Economic sanctions had barely been lifted when President Rouhani was off to France and Italy to drum up business for Iran. His visit will forever be remembered–not for anything he said or did, but for the silly actions of Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi who had Roman statues covered up so their nudity would not offend the Muslim guest. This incident has grabbed most of the world’s attention and, as a consequence, scant notice has been taken of the closed-door meeting in the Apostolic Palace between the pope and the Iranian president.
At the end of the 40-minute session, the Vatican issued a communique which described the talks between the two as “cordial.” Among the topics discussed was “the important role that Iran is called upon to fulfill, along with other countries in the region, to promote suitable political solutions to the problems afflicting the Middle East, and to counter the spread of terrorism and arms trafficking [emphasis mine].” Iran, a designated sponsor of terrorism, has a role to play? Iran, a country that engages in acts of terrorism worldwide through its proxy Hizbollah? Is the pope serious??
The Vatican also reported that, during the meeting, “common spiritual values emerged.” At the end of their discussions, the pope presented Rouhani with a medallion depicting Saint Martin giving his military cloak to a shivering beggar. (This is the traditional gift given by the pope to visiting statesmen.) Pope Francis called the medallion “a symbol of gratuitous fraternity.”
That the pope would have a “cordial” meeting with a world leader who, two days before his inauguration, referred to Israel as a “wound on the body of the Islamic world” that “should be removed” is disturbing to supporters of the Jewish state. There is no evidence that Rouhani has changed his view of Israel since then.
The pope’s meeting with Rouhani may be shocking to some, but it was predictable. Since assuming the papacy in March 2013, Pope Francis has made outreach to the Muslim world a priority. The lengths to which he is prepared to go in pursuit of this goal are unprecedented for a pope. Nine months after taking office, the pontiff invited the secretary-general of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), at that time Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, to the Vatican for an audience, something no previous pope had ever done. (The OIC forms the largest voting bloc in the UN. This is the same organization that would like to have all criticism of Islam criminalized!). The two discussed Ihsanoglu’s vision of an historic reconciliation between Islam and Christianity, based on their common Abrahamic roots, a reconciliation vital for global peace and security. The pope agreed to work towards making Ihsanoglu’s vision a reality.
Anyone following the pope can see that he has been true to his word. In another unprecedented act for a pope, Pope Francis made a trip to the Holy Land in May 2014 accompanied by two Argentine friends, religious leaders from the two other so-called Abrahamic faiths: Rabbi Skorka and Omar Aboud. While there, the pope also met with the current patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I.
A month later, the pope invited Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas to join him at a prayer summit in the papal gardens behind St. Peter’s Basilica. In his address to those gathered in the garden, the pope called the presence of the two presidents, one a Jew and one a Muslim, a “great sign of brotherhood which you offer [Peres and Abbas] as children of Abraham.” Allah’s name was invoked for the very first time in the Vatican (albeit out back in the gardens).
This past November, during his visit to a mosque in the capital city of the war-ravaged Central African Republic, the pope told the people gathered there that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters.”
Are the Catholic pope and Rouhani, a trained Shia cleric, “brothers” as the pope claims? Paragraph 841 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which deals with the Catholic Church’s relationship with Muslims, reads as follows:
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day [emphasis mine].
The Catholic Catechism claims that Catholics and Muslims “adore” the one God. The Qur’an, on the other hand, makes it very clear that Muslims do not adore the God of the Christians! Quite the contrary. The Qur’an denies the existence of the Trinity (sura 5:73); denies the deity of Jesus (sura 5:72); and denies the divine Sonship of Jesus (sura 19:35). Far from adoring the Christian God, the Qur’an issues repeated warnings of the “painful doom” (sura 5:73) that awaits anyone who ascribes “a partner to Allah” (sura 3:64). Allah is not a ‘father’ and he most certainly does not have a ‘son’!
To overcome what are insurmountable theological differences, the pope (and he is not alone) has turned back to the patriarch Abraham. Jews, Christians and Muslims are ‘brothers and sisters’ on the basis of their common ancestor, Abraham. The notion that Jews, Christians, and Muslims are spiritual kin is gaining traction beyond the walls of the Vatican. At the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC on 4 February, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, herself a Catholic, invoked the name of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. “The same message stands at the center of the Torah and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad too,” she said before reading from the Gospel of John.
Indications are that Pope Francis has a vision of religious reconciliation not limited to the three Abrahamic faiths. A video released by the Vatican on the Feast of Epiphany in January, for example, included not only a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim, but a Buddhist as well. In the video, the speakers express a common belief in love. Are we looking at a future world religion without any dogmas or doctrines, a world religion whose adherents share only a common belief in love? That’s what the Vatican video would seem to suggest.