Pope Reaches Out to the Orthodox and Muslims by Mike McManus
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Sun May 13 22:22:51 EDT 2001
Ethics & Religion
POPE REACHES OUT TO THE ORTHODOX & MUSLIMS
by Mike McManus
Pope John Paul II is so frail and stooped that he appears too old to be
a leader. Yet in his recent trip in the steps of St. Paul to Greece,
Syria and Malta his actions and words were courageous and persuasive.
Yet he was criticized by Jewish leaders for what he did not do.
The Polish Pope grew up on the border between Roman Catholicism and the
Orthodox Church and developed a great respect for Eastern Christianity.
He often refers to ''Europe that breathes with two lungs, East and
The first millennium was an era of Christian unity. But there was a
split in 1054, a division between Roman Catholicism and Orthodox
churches. Catholic crusaders sacked the city of Constantinople (now
Istanbul) in 1204, an event which still infuriates the Orthodox. In
recent years, Orthodox leaders have worked in partnership with
Communist governments, often persecuting Catholics. In sharp contrast,
western Christians, such as the Pope as a young bishop, stoutly
resisted Polish Communism.
Yet, John Paul's great millennial hope was that Orthodox and Catholic
churches would ''walk toward full unity,'' as he put it back in 1979.
His overtures were greeted with snubs, such as the refusal of Moscow
Patriarch Aleksy II to allow the Pope to come to Russia.
When he flew to Athens last week, not one Orthodox leader greeted him
at the airport. Archbishop Christodoulos later met with the Pontiff,
but read a sharply worded list of grievances, saying that ''until now
there has not been heard even a single request for pardon'' behalf of
the ''maniacal crusaders.''
The Pope responded, ''For the occasions past and present when sons and
daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission
against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the
forgiveness we beg of Him.'' He said he hoped to mend Christian
divisions which separated Europe, ''a sin before God and a scandal
before the world.'' He offered ''deep regret'' for the mass killings
and looting of Constantinople.
Christodoulos was moved to applaud, as were other bearded bishops in
black. Later he said, ''I am very happy.'' An Orthodox spokesman added,
''This gesture of love...is very helpful. It will help heal one
thousand years of mistrust.''
John Paul then flew to Syria, where he said came as a pilgrim to
Damascus ''to commemorate the event which took place here 2000 years
ago: the conversion of St. Paul...`who was on his way to oppose and
imprison Christians when he heard a voice, ''Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?''' the Pope quoted Acts 9:4-6. Result? ''A profound inner
transformation... From being a persecutor he becomes an apostle.''
John Paul also was the first Pope to visit an Islamic holy ground, the
Umayyad Mosque, where he built a bridge between the faiths: ''The fact
we are meeting in this renowned place of prayer reminds us that man is
a spiritual being, called to acknowledge and respect the absolute
priority of prayer of God in all things. Christians and Muslims agree
that the encounter with God in prayer is the necessary nourishment of
our souls, without which our hearts wither and our will no longer
strives for good but succumbs to evil.''
However, when he arrived at the Damascus airport, President Assad
greeted the Pope with a speech accusing Israel of torturing and
murdering Palestinians, and suggested that Muslims and Christians make
common cause against those ''who try to kill the principles of all
religions with the same mentality with which they betrayed Jesus
John Paul side-stepped the anti-Semitic charge, giving prepared remarks
that in the Mideast, ''So often hopes for peace have been raised only
to be dashed by new waves of violence.''
Columnist Richard Cohen was outraged: ''The ranting of a bigot has gone
unrebutted. The Pope was stoical in his silence. Not so much as a head
was lifted, an eyebrow raised in condemnation. Not for the first time,
the church kept its counsel.''
However, the Pope has never denounced a dictator hosting his visit
not Fidel Castro nor even Poland President Jaruzelski when he was
cracking down on Solidarity. It would be ungracious.
However, at Umayyad Mosque, he expressed his ''ardent hope that Muslim
and Christian religious leaders will present our two great religious
communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as
communities in conflict. It is crucial for the young to be taught the
ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not misuse
religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence.''
Of course, Assad had done just that.
END TXT Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus
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