[ by Charles Cameron — from the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium ]
Pope Francis has now presented his first Apostolic Exhortation, a 58-page overview of his views on a range of topics, many of which will no doubt be explored in detail elsewhere. Here, I would like simply to quote the two paragraphs he dedicates to relations between the Catholic Church and Islam:
252. Our relationship with the followers of Islam has taken on great importance, since they are now significantly present in many traditionally Christian countries, where they can freely worship and become fully a part of society. We must never forget that they “profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day”. The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services. Many of them also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.
253. In order to sustain dialogue with Islam, suitable training is essential for all involved, not only so that they can be solidly and joyfully grounded in their own identity, but so that they can also acknowledge the values of others, appreciate the concerns underlying their demands and shed light on shared beliefs. We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition. I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries! Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.
It will be interesting to see what, say, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar or Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent make of the Roman Pontiff defining “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran” as being opposed to every form of violence, while also addressing the existence of “violent fundamentalism”… but the Pope’s message to his own flock — “to avoid hateful generalisations” — strikes a positive note, and his strongly-worded request —
I ask and I humbly entreat those countries to grant Christians freedom to worship and to practice their faith, in light of the freedom which followers of Islam enjoy in Western countries!
— strikes (in my opinion) just the right diplomatic note from the Christian to the Islamic world…