By DAVID VAN BIEMA, JEFF ISRAELY/ROME
With his blunt talk on Islam, Benedict XVI is altering the debate between the Muslim world and the West. On the eve of his visit to Turkey, TIME looks at the roots of the Pope's views--and how they may define his place in history
For the traveling Pontiff, it was not a laid-back Turkish holiday. The citizens of the proud, predominantly Muslim nation had no love of Popes. To the East, the Iranian government was galvanizing anti-Western feeling. The news reported that an escaped killer was on the loose, threatening to assassinate the Pontiff when he arrived. Yet the Holy Father was undaunted. "Love is stronger than danger," he said. "I am in the hands of God." He fared forward--to Ankara, to Istanbul--and preached the commonality of the world's great faiths. He enjoined both Christians and Muslims to "seek ties of friendship with other believers who invoke the name of a single God." He did not leave covered with garlands, but he set a groundwork for what would be years of rapprochement between the Holy See and Islam. He was a uniter, not a divider.
That was 1979 and Pope John Paul II. But when Benedict XVI travels to Turkey next week on his first visit to a Muslim country since becoming Pope last year, he is unlikely to cloak himself in a downy banner of brotherhood, the way his predecessor did 27 years ago. Instead, Benedict, 79, will arrive carrying a different reputation: that of a hard-knuckle intellect with a taste for blunt talk and interreligious confrontation. Just 19 months into his tenure, the Pope has become as much a moral lightning rod as a theologian; suddenly, when he speaks, the whole world listens. And so what takes place over four days in three Turkish cities has the potential to define his papacy--and a good deal more.
Few people saw this coming. Nobody truly expected Benedict to be a mere caretaker Pope--his sometimes ferocious 24-year tenure as the Vatican's theological enforcer and John Paul's right hand suggested anything but passivity. But this same familiarity argued against surprises. The new Pontiff was expected to sustain John Paul's conservative line on morality and church discipline and focus most of his energies on trimming the Vatican bureaucracy and battling Western culture's "moral relativism." Although acknowledged as a brilliant conservative theologian, Benedict lacked the open-armed charisma of his predecessor. Moreover, what had initially propelled John Paul to the center of the world stage was his challenge to communism and its subsequent fall, a huge geopolitical event that the Pope helped precipitate with two exhilarating visits to his beloved Polish homeland. By contrast, what could Benedict do? Liberate Bavaria?
Well, not quite. But this year he has emerged as a far more compelling and complex figure than anyone had imagined. And much of that has to do with his willingness to confront what some people feel is today's equivalent of the communist scourge--the threat of Islamic violence. The topic is extraordinarily fraught. There are, after all, a billion or so nonviolent Muslims on the globe, the Roman Catholic Church's own record in the religious-mayhem department is hardly pristine, and even the most naive of observers understands that the Vicar of Christ might harbor an institutional prejudice against one of Christianity's main global competitors. But by speaking out last September in Regensburg, Germany, about the possible intrinsic connection between Islam and violence, the Pontiff suddenly became a lot more interesting. Even when Islamic extremists destroyed several churches and murdered a nun in Somalia, Benedict refused to retract the essence of his remarks. In one imperfect but powerful stroke, he departed from his predecessor's largely benign approach to Islam and discovered an issue that might attract even the most religiously jaded. In doing so, he managed (for better or worse) to reanimate the clash-of-civilizations discussion by focusing scrutiny on the core question of whether Islam, as a religion, sanctions violence. He was hailed by cultural conservatives worldwide. Says Helen Hull Hitchcock, a St. Louis, Mo., lay leader who heads the conservative Catholic organization Women for Faith and Family: "He has said what needed to be said....
read full story here
It's official. The Catholic Knight is retired. I'm hanging up the helmet and passing the torch. There will be no more articles, no more commentaries, no more calls to action. THIS BLOG IS CLOSED. I've spent a very long time thinking about this, I believe the time has come, and is a bit overdue. I want to thank my readers for everything, but most especially for your encouragement and your willingness to go out there and fight the good fight. So, that being the case, I've spend the last several weeks looking for bloggers who are fairly active, and best represent something akin to the way I think and what I believe. I recommend the following blogs for my readers to bookmark and check on regularly. Pick one as your favourite, or pick them all. They are all great.....