Friday, April 4, 2003

John Allen's Word from Rome


To everyone's great relief, no anti-Christian violence has erupted in the Muslim world as a result of the Iraq war:

These were not just idle warnings. In Pakistan, after the American strikes in Afghanistan following 9/11, some 25 Christians were killed and dozens more injured in a string of church bombings by Islamic extremists.

To find out if this clash of cultures was actually happening, I contacted Christian and Muslim leaders in places where relations between the two faiths were already strained: Pakistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Palestine. I have been in regular conversation with Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman of the Latin Rite Catholic Church in Baghdad. I’ve also consulted with people who track anti-Christian persecution from both Rome and Washington.

So far, there simply is no anti-Christian backlash.

In many places, observers say that Muslim/Christian ties have never been so strong, as followers of both religions make common cause against what they see as an American, rather than a Christian, war. All sources concur that a principal factor has been the strong anti-war line of John Paul II, which has received extensive coverage in the Arab press and praise from Islamic leaders.

There are other factors. Pre-existing Muslim-Christian dialogues have helped keep the peace. Other Christian leaders, including the local Catholic hierarchy in most places, have also spoken against the war. Several of the nations in the frontline of opposition, such as France and Germany, are historically Christian, undercutting the notion of a Christian crusade. Moreover, many Muslims are not sympathetic to Saddam Hussein.

Yet most observers believe John Paul’s role has been decisive. Muslim leader Mohammad Sammak, who lives in Beirut, told me that the pope’s statements on the war are being translated into Arabic there and are proclaimed from the mosques during Friday prayers.

And, among other notes, a most fascinating tidbit about dialogue between the Latin Rite and the Assyrian Church of the East:

The agreement provides for inter-communion between the Assyrian Church of the East and its parallel Eastern rite Catholic church, the Chaldean Catholic Church. In so doing, the Vatican accepted the Eucharistic prayer used by the Assyrians, called the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, even though it does not contain an “institution narrative.” These are the words of Christ at the Last Supper: “Take this, all of you, and eat it,” etc.

Taft calls the agreement “the most remarkable Catholic magisterial document since Vatican II.” He believes that by treating consecration as something accomplished by the entire liturgical prayer, and not by an isolated set of “magic words,” the Vatican has repudiated a quasi-mechanistic understanding that “seriously warped popular Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.”

You might also note Cardinal Stafford's words on what "freedom" seems to mean in the United States.