in Cairo, Father Samir also teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and is a founder and leader of the Centre for Arab-Christian Documentation and Research (CEDRAC).

In connection with our previous post I thought it would be beneficial to put together a compilation of his writings for further discussion.

Interviews

2007

  • West weak, Muslims mute when it comes to Islamism and terrorism AsiaNews.it. April 19, 2007.
  • Islamic terrorism, a disease within the Muslim world AsiaNews.it. April 17, 2007:

    The truth is that Islamic terrorism is caused by Islamism that is by a certain reading of the Koran and Sunnah, which has spread throughout the most famous Islamic schools and universities such as Cairo’s Al-Azhar. Islamic terrorism is caused by Salafism, that is a blind adherence to the tradition of the ancients, of those who went before us (salaf), a literal and immoveable reading, without life, without soul. This with regards to the Sunni world.

    In the Shiite world, the Khomeini theory of the “wilâyat al-faqîh” – according to which the ideal state is that which is governed by the most gifted faqîh, a shariah specialist – opened the door to the all forms of extremism, in the name of shariah, by deciding the daily life of the people and of society.

    It is important not to confuse Islam with Islamism, but it is just as important to urge Muslims to reject Islamism a san alteration of authentic Islam and to counter this violent and invasive tendency.

  • Islamism, a disease of the Muslim world April 13, 2007:

    Islamism, not to be confused with Islam, is a threat to the survival of the very religion it claims to represent and to the entire world. Until thirty years ago, there was one single word in the Arab language to refer to “Muslim”, and it was Muslim. Then, starting with Egypt, a second noun came into use which quickly spread, Islamiyy, separate from Muslim, which referred to a radical or fundamentalist Muslim who aims to create an Islamic project based on sharia. This neologism has been in place since, to define this new tendency within Islam, a tendency which has become increasingly strong, dynamic, and invasive and in the end violent and intolerant. . . .

    But islamism is not Islam: it is only an extremist tendency which presents itself as the true spirit of Islam. How does it succeed in attracting so many Muslims though? […]

    The roots are part of the tree. Thus the disease is to be found within the tree, not without. The roots of the disease are to be sought within Islam itself, not outside. This root is double. The first is some of the texts of the Koran and some sayings and practices taken from the Sunnah (the muhammadiana tradition), which are the foundations of the official teachings of Islam. The second are the teachings of certain “men of religion” (rigâl ad-dîn) – an Arab – islamic term which corresponds to the western “clergy” – based on a certain determined choice made in the Koran and the Sunnah. These two roots need to be examined, if we want to identify the cause of the illness, better, if we – like good doctors – want to diagnosis the origins of the disease.

    Islam does not identify itself with radical islamism. But radical islamism is not foreign or separate to Islam: it is one of the possible readings of Islam (that is the Koran and the Sunnah); in short the worst possible reading.

    This is why it is not only essential that Islam and islamism are not confused, but that Muslims are encouraged to reject islamism as an unnatural alteration of authentic Islam, and to combat this invasive tendency.

  • Salafist Islam spawns Islamic terrorism AsiaNews.it. April 12, 2007:

    Islamic terrorism is neither gratuitous nor brutal violence, it is a religious ideology. It is seen as a sacred duty, the concrete application of divine will, as clearly expressed in certain excerpts of the Koran and in some of the practices and sayings of Islam’s Prophet.

    Terrorists and Islamists consider the majority of Muslims who do not agree with this point of view to be hypocrites (munâfiqûn), as God himself defines them in the Koran, thus they are not worthy of to be called Muslims. . . .

    It is essential that the intrinsic link between Islamism and Salafism is understood, as well as the difference which separates them.

    Salafist thought is rooted in the Koran and the Sunnah, in other words it finds its justification and elaborates its thoughts and way of life within these texts. Salafist thought was not borne of this century, but goes far back to the early years of Islam. This tradition is one of the most interpretative of the Koran and Sunnah.

    The Islamist current basis itself on the Salafist interpretation of Islam and it radicalizes it, turning it into a concrete application, through intense propaganda and presenting it as authentic Islam. It renders Salafism extreme, by prescribing precise rules applied to the actions of daily living. . . .

    It is important not to confuse or identify Islam with Islamism, but is also necessary that we push Muslims to reject Islamism as an alteration of authentic Islam and to fight against this spreading tendency. Western society must defend Muslims from Islamism. For this reason, giving even minimal credence to the demands of the Islamists is a regression which only serves to open new terrorist fronts.

  • Church-Islam dialogue: the path starts from Regensburg’s Pope January 16, 2007:

    Benedict’s masterly lecture at Regensburg was seen by many Christians and Muslims as a false step by the Pope, a simple mistake, something to get over and forget, if we don’t want to set off a war of religions. Instead, at Regensburg, this Pope traced, with his balanced, courageous and by no means trivial thinking, the basis for true dialogue between Christians and Muslims, giving voice to many reformist Muslims and suggesting to Islam and Christians the steps to be taken.

‘Multiculturalism and Islam’

2006

  • Islam walking a tightrope between violence and reform AsiaNews.it. Sept. 4, 2006.
  • Violent fatwas worry Muslim governments Sept. 5, 2006.
  • Imams’ ignorance holds back cultural development of those who want to live according to Islam Sept. 6, 2006.
  • Training European imams is Islam’s toughest challenge AsiaNews.it. Sept. 7, 2006.
  • Islam needs renewal from within, not withdrawal into itself, to overcome its crisis AsiaNews.it. Sept. 8, 2006:

    no one is denying the reality of a profound crisis in Islam. It is rendered even more serious by international conflicts, which risk resolving the crisis through a short circuit of holy war. But there are increasing numbers of figures who are pointing to problems within the Muslim community.

    The first problem is the lack of a recognized authority. Attempts are made to get around the problem by recognizing the Organization of Islamic States (which has no legal authority); or else, the European association of muftis is relied on, but it too is without authority.

    The second problem is the ignorance in which the Islamic religious world has fallen. How can all this be reformed? We have seen various attempts: better training for imams; reopening the door of interpretation; suspension of Koranic law, at least “temporarily”: in order to reduce the negative impact on the most fanatical elements of the population; recognition of human rights or at least the attempt to integrate them into Islamic principles…

    In concrete terms this means problems pertaining to democratization at the political level; social justice problems at the socio-economic level; family law and women’s rights at the basic level. At this point, everyone recognizes that the Islamic system that covered all these fields is out-dated, is no longer managed, nor is it manageable.

    Being challenged by other cultures, Islam needs a renewal of its thinking from within, in order to regain strength. Instead, for the very reason that it feels weak, it protects itself by closing in on itself, thinking that it can save itself by going back to a “golden age” of the first caliphs.

  • Islam humiliates religious freedom of Christians and human rights of Muslims. It’s time for change AsiaNews.it. March 29, 2006:

    The time has come for a choice. If there is incompatibility between human rights and the rights set out in the Koran, then – I’m sorry to say – the Koran must be condemned; or else it must be said that our understanding of the Koran puts us against human rights and freedom of conscience, and so the interpretation must change. One thing is certain: we can no longer keep silent. The European bishops decided in recent days to dedicate the forthcoming year to studying the problems of Islam in Europe and Islam in the world, relations of European Union countries with Muslim-majority countries, from the perspective of international justice and reciprocity. But if European countries keep silent, reciprocity can never be requested.

2005

  • Fundamentalism: “diabolic” union between religion and politics. AsiaNews.it. Sept. 1, 2005:

    In a certain sense, Westerners are deceiving themselves when they define these people as “Islamic.” Certainly, this movement claims its Islamic quality, but what defines them is the desire to take power, in the name of God. Marxist ideology was the same thing but without God, as was nationalism: they were all forms of ideology where the aim becomes power. This is, in point of fact, anti-divine, diabolical, even if done in the name of God; it is anti-human.

    The problem is that Wahabi fundamentalists refer to Mohammad and his Medina experience, in other words, an Islam that is conflated with politics. Islam would need to be helped to reread the Koran in an historical and sociological sense, to separate religion from politics, but unfortunately this step is accepted only by a minute Westernized minority.

    Islam has never made the distinction — typical of Christianity — between what is Caesar’s and what is God’s. . . .

  • Islam condemns violence? Sometimes it’s only opportunism AsiaNews.it. Sept. 6, 2005.
  • Islamic terrorism: a result of what is being taught at madrassas AsiaNews.it. Sept. 8, 2005.: “Terrorism is not the unexpected result of Islam, but the direct result of what is being taught at madrassas, traditional schools. And not only because many schools give training in terrorism and guerrilla warfare, but mainly because they educate in fundamentalism.”
  • Islam and Christianity: encounter/confrontation, but also conversion AsiaNews.It. Sept. 16, 2005:

    I am certain that hope for the Islamic world can come only from an Islam that has been acculturated in the West, and specifically in Europe. The only way for Islam to have a place in the modern world is by assimilating modernity with its critical spirit and its distinction between religion and politics, reason and sentiment, etc, in a sense that it westernizes, without disavowing faith.

    There are many Muslims who westernize, but they only get so far. They do not understand that faith needs to defended with an interior choice. Unfortunately, if these Muslims are not able to synthesize Islam and modernity, as soon as a fundamentalist imam comes along, everyone will follow him. But which West can help Islam to modernize?

    A part of the West maintains an attitude of total closure toward the Muslim world. In answer to Islamic violence in the world today, they close themselves off to any dialogue and Muslims are driven back into fundamentalism. . . .

    A Christian who achieves harmony between modernity and faith can help a Mulsim achieve this same harmony. I would like to point out however that another path is not to be excluded. If a Muslim is not able to achieve a synthesis between his faith and modernity, he could also decide to become Christian.

    In the encounter with Christians, Muslims discover that, due to the Incarnation, Christianity has united heaven and earth, the divine and the human, religious culture and scientific culture. The Incarnation also suggests that there is no opposition between divine and human: there can be difficulty, but synthesis is possible.

    First of all, I will try to help a Muslim find a synthesis between modernity and faith, in his Islamic faith; but if this does not happen, if this is too difficult, I can also propose the Christian path. There exists more than just the rejection of modernity in the name of religion, or the rejection of faith in the name of modernity: there is also the path of synthesis offered by Christianity and witnessed by Christians.

Pope Benedict, Islam and the Prospect of Reform

Sandro Magister’s column this week — on “The Real War is Inside Islam” — touches on some questions that I’ve been thinking about in recent weeks:

What is the nature of our present conflict with Islam?
Can it be characterized as a “clash of civilizations”?
Is it a war with Islam per se, or only a variant thereof?
What is the true nature of Islam?

A Perpetual War with Islam?

A prevalent view of Islam, and of Christianity and Western (European) civilization’s encounter with Islam, is one of perpetual and necessary conflict — which asserts that the state of affairs as we witness it today is simply the norm so long as there are practicioners of Islam on this earth.

The website ProphetofDoom.com, for example, provides a “timeline of Islamic terrorism” that starts in the 1960’s, with the assassination of Jordan’s prime minister by public bombing (“It remains the primary form of regime change in the Islamic world”). An author by the name of Howard Bloom goes a step further with Islam’s War to Save the World, presenting the history of Islam as “1,300 Years of Struggle” against the West.

2006 saw the release of the documentary: Islam: What the West Needs to Know, produced by Gregory Davis (Religion of Peace?: Islam’s War Against the World, 2006). Among the contributors to the film are Bat Ye’Or, author of Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005) and Islam and Dhimitude: Where Civilizations Collide (2001); Robert Spencer, founder of JihadWatch.org and author of The Truth about Muhammad and The Myth of “Islamic Tolerance”.

[Full disclosure: Robert Spencer and I tangled over this very issue on this blog back in 2003 — Differing Interpretations of Jihad Nov. 4, 2003). At the time, Mr. Spencer protested that he: “never . . . said or written anything that characterizes ALL Muslims as terrorist or given to violence.” I wonder if that remains the case today?]

Billing itself as “an examination of Islam, Violence, and the Fate of the Non-Muslim World,” the authors of Islam: What the West Needs to Know intend to challenge the erroneous notion that “Islam is a peaceful religion and that those who commit violence in its name are fanatics who misinterpret its tenets,” insisting rather that “Islam is a violent, expansionary ideology that seeks the destruction or subjugation of other faiths, cultures, and systems of government.” The chief points made by the film:

  • In contrast to Christianity, the employment of violence and coercion is not an anomoly to Islam, but rather inherent in its very nature — endorsed and approved of by its very founder, the warlord Mohammad himself.
  • The goal of jihad is to bring the rule of Islamic law to the world — if not directly by force, then by assimilation. Muslims in Western nations who are not openly engaged in violent opposition to the West are thus rendered suspect, and are no less complicit in the struggle:

    Islamic theology divides the world into two spheres locked in perpetual combat, dar al-Islam (House of Islam – where Islamic law predominates), and dar al-harb (House of War – the rest of the world). It is incumbent on dar al-Islam to fight and conquer dar al-harb and permanently assimilate it. Muslims in Western nations are called to subvert the secular regimes in which they now live in accordance with Allah’s command. Due to political correctness and general government and media irresponsibility, the danger posed by observant Muslims in the West remains largely unappreciated.

  • Islam, then, is not so much a religion as a form of totalitarianism, a violent, all-encompassing ideology “analogous in many ways to Communism”. It recognizes no distinction between the religious and the secular/political — and our “war on terror” is not so much with a radical perversion of Islam (“Islamic terror”, “militant Islam”, “Islamic fundamentalism”, etc.), as with the religion of Islam itself.

Needless to say, this perception — a reduction of Islam to little more than a violent, totalitarian ideology — regards dialogue with Muslims, and the prospects of reform within Islam itself, with utmost skepticism. One only has to carry this line of thinking to its ultimate conclusions to understand why:

If it is indeed the case that Muslims are “locked in perpetual combat”; if it is “incumbent on Muslims” to subvert and ultimately assimilate the West, any attempt to dialogue would not only be pointless, it would be delusional.

One does not dialogue with the enemy. We would no more expect the West to “dialogue” with or tolerate (much less reform) Islam than we would expect to do so Communism or National Socialism or any other violent, rabid ideology. The existence of Muslims within the United States constitutes a threat,
and the only good Muslim is one who has renounced his faith.

Pope Benedict on the prospects of Dialogue and Reform within Islam

The question I would like to explore in this post, and which I pose to my readers for discussion:

Does the aformentioned view of Islam as an irreformable, violent totalitarian ideology conform to that espoused by Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church?

There is no doubt that Pope Benedict has faced Islam’s propensity towards violence head on. He has made the treatment of Christian minorities under Islamic countries a major concern of his pontificate, raising the subject in a meeting with Muslim ambassadors only weeks after his provocative Regensberg address:

In his brief talk, the pope hit all the anticipated notes: dialogue, peace, mutual respect. He also, however, pointedly quoted John-Paul II’s 1985 address to Muslim youth in Casablanca: “Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom.”

Benedict did not elaborate. But the fact that he singled out this lone quotation from John Paul’s vast body of speeches and messages on Islam, in a session carried live on Al Jazeera and widely seen as his best chance to quell anger in the Muslim street, indicates there were will be no retreat from the reciprocity challenge.

(Source: National Catholic Reporter Oct 13, 2006).

It cannot be said, however, that Benedict has a completely negative perception of Islam. In March 2002, Pope Benedict addressed the question of whether one could speak of the ‘superiority’ of Judeo-Christian culture:

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is a minefield, but I don´t want to avoid the question. When we speak of culture, we must distinguish the values of its historic realizations. The truth of the Christian faith appears to us in all its depth, but we mustn´t forget that, sadly, it has been darkened many times by the concrete behavior of those who called themselves Christians. Islam has also had moments of great splendor and decadence in the course of its history.

Q: Hence, one cannot speak of the superiority of one culture over another?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Naturally, we can and must say, for example, that the values of monogamous marriage, of the dignity of woman, etc., undoubtedly demonstrate a cultural superiority.

It is true that the Muslim world is not totally mistaken when it reproaches the West of Christian tradition of moral decadence and the manipulation of human life. … This imposes on us a serious examination of conscience. What is important is to go to the roots of the values proclaimed by the different religions. It is here where a real interreligious dialogue can begin.

(Source: Cardinal Ratzinger Highlights Christian Challenge Following Sept. 11 March 3, 2002).
In Benedict XVI and Islam (AsiaNews.it April 26, 2006), Samir Khalil Samir, SJ Muslims and our Pope share a similar concern for the infiltration of relativism and a lack of spiritual moorings in Western nations:

Benedict XVI admires in Islam the certainty based on faith, which contrasts with the West where everything is relativized; and he admires in Islam the sense of the sacred, which instead seems to have disappeared in the West. He has understood that a Muslim is not offended by the crucifix, by religious symbols: this is actually a laicist polemic that strives to eliminate the religious from society. Muslims are not offended by religious symbols, but by secularized culture, by the fact that God and the values that they associate with God are absent from this civilization.

This is also my experience, when I chat every once in a while with Muslims who live in Italy. They tell me: this country offers everything, we can live as we like, but unfortunately there are no “principles” (this is the word they use). This is felt very much by the pope, who says: let’s go back to human nature, based on rationality, on conscience, which gives an idea of human rights; on the other hand, let’s not reduce rationality to something which is impoverished, but let’s integrate the religious in rationality; the religious is part of rationality.

In this, I think that Benedict XVI has stated more exactly the vision of John Paul II. For the previous pope, dialogue with Islam needed to be open to collaboration on everything, even in prayer. Benedict is aiming at more essential points: theology is not what counts, at least not in this stage of history; what counts is the fact that Islam is the religion that is developing more and is becoming more and more a danger for the West and the world. The danger is not in Islam in general, but in a certain vision of Islam that does never openly renounces violence and generates terrorism, fanaticism.

On the other hand, he does not want to reduce Islam to a social-political phenomenon. The Pope has profoundly understood the ambiguity of Islam, which is both one and the other, which at times plays on one or the other front. And his proposal is that, if we want to find a common basis, we must get out of religious dialogue to give humanistic foundations to this dialogue, because only these are universal and shared by all human beings. Humanism is a universal factor; faiths can be factors of clash and division.

When I blogged on the “Regensburg Rage” of September 2006, I had pointed out that an understanding of the Pope’s view of Islam would do well to read his address to the Muslim community of Cologne, Germany in August, 2005. Permit the lengthy excerpt:

Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace. The life of every human being is sacred, both for Christians and for Muslims. There is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values. […]

Only through recognition of the centrality of the person can a common basis for understanding be found, one which enables us to move beyond cultural conflicts and which neutralizes the disruptive power of ideologies. […]

Past experience teaches us that, unfortunately, relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the Name of God, as if fighting and killing, the enemy could be pleasing to him. The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.

The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other’s identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization. . . .

Benedict went on to cite the relevant passages on Islam in Nostra Aetate, which he described as the “the Magna Carta of [Muslim-Catholic] dialogue.” He concluded:

Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. We must not yield to fear or pessimism. Rather, we must cultivate optimism and hope.

Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends. […]

I pray with all my heart, dear and esteemed Muslim friends, that the merciful and compassionate God may protect you, bless you and enlighten you always.

This, then, is a Pope who in spite of his serious concerns about Islam, has not relenquished the hope of dialogue between Christians and Muslims — of mutual respect and collaboration between us despite our theological differences. A Pope who believes in and insists upon the capacity of Islam to reform itself.

Elements of Islamic Reform

  • In February of 2006, Cardinal Poupard, president of the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and for Culture, visited Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, grand imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque and highest religious authority for over a thousand Muslims:

    The Vatican reported: “The meeting allowed for the evaluation of the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue, established between Al-Azhar’s Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheist Religions and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue — which meets annually, alternatively in Cairo and Rome, on Feb. 24, in memory of John Paul II’s visit to Al-Azhar on Feb. 24, 2000 — as well as of the different aspects of relations between Christians and Muslims.”

    Sheikh Tantawi is heralded for taking a stand against Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel and for his denunciation of Osama Bin Ladin (“Killing innocent civilians is a horrific, hideous act that no religion can approve”) and repudiation of Islamic terrorism:

    “Extremism is the enemy of Islam. Whereas, jihad is allowed in Islam to defend one’s land, to help the oppressed. The difference between jihad in Islam and extremism is like the earth and the sky.”

    See also Egyptian Sheikh Dr. Abd Al-Sabour Tantawi – Islamic Reformist: A Religious and Intellectual Profile, by A. Dankowitz. MEMRI.org (Middle East Research Institute) July 13, 2006.

  • The Last King of Java: Indonesia’s former president offers a model of Muslim tolerance, by Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal Saturday, April 7, 2007:

    Suppose for a moment that the single most influential religious leader in the Muslim world openly says “I am for Israel.” Suppose he believes not only in democracy but in the liberalism of America’s founding fathers. Suppose that, unlike so many self-described moderate Muslims who say one thing in English and another in their native language, his message never alters. Suppose this, and you might feel as if you’ve descended into Neocon Neverland.

    In fact, you have arrived in Jakarta and are sitting in the small office of an almost totally blind man of 66 named Abdurrahman Wahid. A former president of Indonesia, he is the spiritual leader of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Islamic organization of some 40 million members. . . .

    Mr. Wahid appreciates Benedict’s Regensberg address, shares the Pope’s criticism of Western positivism in the secular university, and believes that the “only solution” to the challenge of Islamic radicalization in Indonesia is more democracy.

  • The Trouble With Islam, by Tawfik Hamid, a onetime member of Jemaah Islamiya, an Islamist terrorist group, is a medical doctor and Muslim reformer living in the West. He is author of Roots of Jihad . According to Hamid:

    It is vital to grasp that traditional and even mainstream Islamic teaching accepts and promotes violence. Shariah, for example, allows apostates to be killed, permits beating women to discipline them, seeks to subjugate non-Muslims to Islam as dhimmis and justifies declaring war to do so. It exhorts good Muslims to exterminate the Jews before the “end of days.” The near deafening silence of the Muslim majority against these barbaric practices is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong.

    The grave predicament we face in the Islamic world is the virtual lack of approved, theologically rigorous interpretations of Islam that clearly challenge the abusive aspects of Shariah. Unlike Salafism, more liberal branches of Islam, such as Sufism, typically do not provide the essential theological base to nullify the cruel proclamations of their Salafist counterparts. And so, for more than 20 years I have been developing and working to establish a theologically-rigorous Islam that teaches peace.

    See also Michael Coren’s profile of Tawfik Hamid in Canada’s National Post and his interview with Andrea Jacobs on the question of What Drives Jihad? (International Jewish News October 24, 2006) and RootsOfJihad.org, the website for Hamid’s book which contains many of his writings, including “Reformation in Islam: The Challenges and the Future”.

    Hamid is sharply critical of those who attempt to excuse or explain away Islamic terrorism by appealing to non-religious factors (“poverty and lack of education”); for him, the problem of Islamic violence lies within the form of Islam prevalent in the world today:

    “Salafist [fundamentalist] Islam is the dominant version of the religion and is taught in almost every Islamic university in the world. It is puritanical, extreme and does, yes, mean that women can be beaten, apostates killed and Jews called pigs and monkeys”

    Yet, Hamid maintains that the notion of an internal reform of Islam is not beyond the realm of possibility (“I am morally obligated to help Muslims understand the Koran in a peaceful manner.”)

  • Secular Islam Summit – blogging an assembly of those advocating a reform or Islamic “Enlightenment” ((here “secularists” includes both those who embrace a thoroughly non-religious worldview, as well as those committed to separation of religion from overnment and robust freedom of conscience). Among the topics discussed “secularist interpretations of Islam, the need for Koranic criticism, the state of freedom of the expression in Muslim societies, educational reform.” Tawfiq Hamid presented an address on “Islamic Terrorism: Reality and Possible Solutions.”
  • The Dialogue with Islam, by Stratford Caldecott. GodSpy.com. The editor of Second Spring and member of the editorial boards of Communio and Chesterton Review. Acknowledging that Islam was spread largely by conquest, Caldecott points out that Islamic countries did not always try to impose uniformity of belief, and suggests the characterization of Muslims as worshipping a God of Pure Will rather than Reason may not take enough account of the existence within Islam of the Sufi (mystical) tradition. [Presentation of author’s position revised at his request].

    According to Caldecott:

    . . . the suppression of Sufism and the whole ihsani dimension of Islam (leaving only Creed and Law) in recent times represents the corruption of the religion as a whole by ideologies of resentment and violence. Unfortunately Islam has no infallible center of authority, as Catholicism does, to preserve it against error on this scale. The solution, if there is one, is therefore up to individual Muslims and Muslim leaders. What Christians can do is avoid making matters worse. We need to be realistic about the scale of persecution Christians are currently experiencing in Islamic countries, and the danger of growing Muslim fanaticism in our midst, but we must encourage and assist moderate Muslims to raise their voices and speak on behalf of Islamic traditions that may be more “rational” than we suppose.

    See also: The Decline of Knowledge and the Rise of Ideology in the Modern Islamic World by Dr Joseph E. B. Lumbard (ed.), Islam, Fundamentalism and the Betrayal of Tradition (World Wisdom Books, 2004).

  • “Views on Islam”, by Benazir Bhutto & David F. Forte. Imprimis 31, no. 10 (October 2002): 1-6. Does the radical form of Islam behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, represent true Islam? or is it an aberration? Is Islamic doctrine compatible with religious pluralism and constitutional democracy? How are we to think of Islam in the context of the war against terrorism? The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto responds.
  • On Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism – Zenit News interviews Joan-Andreu Rocha Scarpetta, professor and director of the master’s program on the Church, Ecumenism and Religions of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University of Rome. July 17, 2005.
  • Itjihad.org is an archive of Muqtedar Khan’s Column on Islam and Global Affairs. Among the topics discussed: Should Muslims impose Islam on Americans? — on a Muslim taxi driver’s recent refusal to carry passengers who are in possession of alcohol.
  • Islamic statements against terrorism in the wake of the September 11 mass murders – compiled by Charles Kurzman. Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • The Case for Islamic Renewal, by Mustafa Aykol. The White Path [blog] October 27, 2004. See also The Prophet and Paul Johnson: An Islamic Condemnation of Al Qaeda Killings National Review August 12, 2004; Al Qaeda vs. The Koran August 25, 2004; Terror Roots Not in Islam: a Reply to Robert Spencer October 20, 2004.

    What is commendable about Aykol — a Muslim who incidentally thinks very highly of our present Pope — is that he doesn’t seem to take a radical, militant interpretation of Islam as having the last word on the matter. Neither should we.

Virginia Tech

THE MOST REVEREND FRANCIS X. DILORENZO
BISHOP OF RICHMOND (U.S.A)

DEEPLY SADDENED BY NEWS OF THE SHOOTING AT VIRGINIA TECH, HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI HAS ASKED ME TO CONVEY THE ASSURANCE OF HIS HEARTFELT PRAYERS FOR THE VICTIMS, THEIR FAMILIES AND FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL COMMUNITY. IN THE AFTERMATH OF THIS SENSELESS TRAGEDY HE ASKS GOD OUR FATHER TO CONSOLE ALL THOSE WHO MOURN AND TO GRANT THEM THAT SPIRITUAL STRENGTH WHICH TRIUMPHS OVER VIOLENCE BY THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS, HOPE AND RECONCILING LOVE.

CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE
SECRETARY OF STATE.

(Telegram from Cardinal Bertone, for the Pope; more at Open Book).

New Books By and About Pope Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI Doubleday (May 15, 2007). 400pp.

  • Jesus of Nazareth by Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, by Franco Pisano. AsiaNews.it. April 13, 2007:

    “Product of a long inner journey,” the Pope’s book is not a magisterial document. It does however focus on the “historical Jesus” based on the Gospels, one that transcends those readings of the Jesus Story that reduce him to the status of a revolutionary or a mystic. First in a two-volume inquiry, the book looks at the life of Christ on earth and is designed to “favour the development of an intense relationship between the reader and Him.”

  • And He Appeared in Their Midst: “Jesus of Nazareth” at the Bookstore – Sandro Magister offers a chapter-by-chapter preview.
  • Zadok the Roman bought a copy of the Italian translation of Gesù di Nazaret and shares his initial observations.
  • Father John Zuhlsdorf was at the presentation of the Pope’s book, Jesus of Nazareth in the Aula del Sinodo on Friday 13 April 2007 and offers a lengthy account of his first impression:

    It is not new to receive a book from a Pope. In the past, they were the fruits of interviews, or they were biographical or poetry. But this is a work of theology. That’s new. Even though it is a work of theology, it is not a contribution to the Magisterium. That’s new. This point was heavily stressed in the presser. This book is a contribution of “Joseph Ratzinger” to all who are interested in Jesus. The novelty of this book is its context, coming as it does from a Pope. . . .

  • In February 2007, the Vatican responded to criticism of its choice of Doubleday as publisher — while Doubleday had published the controversialThe Da Vinci Code, the Vatican noted it had previously published works by Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, as well as The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as “the most important documents of the American bishops’ conference. “On account of this respectful editorial curriculum, Doubleday deeply desired to publish also the first book by Benedict XVI.” (See also The Forum: Why Doubleday as the Pope’s publisher?, by Phil Lawler. Catholic World News. February 1, 2007).
  • The Next Battle For and Against Jesus Will Be Fought by the Book January 15, 2007. – “The upcoming book by Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI intends precisely to pose the authentic Jesus against the false “modernized or postmodernized” Jesus,” says Sandro Magister. “More than a publishing war, this announces a new phase of the perennial clash between acceptance and rejection that has always had in Jesus its “sign of contradiction, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
  • And you thought it was about Jesus! – Carl Olson examines some of the humorous and typically off-target coverage of the Pope’s new book, which judging by the headlines is about Africa, the plundering and looting of rich Western nations, Karl Marx . . . did we mention Jesus?

* * *

The Regensburg Lecture, by Fr. James V. Schall. St. Augustines Press (April 30, 2007). 176pp.

[Pope Benedict’s] Regensberg lecture is a mere eight single-spaced pages of text, but it encapsulates not only theoretical history of the Church, but touches on the most poignant current problems the world witnesses, namely, the rise of terrorism and the confrontation between reason and will, between the Word and the Sword. Though incredibly timely, it is as timeless as the Gettysburg Address, Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Plato’s Apology, and Henry V’s Speech on St. Crispin’s Day. No doubt it will be studied and read for generations to come, not only by Catholics, not only by Christians, but by men of good will the world over.

So it is fitting that our world’s modern G.K. Chesterton – James Schall – has chosen to explicate this most important work by the world’s premier theologian on the thorniest, most divisive questions of our day. Jim Schall, throughout the hundreds upon hundreds of books, articles, and reviews he has written, has always, like Chesterton, maintained a graceful and accessible touch, a clear and memorable style, that makes light work from heavy sources. He is the perfect person to explain both the central concepts and the importance of this amazing speech.

James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Government at Georgetown University. In addition to his many books and articles, he writes two columns, “Sense and Nonsense,” in Crisis magazine and “Schall on Chesterton,” in Gilbert Magazine.

* * *


On Conscience, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) Ignatius Press (January 26, 2007)

(From the Publisher:) Prepared and co-published by the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, this book is a combination of two lengthy essays written by Cardinal Ratzinger and delivered in talks when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [“Conscience and Truth” (1984) and “Bishops, Theologians and Morality” (1991)]. Both talks deal with the importance of conscience and its exercise in particular circumstances.

Ratzinger’s reflections show that contemporary debates over the nature of conscience have deep historical and philosophical roots. He says that a person is bound to act in accord with his conscience, but he makes it clear that there must be reliable, proven sources for the judgment of conscience in moral issues, other than the subjective reflections of each individual.

The always unique and profound insights that the new Pope Benedict XVI brings to perennial problems reminds the reader of his strong warning before the recent Papal conclave of the great dangers today of the “dictatorship of relativism.”

* * *

The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches, edited by John F. Thornton, Susan B. Varenne. HarperSanFrancisco (February 20, 2007). 512pp.

The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches opens with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s sermon at the funeral of Pope John Paul II April 18, 2005, and closes with his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), dated Dec. 25, 2005.

Major subject areas in the book include Christian relations with Islam, Christian values, birth control and abortion, sexual misconduct in the priesthood, the ordination of women, anti-Semitism and the Catholic Church, and ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

“Now that a leading Catholic theologian has assumed office as pope, many are eager to get an overview of his theology,” said Cardinal Avery Dulles in a back cover comment on the book. “The present selection, drawn largely from his shorter writings, gives an excellent sampling. It will provide a first orientation to beginners and will enable veterans to supplement their familiarity with this important thinker.”

(Source: Catholic News Service.)

In other publishing news

Happy Birthday (and Second Anniversary) to Pope Benedict XVI!

Joseph Ratzinger was born on April 16, Holy Saturday in Marktl am Inn, and was baptized the same day. Reflecting on this experience in his memoirs, he recalls:

To be the first person baptized with the new water was seen as a significant act of Providence. I have always been filled with thanksgiving for having had my life immersed in this way in the Easter Mystery . . . the more I reflect on it, the more this seems fitting for the nature of our human life: we are still waiting for Easter; we are not yet standing in the full light but walking toward it full of trust. [p. 8, Milestones]

On Sunday April 16, Joseph Ratzinger will celebrate his 80th birthday.
* * *


  • Stamps issued by Germany in honor of Benedict’s birthday. Hat tip Amy Welborn.

    Pope’s 80th birthday: “A particularly happy day,” says Cardinal Ruini Catholic News Agency April 13, 2007:

    Vatican City, Apr 13, 2007 / 11:55 am (CNA).- In a letter the faithful of Rome regarding the celebration of the Pope’s 80th birthday and the second anniversary of his pontificate, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar of the Diocese of Rome, said the Pope’s birthday would be “a particularly happy day in which we will thank the Lord for the gift of our bishop and Pope Benedict XVI.”

    It will also be a day in which we will pray with the Pope and for the Pope, imploring an abundance of divine blessings upon him, to sustain him and comfort him in spirit and body, so that he can be our model and sure guide in the faith,” the cardinal said.

    This Sunday, he continued, “dedicated to the Divine Mercy, we will also pray with the Pope for our Church in Rome, that she will bear witness with generosity to the joy of the faith and strive to educate the young generations and promote Christian love, life and the family.”

    He invited the faithful of Rome to pray for the Pope, especially on April 19, when he celebrates the second anniversary of his pontificate.

  • “Pope Benedict at 80: Blowing on the coals of faith”, John Thavis
    Catholic News Service. April 13, 2007:

    “When Pope John Paul II turned 80 in 2000, it fueled yet another round of speculation about whether the ailing pontiff might break with tradition and resign.

    In contrast, Pope Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday April 16 finds him with the wind in his sails. . . .”

  • Mass for the Pope’s 80th birthdayClosed Cafeteria April 15, 2007. Gerald Augustinus was there, and has plenty of photos.

  • Send an E-Birthday Card to the Holy Father courtesy of the Vatican.

A Second Anniversary

On April 19th, Pope Benedict will also mark the second anniversary of his pontificate as Pope Benedict XVI, and appraisals of his pontificate — some laudable, some laughable — are flowing in from the press . . .

  • Benedict at 80: Truth, Love and Liturgy: The Surprising Pontificate of the Man Who Was Ratzinger, by Edward Pentin. National Catholic Register April 15-21, 2007 Issue:

    The Holy Father has already made his mark, powerfully reminding the world in his first encyclical that Christianity is primarily about God’s love, reaching out to a spiritually stricken Europe and Islam, and taking careful but firm steps toward Christian unity.

  • Benedict puts conservative stamp on his papacy International Herald Tribune April 5, 2007 – The Associated Press greets Benedict’s 80th with a litany of complaints about his “conservatism”:

    With his 80th birthday and the second anniversary of his election as pope approaching this month, he has rebuffed calls — including by bishops in his native Germany — to let divorced Catholics who remarry participate fully in the Church. He has warned Catholic politicians who must decide on such issues as abortion, euthanasia and marriage that Catholic values are “not negotiable.” And he has closed the door on any relaxation of the celibacy requirement for priests.

    Truly, a Pope who knows how to Pope.

  • The Missing Pope:
    Benedict has been almost invisible in the places he’s needed most
    , by Joseph Contreras. Newsweek April 16, 2007. Lecturing Benedict on his lack of style, Newsweek dredges up a disgruntled Milanese housewife Maria Novella Dall’Aglio (“Ratzinger is getting too intrusive on [subjects] such as civil rights for unwed couples and is too out of date”) and David Gibson (“author of an acclaimed 2006 biography of the pope”):

    “He’s an old-fashioned guy who wants to go back to what [the church] was before,” says David Gibson, the author of an acclaimed 2006 biography of the pope.

    The problem, according to Gibson, is that Benedict “doesn’t seem to realize that he’s a world leader and not an academic.”

    (Hat tip: the ever-sharp Curt Jester).

  • A Step Backward for Pope Benedict?, by Jeff Israeli (Time April 13, 2007):

    Two years into his papacy, Benedict XVI may be about to reclaim his reputation as a no-holds-barred traditionalist. Thanks to Benedict’s thoughtful manner, Church progressives had believed that the man who was once the hard-line Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would cut some slack on areas of doctrinal contention — using his intellectual heft and traditional credentials as necessary cover. But as Benedict turns 80 on April 16 and marks two years as Pope on April 19, the once hopeful progressives have all but given up their fantasy of Benedict the Reformer.

    Carl Olson @ Insight Scoop responds:

    If only the Pope would read (nay, study!) The New Yorker, pursue a policy of indifferentism and relativism, and follow the lead of hip and happening Anglican divines, the world would be a much better place.”

    The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz didn’t like it much either (“It gives off the unsettling aura of term-paper research.”)

  • Keeping the Faith, by Russel Shorto. New York Times Magazine April 8, 2007: “Pope Benedict XVI says he believes that the Roman Catholic Church in Europe faces a dire threat in secularism and that re-Christianizing the Continent is critical not only to the fate of the church but to the fate of Europe itself.” A fairly long (8,294 word) and suprisingly substantial piece on the Holy Father from the Times.

    Good enough at least to merit a commendation from GetReligion.org (“better than, well, the average New York Times Sunday Magazine author”); and Amy Welborn sez It’s not horrible — There are a few big holes in it, reflective of both blind spots and an not-surprisingly shallow Rolodex pool, but I’d say it’s as good a long-form treatment of Benedict as we’ve seen in the mainstream secular media.”

    See also Robert Araujo ‘s analysis @ Mirror of Justice).

  • Celebrating two years as pontiff, Benedict XVI assumes new role by Ann Rodgers. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sunday, April 15, 2007.
  • Benedict’s MagnificatWheat & Weeds blogs on Benedict’s birthday homily and responds to the naysayers:

    Basic facts force the conclusion that Benedict is in fact quite popular and reaching many people. But that doesn’t exactly fit the aloof-scholar- out-of-touch-with-the-world trope. In any case, no reporters ever open their minds for two seconds to consider that that Benedict XVI is neither a prude nor a disciplinarian, but a servant.

Benedict Roundup (January – Easter 2007)

As Catholic News Agency tells us, 2007 promises “a world of busyness” for Pope Benedict, with “ad limina” visits by bishops from four continents, including Italy, Ukraine, Slovakia, Portugal, Serbia, Kenya, Togo, Benin, Gabon, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Korea and Laos; a May visit to Brazil (his first across an ocean); a June visit to Assisi to the birthplace of St. Francis, and a prospective visit to address the United Nations General Assembly in September.

What follows is a (by no means comprehensive) roundup noting some of the significant events in the Holy Father’s pontificate from January-2007 to the present. Apologies for not getting around to this sooner (I’d given up blogging for the most part during Lent).

Significant Events

  • January 4, 2007 – Pope: true joy comes from God’s love and is not that extolled in adverts (AsiaNews.it):

    In his first visit outside the Vatican of 2007, Benedict XVI today went to a Caritas soup kitchen in the Colle Oppio neighbourhood not far from Termini station, described by the pope as a “symbol, somehow, of the Roman Caritas”. The soup kitchen of Colle Oppio is the first reception centre for homeless people set up in Rome. (Photos of Benedict XVI’s visit to the Colle Oppio soup kitchen, courtesy of Argent by the Tiber; Vatican translation of Benedict XVI’s address at the soup kitchen, courtesy of ZENIT):

    The Christmas message is simple: God came among us because he loves us and expects our love. God is love: not a sentimental love, but a love that became a total gift to the point of the sacrifice on the Cross, starting from his birth in the grotto in Bethlehem.

    The beautiful crib that you have chosen to set up in your Soup Kitchen and which I have just had the opportunity to admire, speaks to us of this real and divine love. In its simplicity, the crib tells us that love and poverty go together . . .

  • In mid-January, Stanislaw Wielgus, the newly-installed Bishop of Warsaw, caused an ecclesial scandal after revelations broke that he had collaborated with the Communist secret police in Poland. The news came as a bitter disappointment to Benedict, who accepted his subsequent resignation. (Source: Zenit News, Jan. 7, 2007).

    On February 12th, Benedict XVI expressed his closeness and fraternity to Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus in a letter he sent to the prelate after his resignation, in which he stated:

    In this last period I have shared in your sufferings and wish to assure you of my spiritual closeness and fraternal understanding. . . .

    When you presented your resignation a month ago, aware that the situation created did not allow you to begin the episcopal service with the indispensable authority, I saw clearly in this act a profound sensitivity for the good of the Church of Warsaw and of Poland, and also your humility and detachment from offices.

    Above all I would like to encourage you to continue with confidence and serenity in your heart. I express the desire that you resume your activity at the service of Christ, in the way that is possible, so that you use your vast and profound knowledge and priestly devotion for the good of the beloved Church in Poland.

    Today, as in the past, the episcopal mission is marked by suffering. May Our Lord sustain you with his grace.

    The Bishops of Poland had designated Ash Wednesday aday of prayer and repentance for Polish clergy.

  • Related Commentary:

  • Religious freedom and ecumenism remains a furvent concern for Pope Benedict. On January 19, Benedict asked the Turkish government to grant religious freedom to all believers, and to legally recognize the Catholic Church. .
    On January 22nd, Benedict encouraged dialogue between Orthodox and Muslim communities in Montenegro, while receiving the country’s first ambassador to the Holy See.

    In his Wednesday January 24 general audience, he surveyed the most significant ecumenical events that took place in 2006.

    And on March 28, 2007, Benedict expressed words of appreciation for the work done in ecumenism by the Lutheran World Federation, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of its foundation.

    Further Commentary

    • The Ecumenical Adventure” – Interview with Father Massa, executive director of the U.S. episcopal conference’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Zenit News. February 23, 2007: “Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue doesn’t mean that Catholics have to compromise their beliefs, actually, quite the opposite is true.”
  • Ratzinger and Aquinas Much is made of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s preference for Augustine over Aquinas, as in when he admitted in Milestones that “I had difficulties in penetrating the thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose crystal-clear logic seemed to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.”

    Although Ratzinger attributed his negative impression not so much to the good doctor himself as having been presented with “a rigid, neoscholastic Thomism that was simply too far afield from my own questions,” it hardly restrains his critics from using it as a cudgel to his head, as when the SSPX publication The Angelus berated him (“The Memories of a Destructive Mind” March 1999 No. 31):

    “This opinion is enunciated by a prince of the Church whose function it is to safeguard the purity of the doctrine of the Faith! Why, then, should anyone be surprised at the current disastrous crisis of Catholicism!”

    Perhaps it will ease the concerns of such critics to note that in his January 28 Angelus, Pope Benedict paid tribute to the great Doctor of the Church:

    When Christian faith is authentic, it does not diminish freedom and human reason; so, why should faith and reason fear one another if the best way for them to express themselves is by meeting and entering into dialogue? Faith presupposes reason and perfects it, and reason, enlightened by faith, finds the strength to rise to knowledge of God and spiritual realities. Human reason loses nothing by opening itself to the content of faith, which, indeed, requires its free and conscious adherence.

    St Thomas Aquinas, with farsighted wisdom, succeeded in establishing a fruitful confrontation with the Arab and Hebrew thought of his time, to the point that he was considered an ever up-to-date teacher of dialogue with other cultures and religions. He knew how to present that wonderful Christian synthesis of reason and faith which today too, for the Western civilization, is a precious patrimony to draw from for an effective dialogue with the great cultural and religious traditions of the East and South of the world.

    Let us pray that Christians, especially those who work in an academic and cultural context, are able to express the reasonableness of their faith and witness to it in a dialogue inspired by love. Let us ask the Lord for this gift through the intercession of St Thomas Aquinas and above all, through Mary, Seat of Wisdom.

    See also: Benedict on Aquinas: “Faith Implies Reason” Part I | Part II Ignatius Insight, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | February 1, 2007.

  • On February 14th, 2007, Benedict XVI dedicated his Wednesday general audience address to “Women of the Early Church”, affirming that “the female presence in the sphere of the primitive Church was [in no way] secondary.” The Pope examines the testimony of St. Paul on the contribution of women in the early Church. The Pope had dedicated his prior Wednesday audience to the role of Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple active in the early Church.
  • On March 2nd, Pope Benedict gave a tribute to Pope Paul VI – “A Firm and Wise Helmsman of the Barque of Peter”:

    In thinking back over the years of his Pontificate, it is striking to note the missionary zeal that motivated him and impelled him to undertake demanding Apostolic Journeys even to distant nations in order to make prophetic gestures of great ecclesial, missionary and ecumenical importance.

    He was the first Pope to go to the Land where Christ lived and from which Peter set out on his journey to Rome. That Visit, only six months after his election as Supreme Pastor of the People of God and while the Second Vatican Council was underway, had a clear symbolic meaning. He showed the Church that the path of her mission is to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

    This was precisely what Pope Paul VI sought to do during his Petrine ministry, which he always exercised with wisdom and prudence in complete fidelity to the Lord’s command.

  • Praying with the Pope. On Saturday, Pope Benedict gathered with European and Asian university students, both in reality and virtually, to pray the rosary. The event was held to mark the fifth European Day for Universities. Amy Welborn (Open Book rounds up coverage of the event, including video footage on YouTube.com.
  • At the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass, Pope Benedict used a story from Leo Tolstoy to explain the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (Zenit. April 5, 2007):

    Leo Tolstoi, the Russian writer, tells in a short story of a harsh sovereign who asked his priests and sages to show him God so that he might see him. The wise men were unable to satisfy his desire.

    Then a shepherd, who was just coming in from the fields, volunteered to take on the task of the priests and sages. From him the king learned that his eyes were not good enough to see God. Then, however, he wanted to know at least what God does. “To be able to answer your question”, the shepherd said to the king, “we must exchange our clothes”.

    Somewhat hesitant but impelled by curiosity about the information he was expecting, the king consented; he gave the shepherd his royal robes and had himself dressed in the simple clothes of the poor man.

    Then came the answer: “This is what God does”.

  • Pope Set to Make Mark on U.S. Church, by Eric Gorski. ABC News. April 12, 2002. “Two years into his reign, Pope Benedict XVI is finally poised to make a major mark on American Catholicism with a string of key bishop appointments and important decisions about the future of U.S. seminaries and bishops’ involvement in politics. . . .”

Sacramentum Caritatis

On March 13, 2007, Benedict XVI released his second major document — Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Charity) — an apostolic exhortation that reflects the conclusions of the 2005 synod on the Eucharist:

The document, dated Feb. 22, reflects the conclusions of the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops held in Rome from Oct. 2 to 23, 2005.

Cardinal Scola, who was the relator general of the synodal assembly, said the title of the apostolic exhortation reaffirms “the Holy Father’s insistence over these two years of his pontificate on the truth of love.”

The cardinal said that this clearly indicates that this is “one of the crucial themes upon which the future of the Church and of humanity depend.”

Text and Commentary

Interviews

  • On February 17th, 2007 Pope Benedict participated in a Q&A session with seminarians of the Roman Major Seminary. The Holy Father spoke of the discernment of God’s voice and spiritual direction (“through his Word, in Sacred Scripture, read in the communion of the Church and read personally in conversation with God”); elements of his own priestly formation and his influences (“it was above all the figure of St Augustine who fascinated me from the very start, then also the Augustinian current in the Middle Ages: St Bonaventure, the great Franciscans, the figure of St Francis of Assisi”).

    There is a simplicity and beauty in the Holy Father’s words and advice, for instance, in persisting in one’s vocation despite our very human frailness and inconsistency:

    It is good to recognize one’s weakness because in this way we know that we stand in need of the Lord’s grace. The Lord comforts us. In the Apostolic College there was not only Judas but also the good Apostles; yet, Peter fell and many times the Lord reprimanded the Apostles for their slowness, the closure of their hearts and their scant faith. He therefore simply shows us that none of us is equal to this great yes, equal to celebrating “in persona Christi”, to living coherently in this context, to being united to Christ in his priestly mission.

    To console us, the Lord has also given us these parables of the net with the good fish and the bad fish, of the field where wheat but also tares grow. He makes us realize that he came precisely to help us in our weakness, and that he did not come, as he says, to call the just, those who claim they are righteous through and through and are not in need of grace, those who pray praising themselves; but he came to call those who know they are lacking, to provoke those who know they need the Lord’s forgiveness every day, that they need his grace in order to progress.

    I think this is very important: to recognize that we need an ongoing conversion, that we are simply not there yet. St Augustine, at the moment of his conversion, thought he had reached the heights of life with God, of the beauty of the sun that is his Word. He then had to understand that the journey after conversion is still a journey of conversion, that it remains a journey where the broad perspectives, joys and lights of the Lord are not absent; but nor are dark valleys absent through which we must wend our way with trust, relying on the goodness of the Lord.

    On bearing witness to Christ in suffering:

    It was not by chance that the Lord told his disciples: the Son of Man must go to Jerusalem to suffer; therefore, anyone who wants to be a disciple of mine must shoulder his cross so he can follow me. In fact, we are always somewhat similar to Peter, who said to the Lord: “No, Lord, this cannot happen to you, you must not suffer”. We do not want to carry the Cross, we want to create a kingdom that is more human, more beautiful, on this earth.

    This is totally mistaken: the Lord teaches it. However, Peter needed a lot of time, perhaps his entire life, in order to understand it; why is there this legend of the Quo Vadis? There is something true in it: learning that it is precisely in walking with the Lord’s Cross that the journey will bear fruit. Thus, I would say that before talking to others, we ourselves must understand the mystery of the Cross.

    Of course, Christianity gives us joy, for love gives joy. But love is also always a process of losing oneself, hence, a process of coming out of oneself; in this regard, it is also a painful process. Only in this way is it beautiful and helps us to mature and to attain true joy.

    Anyone who seeks to affirm or to promise a life that is only happy and easy is a liar, because this is not the truth about man; the result is that one then has to flee to false paradises. And in this way one does not attain joy but self-destruction.

    Christianity proclaims joy to us, indeed; this joy, however, only develops on the path of love, and this path of love has to do with the Cross, with communion with the Crucified Christ. And it is presented through the grain of wheat that fell to the ground. When we begin to understand and accept this — every day, because every day brings some disappointment or other, some burden that may also cause pain –, when we accept this lesson of following Christ, just as the Apostles had to learn at this school, so we too will become capable of helping the suffering.

    Zenit News provided a translation of the exchange: Part I: “We Must Accept Our Frailty But Keep On Going”; Part II: “A Day Without the Eucharist Is Incomplete”. March 2, 2007.

  • On February 22, Pope Benedict met with the Roman Clergy for a session of questions-and-answers as well. Here is a three part translation, also courtesy of Zenit: Part I: “Contemplation Is Expressed in Works of Charity”; Part II: “Do Not Extinguish Charisms … the Church Is One” and Part III: “The Pastor Leads the Way” — which touches on the meaning of reparation in Eucharistic adoration.

Key Addresses January – April 2007

  • Message of Benedict XVI for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace January 1, 2007.

    Commentary

      Benedict XVI on the Path to Peace (Part 1); Part II – interview with Paolo Carozza, law professor at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (Zenit News January 8, 2007):

      Where Benedict XVI goes much further than the prevailing mentality is in his insistence that it is not enough to simply assert — however correctly — the link between peace and human dignity. To make that connection real and concrete, not just an abstract ideal or intuition of the truth, one needs to cultivate an adequate and objective understanding of what the human person is, and what human dignity requires.

      Benedict XVI thus takes us back to what Mary Ann Glendon has referred to as the “unfinished business” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the question of its foundations. For 60 years the international community has largely proceeded to try to develop and realize human rights though positive law while prescinding from any sustained effort to reach common understandings of their underlying source and scope.

      In short, the difference between the vision in Benedict XVI’s message and the conventional wisdom of international affairs is not so much in the affirmation that the dignity and rights of the human person are the path to peace, but rather in the Pope’s warning that that path will be uncertain, unstable and wayward without a “true integral humanism” that embraces the whole human person as a concrete, given reality — without reduction, without manipulation, and without ideology.

  • Pope’s 2007 Address to the Diplomatic Corps on the State of the World Delivered in the Vatican Apostolic Palace to members of the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. January 8, 2007.
  • Pope’s Homily on Feast of Baptism of the Lord Zenit News Service. January 15, 2007.
  • Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2007
  • Easter Vigil – Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI April 7, 2007.

    Commentary

  • Urbi Et Orbi – Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI. Easter Sunday April 8, 2007.

    Commentary

    • Explaining Benedict’s focus on Africa, by John Allen, Jr. National Catholic Reporter April 9, 2007:

      Benedict XVI, this most European of popes, once again exhibited a notable concern with Africa during the Easter season. In his traditional urbi et orbi greeting, Benedict spoke in greater detail about the political and humanitarian struggles of Africa than any other part of the world. . . .

    • On Easter, pope laments wars, horrors, ‘continual slaughter’ in Iraq, by Carol Glatz. Catholic News Service. April 9, 2007.
    • Out of Pope Benedict XVI’s 1,444 word Urbi Et Orbi Easter Message for 2007 devoted to an observation of all manner of human suffering throughout the world and the response of the Gospel, much is being made of the following sentence:

      In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.

      Amy Welborn has a roundup of pundit’s reactions to the Pope’s remark (along with the usual raging debate in the combox); for further commentary and reflections on the reaction, and the attempt by some to decipher a critique of U.S. foreign policy from the Pope’s words, click here.

Articles & Commentary

  • Exercises in Disinformation: The Pope According to the Leading Newspapers January 5, 2007 – Sandro Magister and Anton Smitsendonk, the former Dutch ambassador to China, examine how the press (including the New York Times and other major newspapers) “deformed Benedict XVI’s position on the entry of Turkey into the European Union.”
  • Lost in translation: Pope’s asides might be changed in official texts, by John Thavis. Catholic News Service. February 2, 2007:

    Rarely is a general audience talk interrupted by spontaneous applause, and Pope Benedict XVI seemed as surprised as anyone when the clapping began in the Vatican’s audience hall.

    The pope had been talking about the church’s early times, and he set aside his text to drive home a point: The apostles and first disciples weren’t perfect, but had their own arguments and controversies.

    “This appears very consoling to me, because we see that the saints did not drop as saints from heaven. They were men like us with problems and even with sins,” he said Jan. 31.

    That’s when the applause erupted among the 6,000 people in attendance. The pope paused, looked up and smiled awkwardly, then continued to ad lib about how holiness doesn’t mean never making a mistake.

    The moment marked a milestone for Pope Benedict as a communicator and demonstrated two important facts: First, the scholarly pontiff is focusing on uncomplicated lessons about the church and the faith. Second, when he talks, people listen.

  • McBrien: B16 doesn’t really understand Vatican II, by Carl Olson. Insight Scoop February 4, 2007:

    Fr. Richard McBrien, former consultant to The Da Vinci Code movie and former head of the theology department at Notre Dame, has it on good authority—his own!—that Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t really understand Vatican II or how to correctly interpret it. . . .

  • The “most hyperbolic journalism ever” award goes to Nick Pisa, who makes no attempt to conceal his anti-papal bias in penning ‘Hell exists – deny it and you’ll end up there’. The Scotsman March 27, 2007:

    POPE BENEDICT XVI has reiterated the existence of Hell and condemned society for not talking about eternal damnation enough.

    A furious Pope Benedict unleashed a bitter attack during a sermon while on a visit to a parish church and said: “Hell exists and there is eternal punishment for those who sin and do not repent.”

    Sounding “more of a parish priest than a Pope” the leader of the world’s one billion Roman Catholics added: “The problem today is society does not talk about Hell. It’s as if it did not exist, but it does.”

    Pope Benedict unleashed his fury during a visit to the tiny parish church of St Felicity and the Martyr Children at Fidene on the outskirts of Rome, in his capacity as bishop of the Italian capital.

    One churchgoer said: “The Holy Father was really having a go. It was a typical fire-and-brimstone sermon that you would have expected from a parish priest years ago.”

    Zenit News’ reporting of the homily is a tad more . . . restrained:

    Hell consists in closing oneself off from the love of God, and sin is the true enemy of the human person, Benedict XVI says.

    The Pope made that comment on Sunday when celebrating Mass at the Parish of St. Felicity and Martyred Sons in the northern sector of the Diocese of Rome.

    “If it is true that God is justice, then we should not forget that he is above all love; if he hates sin it is because he has an infinite love for all human beings,” the Holy Father explained.

  • Pope’s Study of Church Fathers Not Just for Catholics Zenit. March 28, 2007 – Benedict XVI’s Wednesday-audience series on the Apostolic Fathers can give us hope for unity among Christians, says David Warner, a Catholic theologian who was once an evangelical Protestant minister and who is now a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville, Ohio.
  • “Catholic politicians get strict orders from pope”, observes Ian Fisher (International Herald Tribune March 13, 2007):

    Pope Benedict XVI strongly reasserted Tuesday the church’s opposition to abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage, saying that Catholic politicians were “especially” obligated to defend the church’s stance in their public duties.

    “These values are non-negotiable,” the pope wrote in a 130-page “apostolic exhortation” issued in Rome, forming a distillation of opinion from a worldwide meeting of bishops at the Vatican in 2005. . . .

    In the document, the pope also repeated that celibacy remains “obligatory” for Catholic priests.

    So sorry to disappoint.

  • Scott Hahn on Benedict XVI’s “Curriculum” Zenit News. March 29, 2007:

    Seminarians, students and other eager listeners gathered recently at the University of the Holy Cross in Rome listen to American professor Scott Hahn expound the theological vision of Benedict XVI. . . .

    Foremost on Hahn’s agenda was the Holy Father’s “curriculum” for Catholics, which Hahn believes will also lead many Protestant theologians to discover the answers they have been searching in the Catholic liturgy.

    But even more, Hahn said that Benedict XVI’s “clarity and classic style of theologizing” make his teaching accessible to the average lay person.

    “One of the remarkable things about Benedict XVI,” said Hahn, “is that he is almost too straightforward. With a little bit of effort, those who are not schooled in theology will grasp treasures of biblical wisdom in the context of liturgy and the sacraments.”

  • An “Apostate” from Itself: The Lost Europe of Pope Benedict – From Sandro Magister, “L’Europa nella crisi delle culture” — an address given by then-Cardinal Ratzinger before the plenary assembly of the European parliament. April 1, 2004.
  • The Pope and Islam, by Jane Cramer. The New Yorker April 2, 2007.

    It is well known that Benedict wants to transform the Church of Rome, which is not to say that he wants to make it more responsive to the realities of modern life as it is lived by Catholic women in the West, or by Catholic homosexuals, or even by the millions of desperately poor Catholic families in the Third World who are still waiting for some merciful dispensation on the use of contraception. He wants to purify the Church, to make it more definitively Christian, more observant, obedient, and disciplined—you could say more like the way he sees Islam. And never mind that he doesn’t seem to like much about Islam, or that he has doubts about Islam’s direction. . . .

  • According to the Catholic News Service, Pope Benedict XVI had a hand in Iran’s decision to release the British hostages:

    The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI had sent a written appeal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, urging the release of the 14 men and one woman captured by Iran in contested waters March 23.

    An informed Vatican source said that in an effort to quell increasing international tensions over the crew’s seizure Pope Benedict sent the letter for “exclusively humanitarian” reasons. The Vatican would provide no details on the contents of the letter or when it was sent. . . .

    Bishop Burns, who earlier had appealed for the release of the service personnel, said April 4 that the decision by the Iranian government to free them was “not just as the result of diplomacy,” but was “an act of mercy” in accordance with Islam.

    Writing for FrontPageMag.com, Micah Halpern takes a somewhat different view of the Pope’s request, noting to whom the correspondence was directed (A Pope Who Gets It, by Micah Halpern. FrontPageMag. April 7, 2007:

    Pope Benedict penned this letter to put forth and articulate a humanitarian objective.

    Note that the letter was sent not to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    It was sent directly to the Ayatollah Khamenei. Ahmadinejad might be the public presenter, the face of Iran to the outside world, but inside Iran, he is second fiddle.

    The Ayatollah is just as his title describes, the Ayatollah is absolute supreme leader.

    Whatever the Ayatollah wants, happens. Whatever the Ayatollah decrees, is implemented.

    As much policy freedom as we are now seeing from Ahmadinejad, his personal survival depends on doing just as he is told. . . .

    The actions of the Ayatollah Khamenei are calculated by their ability to showcase Iran’s honor.

    Khamenei’s ploys, his actions, his decisions, even his bluster are calculated to showcase Iran’s place of honor among Muslim nations.

    It is the eyes of his fellow Muslims that he is watching, it is the hearts of Islam that he is seeking.

    Pope Benedict XVI put aside his bigger battle to try to solve the little issue.

    The message that the Pope put forth to the supreme leader of Iran was simple: if you are really interested in the message of God, if you are really interested in relieving pain and suffering, you will release your captives.

    This time, the Pope called the Ayatollah’s bluff.

  • On April 10, 2007 Dr. Samuel Gregg delivered an address entitled “The Crisis of Europe: Benedict XVI’s Analysis and Solution” as part of the Acton Institute’s 2007 Lecture Series. Click the link for audio (mp3). Text will be posted as soon as it becomes available.
  • “Easter in Rome: The Secret Homilies of the Successor of Peter”, by Sandro Magister. http://www.Chiesa. April 11, 2007. Commenting on an ongoing problem in the Vatican of Benedict XVI:

    There is a limit beyond which the words of Benedict XVI do not go. They reach completely only those who listen to them in person, whether present physically or thanks to a live television broadcast. The number of these persons is substantial, more than for any earlier pontificate. The Easter “urbi et orbi” message and the Way of the Cross on Good Friday were followed by huge crowds and retransmitted in more than forty countries. But even more vast is the number of persons who receive the pope’s message in an incomplete form – or not at all.

    Benedict XVI experienced this communications block to an even greater extent in the other celebrations of last Holy Week. . . .

    among those present at these Masses, only those who understood Italian were able to listen fruitfully to the pope’s homilies. The Catholic media outlets that translated and distributed the texts in various countries barely extended the listening area, to a niche audience.

    For a pope like Benedict XVI, who has centered his ministry precisely upon the word, this is a serious limitation. The offices in the Roman curia that deal with communications have to this point done nothing new in order to remedy this, at least in part. For example, no one sees to a quick distribution of the pope’s texts by internet to all the bishops and priests of the world, in the various languages.

On a Lighter Note . . .