Is Pope Francis really safe from Islamic extremists? One has to wonder. The Islamic State has been known to hold a grudge (Charlie Hebdo, of course, being the most recent case in point).
But fearless in the face of the brutal slaughter of the comic artists in Paris and countless others in Middle Eastern countries, Pope Francis has spoken harshly against ISIS and their “unjust aggression” of “deviant forms of religion.”
Speaking to the diplomatic corps in his State of the World address, the pope quoted from his December 8, 2014 Message for the World Day of Peace, saying that other people
“…are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects. Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads, or to power, money, or even deviant forms of religion.”
The pontiff pulled no punches when speaking about the “tragic slayings in Paris.” Francis said, according to the Catholic Herald:
“These are dangers which I pointed out in my recent Message for the World Day of Peace, which dealt with the issue of today’s multiple forms of enslavement. All of them are born of a corrupt heart, a heart incapable of recognizing and doing good, of pursuing peace.”
“…I express my hope that religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.”
The Pope had strong words to describe the “chilling” fundamentalist terrorism in the Middle East. Speaking of Syria and Iraq, he said:
“This phenomenon is a consequence of the throwaway culture being applied to God. Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext. In the face of such unjust aggression, which also strikes Christians and other ethnic and religious groups in the region, the Yazidis for example, a unanimous response is needed, one which, within the framework of international law, can end the spread of acts of violence, restore harmony and heal the deep wounds which the ongoing conflicts have caused.”
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SO, NOW…. has Pope Francis’ outspoken condemnation for the Charlie Hebdo massacre made the Vatican the next target for Islamic violence?
Israel and U.S. intelligence forces seem to think so. Israeli state TV reported on Sunday that U.S. intelligence services had warned the Vatican could be the next terrorist target.
Indeed, the United States was under-represented at the massive anti-terrorism Unity Rally in Paris, although leaders from 40 other nations joined an estimated 2 million people in decrying the Charlie Hebdo attack. Asked why President Obama did not attend, the White House defended the deployment of assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to represent the U.S. at the Rally–but many saw Obama’s absence as a sign of disengagement, and thought that America was worried about security concerns.
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David French, writing over on the Evangelical Channel at Patheos, found himself in grudging agreement with Fox News pundit Bill Maher when Maher said:
“Hundreds of millions of them support an attack like this. They applaud an attack like this. What they say is, ‘We don’t approve of violence, but you know what? When you make fun of the Prophet, all bets are off.”
French notes that Maher’s claim, in this case, is supported by real data.
Extrapolating from polling numbers, hundreds of millions of Muslims do, in fact, support the death penalty for blasphemy against Mohammed. Hundreds of millions do support the death sentence for “apostasy” — converting from Islam. It’s even true that in the recent past, hundreds of millions expressed approval for Osama bin Laden. Regarding blasphemy and apostasy, here’s the Washington Post describing startling findings in a comprehensive Pew Research Center report on Muslim beliefs and attitudes:
In fact, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center report, 88 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 62 percent of Muslims in Pakistan favor the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion. This is also the majority view among Muslims in Malaysia, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.
David French continues his sober analysis:
“Pointing out facts is not bigotry. It is also a fact that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not support terrorists and do not support the bloodthirsty elements of sharia law. The sad reality, however, is that by our actions and attitudes, we appease and empower the violent.”
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But while Bill Maher and David French and I–and countless others–hold our breath as Pope Francis goes about business as usual, the Vatican remains apparently unconcerned.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said on Monday that the Holy See had received no specific threats. He assured that the Vatican is adopting an attitude of “caution and attention,” but insisted that there is no sign of any specific risks. Father Lombardi continued, according to the Washington Post:
“The Vatican and the pope may be targets, as are naturally all institutions in Italy and the rest of Europe. But it is not opportune to feed a state of particular alarm, because at the moment it is neither justified or well-founded.”
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As Pope Francis travels to Sri Lanka and the Philippines this week, Voice of America has expressed concerns about his security.
In the Philippines, security forces proved incapable of controlling the chaos in last week’s procession for the Black Nazarene; one person died, and hundreds were injured in the crush of pilgrims. Much larger crowds are anticipated for the Pope’s visit–up to 6 million for the papal Mass on Sunday, January 18.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino felt it necessary to address the citizens of his country on Monday, reminding the public to remain calm and to not get carried away by the excitement of being near the pope, potentially putting him in physical danger. What’s more, President Aquino told reporters that the country’s security agencies are working with international intelligence groups such as Interpol to monitor any potential outside threats, particularly from the Islamic State militant group.
And yet Pope Francis has insisted that he will ride in an open-air car, the better to see and touch the people.
For the Vatican security forces, guarding this informal and congenial pope must present a unique challenge. But guard him, they must–even when that necessitates a pushback against the beloved leader of the worldwide Church.