As he heads to what could be a sea of controversy in Israel-Palestine, Pope Benedict XVI’s Middle East trip has been marked by a strong message of reconciliation and affirmation of hard-pressed historic Christian communities in the region.
In particular, he has addressed 40,000 Catholics in Jordan – who rarely, if ever gather together – as well as visiting the Hashemite Museum located next to the mosque in Amman.
The pontiff also met with Muslim religious leaders, the diplomatic corps and rectors of Jordanian universities on an area near the mosque.
He addressed some remarks to Prince Ghazi bin Talal, one of the signatories of the message ‘A Common Word between Us and You’ from 13 October 2007, sent by 138 Muslim scholars to the Pope and to other global Christian leaders.
The Cardinal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone, later replied to the message in the Pope’s name. A delegation of Muslim leaders led by Prince Ghazi was received by Benedict XVI in the Vatican on 6 November last year.
The Pope addressed those who “assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world”. He acknowledged the problem. Yet, he asked, “is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division and at times, even violence in society?”
Muslims and Christians, he went on, must be “consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history”.
The Pope praised what he called “the resolve of Jordanian educators and religious and civic leaders to ensure that the public face of religion reflects its true nature” and highlighted how collaboration between Christians and Muslims in the country “sets an encouraging and persuasive example for the region, and indeed the world, of the positive, creative contribution which religion can and must make to civic society”.
He also stressed the need for Christian and Muslims to embrace “the challenge to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason. … As believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth. In fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith, it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations. In this way, human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving
“Thus”, the pontiff went on, “genuine adherence to religion – far from narrowing our minds – widens the horizon of human understanding. It protects civil society from the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutise the finite and eclipse the infinite; it ensures that freedom is exercised hand in hand with truth, and it adorns culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful”.
He continued: “We are reminded that because it is our common human dignity which gives rise to universal human rights, they hold equally for every man and woman, irrespective of his or her religious, social or ethnic group. In this regard, we must note that the right of religious freedom extends beyond the question of worship and includes the right – especially of minorities – to fair access to the employment market and other spheres of civic life”.
The Pope indicated that the presence of His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Baghdad, “brings to mind the people of neighbouring Iraq many of whom have found welcome refuge here in Jordan. The international community’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis.”
He concluded: “Once again, I urge diplomats and the international community they represent, together with local political and religious leaders, to do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens”.