May 29, 2006

Vatican Unease Over Islamic Countries

Clear Talk About Problems Facing Christians

VATICAN CITY, MAY 27, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Persecution of Christians in
Islamic countries makes the news almost daily, and the Vatican is
concerned. On May 17 Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, secretary for relations
with states in the Vatican's Secretariat of State, spoke to participants
in the plenary session of Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
The May 15-17 meeting focused on the theme of migration and Islamic
countries.

After dealing with issues related to migration, Archbishop Lajolo, the
equivalent of the Holy See's foreign minister, turned to Islam. The
faith factor, he noted, is becoming more and more important in the
debate over migration.

He first addressed the issue of migration from Islamic countries. The
Holy See, he noted, has often defended the need for migrants to be able
to freely follow their religious beliefs. This freedom includes the
possibility to practice their religion, or even to change their faith.
For their part, migrants should respect the laws and values of the
society in which they now live, including the local religious values.

Turning to the conduct of Islamic countries themselves, Archbishop
Lajolo warned that we are not faced with a homogeneous situation, but
with a religion composed of many different facets. There is,
nevertheless, a recent tendency for these governments to promote radical
Islamic norms and lifestyles in other nations. He named, in particular,
pressures from groups in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In Asia, until recently, Muslims and non-Muslims lived largely in peace.
In the last few years, however, extremist groups have grown and
religious minorities are the target of violence. The archbishop also
expressed concern over Islamic expansion in Africa, and, to a lesser
extent, in Europe.

The problems posed by the radicalization of Islam range from Christians
being unjustly subjected to trials by Islamic tribunals, to a lack of
freedom in constructing places of worship and obstacles for the practice
of faith.

The Vatican representative criticized Islamic countries for ignoring the
concept of reciprocity, common in relations among states, when it comes
to matters of faith. Islamic countries, he noted, demand religious
rights for their citizens who migrate to other countries, but ignore
this principle for non-Muslim immigrants present in their own lands.

Strategy detailed

What should the Church do in the face of these difficulties? Archbishop
Lajolo outlined recommendations:

-- Faced with Islam the Church is called to live its own identity to the
full, without backing down and by taking clear and courageous positions
to affirm Christian identity. Radical Islamists, the prelate warned,
take advantage of every sign they interpret as weakness.

-- We should also be open to dialogue, whether with individual nations
or within the United Nations or other organizations.

-- An underlying problem in dealing with Islamic nations is the lack of
separation between religion and the state. Part of the dialogue with
Islamic religious and political authorities should be aimed at helping
to develop a separation between these two spheres.

-- A particularly sensitive point is that of respect for minorities and
for human rights, especially religious rights. The Holy See will
continue to speak out at international meetings for the human rights of
migrants. For its part the international community should ensure that
humanitarian organizations do not unduly pressure recipients of aid to
change religion.

-- The Holy See will continue to declare its firm opposition to all
attempts to exploit religion by using it to justify terrorism and
violence.

-- The protection of Christians in Islamic countries is particularly
difficult in the area ranging from Turkey to the Middle East. Solutions
must be found for the many Christians who flee their country of
residence in search of safety.

-- Muslims who live in predominantly Christian countries should be
integrated into the nation.

-- The Catholic media can play an important role in educating
Christians, including those living in Islamic countries.

-- The Roman Curia together with bishops' conferences and local churches
need to work closely together in these matters, including looking at the
way to spread the Gospel in the Islamic world. This is our duty and our
right, concluded Archbishop Lajolo.

British view

Muslim-Catholic relations were also examined recently by Cardinal Cormac
Murphy-O'Connor. In a speech May 16 at the Oxford Center for Islamic
Studies, the archbishop of Westminster said: "Our mutual understanding
is crucial for world peace and human progress, not least in this era
when globalization and mass migration have placed Christians and Muslims
ever closer to each others, as neighbors in the same European towns and
cities."

Dialogue between the two religions must combine both an awareness of
what they have in common -- and what profoundly distinguishes them.
"Catholics, in order to be good dialogue-partners, must first be firmly
rooted in their understanding and love of Catholicism," the cardinal
stated, "and I suspect that this is true for Muslims too."

But the main obstacle to this dialogue "is the failure, in a number of
Muslim countries, to uphold the principle of religious freedom," he
added. "It is essential that Muslims can freely worship in Oxford or
London, just as it is essential that Christians can freely worship in
Riyadh or Kabul."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor also called upon Muslims living in Britain to
speak out when Christians are denied their rights in Islamic countries.
"Where religious rights of minorities are disrespected in the name of
Islam, the face of Islam is tarnished elsewhere in the world," he
argued.

The cardinal furthermore distinguished between a "twisted religion" that
is used to justify hatred and violence, and true religion. True
religion, he explained, points us to healing, honor and purity.

Another prominent cardinal also recently expressed some concerns over
Islam. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, spoke on the theme of
"Islam and Western Democracies" at a meeting of the organization Legatus
in Naples, Florida.

His speech was given on Feb. 2, but only recently posted on the Web site
of the Sydney Archdiocese. On the positive side, Cardinal Pell noted the
points in common between Christians and Muslims, and he noted the great
diversity in how Muslim beliefs are interpreted and lived.

Reciprocity

On the negative side, he observed that the Koran contains many
invocations to violence. Moreover, Muslims believe that the Koran comes
directly from God, unmediated. This makes it difficult for the Koran to
be subjected to the same sort of critical analysis and reflection that
has taken place among Christians over the Bible, according to Cardinal
Pell. What is needed, the archbishop of Sydney stressed, is dialogue
between Christians and Muslims.

The Pope spoke May 15 to the participants gathered in Rome for the
plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.
Regarding Islam, Benedict XVI observed that in these times Christians
are called upon to practice dialogue, but without losing their identity.

This process, the Pontiff clarified, requires reciprocity. The Christian
community, for its part, must live the commandment of love taught by
Christ, embracing with charity all immigrants. In turn, it is hoped that
Christians living in Islamic countries will also be received well, and
with respect for their religious identity. Reciprocity, it seems, is
increasingly on the Vatican's mind when it comes to relations with the
Islamic world.

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