Remember that Holy Thursday liturgy, at which Pope Francis washed the feet of a young Muslim girl in a Roman detention facility?
Well, that humble gesture seems to have gained the attention of Islamic adherents, who now hope that the pope will take another step forward by declaring that Islam is a peaceful religion.
According to MENAFN-Arab News, the Middle East North Africa Financial Network, an envoy from Al-Azhar has expressed hope that ties between the Muslim world and the Vatican might be restored. Mahmoud Abdel Gawad, diplomatic envoy to the grand imam of Al-Azhar, told Il Messaggero, an Italian daily newspaper based in Rome:
“The problems that we had were not with the Vatican but with the former pope. Now the doors of Al-Azhar are open. Francis is a new pope. We are expecting a step forward from him. If in one of his addresses he were to declare that Islam is a peaceful religion, that Muslims are not looking for war or violence, that would be progress in itself.”
The envoy added that perhaps Pope Francis could visit Al-Azhar, the tenth century “mosque of the most resplendent” which is the center of the Muslim faith in northern Egypt. He suggested that such a visit could be arranged in conjunction with an invitation from the Coptic Orthodox pope Tawadros II to visit Egypt. “At that point,” he was quote as saying, “relations and dialogue would be restored immediately.”
However, he ruled out the possibility of any conversation among leaders of the world’s three monotheistic religions, insisting that Al-Azhar would not participate in any meeting with Israelis.
The Regensburg Lecture and the Problem with Pope Benedict
The Regensburg lecture, an academic lecture on faith and reason, was delivered by Pope Benedict XVI on September 12, 2006 at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he had once served as a professor of theology. Drawing on references from ancient Greek and Jewish thinking, from Protestant theology and modern secularity, and from Christianity, Pope Benedict spoke about the tendency of some in the modern world to “exclude the question of God” from reason. Speaking in German, the pope quoted an unfavorable remark about Islam which had been made at the end of the 14th century by Manuel II Palaiologos, the Byzantine emperor. Around the world, many Islamic politicians and religious leaders protested what they considered an insulting mischaracterization of Islam.
The offending quote from the Regensburg lecture was:
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.
Pope Benedict himself greatly regretted the negative impact which his remarks had had, leading to protests and violence on the world stage.
At the time, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina and now Pope Francis, was reported to have expressed “unhappiness” with Pope Benedict XVI’s use of the quotation from Manuel II Palaeologos. According to published reports, Cardinal Bergoglio said,
“Pope Benedict’s statement[s] don’t reflect my own opinions…. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years.”
UPDATE: “Stop Talking About the Copts!”
A senior Al-Azhar official has spoken out regarding the possibility of improved relations between the Vatican and Al-Azhar; and the Vatican has responded.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has reported that “We’re not the problem. It was our Muslim friends who suspended relations.” Cardinal Tauran affirmed the Vatican’s willingness to restore normal ties to Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Muslim learning, but insisted that the Cairo-based university must first respond to Rome’s offer.
According to The Tablet, the cardinal spoke in reaction to statements by a senior Azhar official that the Muslim side was waiting for a gesture from Pope Francis. Al-Azhar had suspended its regular exchanges with the Vatican in January 2011, accusing then-Pope Benedict of insulting Islam after he called for better protection for Coptic Christians following several violent attacks on them.