A Pope Of Surprise Makes Victorious Trip But Question Is Of Enemies Inside Vatican
Benedict XVI has been in keeping with those who thought he might be a "Pope of surprise" -- and has done so, most surprisingly, on both sides of the aisle.
Let's take this first from a "worldly" perspective, then with a twist of the mystical.
While catching many off guard with his "hard-line" approach to Muslims at the University of Regensburg in Germany last August (where he basically denounced Muslim violence), he now was surprising just as many with an approach that many found to be as soft as Regensburg was hard.
Heading to Turkey, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- once unceremoniously termed "God's Rottweiler" for what the media perceived as tough, no-nonsense, and uncompromising views -- not only adjusted the tone he struck at Regensburg (when he had quoted an old emperor who described Islam as violent and even "evil"), but visited a mosque -- and faced toward mecca as he uttered a prayer.
That may not have been planned in advance (he was doing what was instructed by his companion, Mustafa Cagrici, the chief of religious affairs for Istanbul), but the very fact that a "hard-liner" became only the second pontiff in all history to enter a mosque sent tremors through various segments of religion, healing wounds but also startling those who expected that he would tirelessly repeat the words of Regensburg.
In a way, he did: the Pope spoke out again against religious violence; prayed publicly for a priest whom a Muslim youth had killed ten months before; and bolstered the fledgling Catholic community. He also had a major and again "historic" encounter with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I -- another ecumenical step that many would not have expected of him, not so earnestly, and not so successfully.
But it was the Catholic-Muslim dynamic that was the focus and somehow the Pope managed to leave Turkey with good feelings from Muslims and respect from the Orthodox. In how quickly he turned around the Regensburg crisis, there was a touch of the miraculous.
"The enthusiasm with which the Turks welcomed Benedict XVI and the positive assessment made by local media have taken everyone by surprise," said a news report.
There was the word "surprise" again.
And there was a sense with this trip that Benedict became a Pope in his own right.
The tantalizing prospect: that Rome and Islam might unite in a common cause against secularism, materialism, and cultural depravity.
Did he venture too far? Was visiting a mosque too much?
His predecessor, John Paul II, had gone to the extent of kissing a Koran when it was offered to him (perhaps unexpectedly). Benedict did not go that far but came surprisingly close. In the mosque, the Pope has revealed, he prayed to the "One Lord of Heaven and earth, merciful Father of all mankind."
There was thus a new dynamic in place and one wondered if like John Paul the Pope would find antagonism in the ranks of Catholicism, and perhaps even at the Vatican.
In Turkey, the Pope also visited the legendary home of the Blessed Mother in Ephesus -- sort of a tip of the hat to the mystical, for this home was discovered through the revelations of a stigmatic, Ann Catherine Emmerich.
Will that level of boldness and the mystical draw enemies inside his own ranks? Perhaps not. Much was purged during the reign of John Paul II. But interesting it is how many felt that John Paul had been in constant danger -- at least from spiritual attack -- and in fact how that very concern was mentioned, it appears, at the world's largest active site at apparition.
In a talk in the U.S., a French nun stationed at Medjugorje recounted that during the early days of that alleged occurrence, there were warnings about the Pope, whom the Virgin reportedly termed her "most beloved son who suffers."
"A few months ago Marija [Pavlovic, one of the six alleged seers] was at my house and we had a private dinner with her," the nun, Sister Emmanuel, recounted some years back. "And casually she was talking about the first days of the apparition. Our Lady had to brief them about the world and she told them you don't know what it is to be without peace because she said you have peace here and it was a village with no suicide, no nervous breakdowns, no divorce, no desperation of youth, these things did not happen at Medjugorje because it was a very faithful village, so they were told all of what was happening in the world and one day Our Lady was speaking to Marija about the Pope, John Paul II, and she said, look, he has many enemies and in the Vatican itself there are people who want to kill him -- not physically, but morally, and they are active against him."
What can be said for sure is that there is a spiritual war out there, and even black masses said against witnesses for Christ, among whom the Pope is the biggest. With bold moves such as Turkey -- and Ephesus -- he needs prayers of protection.
Enemies in the Vatican?
We'll leave that for your own interpretation.
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[Ironically, and perhaps as a further message: it was Benedict, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who saved Medjugorje from a local bishop's condemnation, and the village is composed of Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims.]