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September 27, 2006
Column #1,309
Advance for Sept. 30, 2006
"Christians and Muslims Must Oppose Violence"
by Michael J. McManus

On September 19 St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral was burned in Dutse, a state capital in northern Nigeria. Ruth Gledhill of the London Times reported that she spoke to Bishop Yusufu Lumu, whose cottage was also partially burned.

"We have called the police but up to now they have not come out to protect the area," the bishop said.  Asked why he thought it happened, the bishop sighed, `The rumor is that someone insulted the Prophet.'"

The person who did so was not an Anglican, but Catholic Pope Benedict XVI.

Anglicans suffered far more than the loss of a cathedral.  Another Nigerian bishop reported: "Only about three churches out of about 15 are still standing in the town. No reason has been given. They just began looting and burning churches from about 8:30 p.m. last night. It was not until it was over that the police came. No help came whatsoever until after it had happened."

The bishop could not understand it. Nigeria's respected police are serving in Lebanon and Sudan, and were in Kosovo. He added,  "It is not possible that something of this magnitude, directed specifically at the church and only at the church, should take our security systems unaware. There seems to be some deliberate intention to support this at the state level."

Muslims are fighting Christians while Muslim governments look the other way.

Two weeks ago, the Pope quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor as saying: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Offended by Benedict's linkage of Islam with violence, Muslims proved him right with  calls for the Pope's murder from Jeddah to Jakarta. In Somalia, Sheik Abubakar Hassan Malin declared, "Whoever offends our Prophet Muhammad should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim."  In Pakistan and London, demonstrators chanted, "Death to the Pope."

Within days, Benedict said he was "deeply sorry" that Muslims were offended.  Nevertheless, seven churches on the West Bank and Gaza were torched, and an Italian nun who devoted her life to aiding the sick, was shot in the back and killed as she left a Somalia children's hospital   proving the connection between Islam and violent extremism.

What can be done to halt this clash of cultures?

This week the Pope offered two answers. First, Benedict met with the ambassadors of 22 Muslim countries, and reiterated his "esteem and deep respect for Muslim believers." 

Second, he told them, " I am profoundly convinced is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another" and "work together to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence." The Vatican passed out translations of his French remarks in Arabic, English and Italian. The Arabic version was published Tuesday on  page one of "L'Osservatore Romano," the Vatican's newspaper.

The ambassadors were impressed. "I pray to God the crisis will be behind us," said Iraqi Ambassador Albert Edward Ismail Yelda. "We need to sit together- Muslims, Christians, Jews, and the rest of the world, the rest of religions, in order to find common ground for peaceful

Increased dialogue across the Muslim-Christian divide, with expressions of mutual respect demonstrated by the Pope - is the beginning of the answer. Christians, who are less threatened by Muslims, than Muslims are of Christians - should take the lead.

However, the dialogue should have a goal in mind, beyond increasing understanding. Again, Benedict was articulate about one goal.

He quoted his predecessor, John Paul II, speaking to Muslim youth in Casablanca two decades ago: "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all fields, above all with regard to fundamental freedoms and most especially for religious freedom, which favors peace and understanding between peoples."

The "reciprocity" Benedict is referring to is that Christians should have the same right to worship in Muslim countries as Muslims do in Christian nations. Seven million immigrants work in Saudi Arabia, for example, but can not build a Christian church.

It is time for President Bush to ask the leaders of Muslim countries to open a dialogue with Catholic and Protestant leaders who would like to build churches in their lands.

However, given the torching of churches in the West Bank, Gaza and Nigeria - Christians would be taking a big risk to build, even if given the permission.

We must take that risk.

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