Wednesday, November 29, 2006 at 11:26 AM

Like Daniel in the Lion’s den, Pope Benedict XVI lands in Turkey

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

When Pope Benedict XVI landed in Turkey yesterday for his daring pastoral visit, Catholics (and moderate Muslims) all over the world began praying with grave concern for his safety; and rightly so.

After all, even before he hurled what many Muslims consider an unforgivable insult at the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, the Pope was already deemed an anti-Muslim bigot. Because when he served as “Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” under Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) opposed Turkey’s admission into the EU by arguing that the union’s underlying foundations are based, culturally and historically, in Christianity; and, that it should be comprised of Christian member states only.

Therefore, last September, after he enquired, philosophically, about the troubling tenets of Islam that are inspiring (and inciting) fanatics all over the world to commit crimes against humanity in the name of Allah, devout Muslims reacted by vowing to kill him for his blasphemy.

Never mind that their reaction justified his enquiry, which he posited by alluding to the following prescient challenge to Islam by 14th Century Christian Emperor Manuel II Paleologos:

Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

And, never mind that, in that same provocative homily, Pope Benedict lamented the equally troubling tenets of Christianity that inspired the Crusades, Slavery and other crimes against humanity.

Because, alas, too many Muslims are as fanatical about avenging any perceived insult to their Faith as the Pope – as Prefect – was zealous about keeping Muslims out of the EU. And, even though Benedict XVI has atoned for his bigotry (he no longer opposes Turkey’s membership) and apologized for any offense his homily may have caused, fanatical Muslims remain as dedicated as ever to executing the fatwa of death against him.

Now, add to this menacing spectre – of a teaming mass of Allah’s willing executioners lying in wait for the Pope – the fact that it was a similarly dedicated Muslim Turk who tried to assassinate his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and only then does one get a sense of the peril he faces.

Nonetheless, I suspect that the regard Turkey’s religious and political leaders have for their enlightened national interests will inspire them to forbid or foil any attempt to harm the Pope on Turkish soil. And, that they will bite their tongues as the Pope lectures them about religious tolerance and the democratic imperative of separation between church and state.

Because the irony is probably not lost on them that this latter-day crusader who once argued to deny their European destiny now embodies the key to it. And the Turks are surely aware that the hospitality with which they greet and treat the Pope may determine the hospitality with which Europeans greet and treat the prospect of their EU accession.

Yet, this did not prevent Turkey’s leader of religious affairs, Ali Bardakoglu, from reprimanding the Pope – ever so mildly – on behalf of aggrieved Muslims as follow:

The so-called conviction that the sword is used to expand Islam in the world and growing Islamophobia hurts all Muslims.

Though, as it happened, Benedict XVI did a great deal on the eve of his visit to tame the religious animus his divinely conflicted hosts harbored against him. Specifically, he excommunicated the provocative rhetoric of Emperor Paleologos and, instead, preached the repentant and redemptive message of “dialogue, brotherhood and reconciliation”.

In fact, the Pope’s penitent and conciliatory prelude to this visit was so disarming that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (pictured to the Pope’s right in first photo) not only changed his mind about snubbing him but actually decided to personally greet the Pope at the steps of his plane when it landed.

Therefore, I think the Pope’s interfaith fellowship with the Turks will redound to their mutual benefit: It will benefit the Turks because, despite streaming TV images of bloodthirsty would-be assassins, the overwhelming majority of them desire not only peaceful co-existence, but codified cohabitation with their European neighbors. And it will benefit the Pope because it will demonstrate that his Catholic faith is in fact broadminded and wholly inured to physical threats.

Related Articles:
Papal infallibility does not signify infallible Pope. But Pope Benedict committed no sin with his comments on Muhammad, and he should not apologize
UPDATE: The Pope apologizes! Proving he’s not only fallible but also gullible….

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