FaithWorld

When in a minefield, a pope first turns to prayer

May 8, 2009

pope-bannerWhen a pope enters a minefield, the most natural reaction for him is to pray. Pope Benedict stressed prayer when he began his tip-toe over the explosive terrain of the Middle East starting his May 8-15 tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories today. From the start, in his remarks during the flight to Amman, he stressed that people should pray for peace. We are not a political power but a spiritual force and this spiritual force is a reality which can contribute to progress in the peace process,” he said on the plane. “As believers we are convinced that that prayer is a real force, it opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and can affect history.” This is theologically sound, of course. It’s also politically clever. It’s the lowest common denominator in the Holy Land, maybe the only option all sides might agree on.

(Photo: Workers hang banner welcoming Benedict in Amman, 7 May 2009/Muhammad Hamed)

Another theme evident in comments by the pope and King Abdullah is their joint effort to boost Benedict’s image in the Muslim world. His 2006 Regensburg speech hinting that Islam was violent and irrational has not been forgotten in this region. But Jordan, a Muslim country that strongly supports interfaith dialogue initiatives such as the Common Word declaration, wants to redirect attention towards cooperation between the world’s two largest faiths. King Abdullah took the first step in that direction. Speaking at the airport after the pope’s arrival today, he said:

We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims. You have warmly received the visits pope-abdullahof Muslim scholars and others. In turn, your historic visit this week to the King Hussein Mosque … your meeting with Muslim religious scholars … is welcomed by all Jordanians. It is my hope that together, we can expand the dialogue we have opened – a dialogue that accepts our unique religious identities; a dialogue that is unafraid of the light of truth; a dialogue that, rightly, celebrates our deep, common values and ties.”

(Photo: King Abdullah welcomes Pope Benedict at Amman airport, 8 May 2009/Ahmed Jadallah)

In his response, Benedict said:

My visit to Jordan gives me a welcome opportunity to speak of my deep respect for the Muslim community, and to pay tribute to the leadership shown by His Majesty the King in promoting a better understanding of the virtues proclaimed by Islam. Now that some years have passed since the publication of the Amman Message and the Amman Interfaith Message, we can say that these worthy initiatives have achieved much good in furthering an alliance of civilizations between the West and the Muslim world, confounding the predictions of those who consider violence and conflict inevitable.”

pope-nunsThis sounds like the message both sides want to send during the Jordan leg of the visit. Our Amman correspondent Suleiman al-Khalidi heard quite critical remarks from Islamist leaders here yesterday. “The present Vatican pope is the one who issued severe insults to Islam and did not offer any apology to the Muslims,” said Zaki Bani Rusheid, head of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest mainstream Islamist party. But a senior Amman official, who asked not to be named, said Jordan thought that relations between Catholics and Muslims were “on track.” Of those criticsing the visit, he said: “All they remember is the Regensburg lecture.”

(Photo: Nuns greet Pope Benedict at Regina Pacis church in Amman, 8 May 2009//Muhammad Hamed)

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/