A headline is screaming across the internet about Muslim prayer being offered for the first time in the Vatican. If you read no more than the headline you’d think Pope Francis was just about to convert to Islam, become the chief Imam and turn St Peter’s into a mosque.
Not so. The article is referring to the meeting tomorrow between Pope Francis, the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Nevertheless, some Catholics who are already edgy about Francis and uneasy about his stance on matters see this as yet another compromise–a potentially disastrous Koran kissing “Assisi moment”–referring to Pope John Paul II’s inter faith service in Assisi in 1986.
Is the Pope going to recite Muslim and Jewish prayers? Not likely. This article from Catholic New Service explains the difference between “praying together” and “being together for prayer.”
When leaders of different religions come together and pray for a common cause, they are not only appealing to God, they also are showing the world they believe that followers of different religions are still brothers and sisters before the one who created them.
That is not the same as ignoring religious differences or pretending those differences do not matter.
“It should be evident to all who participate that these occasions are moments of being ‘together for prayer, but not prayer together,’” said guidelines for interreligious dialogue published in late May by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
“Being able to pray in common requires a shared understanding of who God is,” the document said. “Since religions differ in their understanding of God, ‘interreligious prayer’ — meaning the joining together in common prayer by followers of various religions — is to be avoided.”
The distinction between praying together and praying at the same time is one Vatican officials have found increasingly necessary to emphasize as popes have led more and more interfaith gatherings for peace.
In other words, this is a time for some Muslims, Jews and Christians to meet together for a time of prayer each in their own traditions.
Critics will say this is a subtle distinction, but it is in the subtle distinctions that true discernment lies. Others will complain that we have yet another example of the Pope’s defenders having to scurry to explain away something he should not be doing.
The explanations are only necessary because of the ignorance of the press who are sensationalizing what is a low key spiritual event.
Bottom line: The Pope is meeting with two world leaders to pray together for peace. This is part of his role as the premier spiritual leader in the world.
There’s another problem however, many people are uneasy at the idea that Muslims, Jews and Christians pray to the same God. While we may find Muslim extremism to be repellent and we may have a gut level dislike of Islam it is still necessary to consider the question of who they pray to.
So think it through: First of all, there is only one God. Then there are demons who masquerade as gods, goddesses and demi-gods.
You can therefore only worship either the one God–Creator of All Things or you worship demons.
Islam is not a pagan religion. It is a Christian heresy. It formed in Christian lands and is a legalistic oversimplification of Christianity. The closest comparison we have in our culture to Islam is the Mormon religion. Both are heretical offshoots of Christianity. They therefore worship the same God we do–albeit in a defective way.
If I had my druthers Pope Francis would follow the example of Benedict in this matter. When he met with leaders of other faiths he would simply observe a moment of prayerful silence together with them. Pope Francis has chosen a different way for a different occasion.
CNS has this outline of the service tomorrow: the three leaders will meet at the Pope’s residence at the Casa Santa Martha. They will then go to the location for the service in the Vatican Gardens. A Jewish rabbi and Muslim Imam will lead the prayers of each of those traditions. Notice this is not taking place in a Catholic Church. Then there will be a Jewish service of prayers, readings and music. This is followed by a Christian service of prayers, readings and music. Then there will be a Muslim service of prayers and readings. They will plant an olive tree for peace and probably pose for photos. It is also important to recognize the personal and semi-private nature of the event. This is not a huge public event.
There is more: Vatican Insider has more information on the service here. It seems that the two national groups–from Palestine and Israel–will themselves be multi faith. A group of Jews and Muslims are coming from Israel while a group of Muslims and Christians are coming from Palestine. Furthermore the three distinct faith groups will then separate to pray separately but at the same time.
Those who are getting all nervous should take a deep breath.