Retracing the Footsteps of the Great Reformer

 

It was five hundred years ago today, 31 October 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Had it not been for the subsequent translation of these theses from Latin into German by someone unbeknownst to Luther,  the Augustinian monk’s action would likely have drawn little attention.  Instead, these 95 theses, translated into German, would prove to be the catalyst that would shake the medieval church to its very foundations.

The church of Luther’s time has been likened to one of those old buildings covered in ivy–in my view, an apt description.  We’ve all seen those ivy-covered buildings from the late nineteenth-century.  So completely covered in ivy are they that one can see nothing more than the windows and the door. It’s impossible to tell anything about the structure beneath all that ivy:  whether it’s a building constructed of red brick, or grey sandstone, or something else.  And so it was with the medieval church!  So many practices and beliefs, with no basis in Scripture, had grown up over the centuries. What Luther, and his fellow reformers did, was to ‘pull down the ivy’ that had obscurred the church’s true message;  salvation by faith alone (sola fides), by grace alone (sola gratia), and by Jesus Christ alone (solus Christus).

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending a day in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, as its now known.  The old university town is a great place for a walking tour because all  the important sites are easily accessible.  The prime site to visit, naturally, was the castle church door where Luther posted his 95 theses.  Why the door of the castle church? In Luther’s day, the castle church door functioned as the local university’s bulletin board.  In posting his list, Luther was calling for an academic disputation on the “power and efficacy of indulgences…”.

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This is the door of the castle church (schlosskirche), or All Saints’ Church, where Luther posted his 95 theses.  The 1517 door has not survived.  This is a later-installed door inscribed with his 95 theses.

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Luther’s grave is situated below the podium where he stood to preach.

One of the things I learned about Luther on this trip–something I hadn’t known previously–was that he was a talented musician who played the lute and possessed a great singing voice.  Putting his musical gifts in service of the Reformation, he composed hymns as well. After viewing the door of the castle church, I went to nearby Corpus Christi Chapel where I joined with others in singing Luther’s most well-known hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  The Reformation was spread not only by sermon but by song as well.  So thrilling to be singing this hymn in Wittenberg!   A Lutheran pastor–from the US–led the group in singing Luther’s hymn, then gave a Bible reading and short talk to the handful of English-speaking tourists there.

Not long after my day in Wittenberg, I made it to another place famous for its Luther-connection: Wartburg Castle, located on a hill overlooking the city of Eisenach.  It was here at Wartburg Castle where Friedrich the Wise (Elector Frederick of Saxony) hid Martin Luther, disguised as a certain ‘Squire George’, between 1521-22, thus keeping the reformer out of the clutches of the pope who would surely have had him executed as a heretic.  Anyone who offered Luther protection would be punished as well.  Anyone who offered him up, on the other hand, would be rewarded with a plenary indulgence.

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Hidden away in the castle, in a stube or room provided by the Elector, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German.  Luther had never seen a Bible until he was 20 years old, and that was when he came across a Latin Bible in the monastery library at Erfurt.  He was amazed to find “what a small portion of the Scripture was allowed to reach the ears of the people.”  To the reforming monk, scripture alone (sola scriptura) was the basis for right belief and practice.   It was a moving experience for me to see the room where Luther did his translating.

Luther’s wife does not receive the attention she should, in my view, for her story is a remarkable one, too.  Katharina von Bora had entered a Cistercian convent at an early age and took her vows as soon as possible. Become dissatisfied with her life in the convent, and her interest piqued by the new teachings (which may have had something to do with her growing dissatisfaction),  she plotted with eleven other nuns to escape:  an act punishable by death.  Even giving shelter to an escaped nun was a crime under church law.  Katharina contacted Luther, and he helped her escape in an empty fish barrel!  Luther found homes, marriages, or employment for ten of the escaped nuns.  When only Katharina was left, he married her himself in 1525.   To many at this time, such a marriage was scandalous.  For a monk and a nun to marry was nothing short of incest.

“Dear Kate,” as Luther called her, proved to be a wonderfully resourceful mate:  she managed the household, brewed beer, leased land for gardening, bred cattle, and gave birth to six children.  In marrying the resourceful ex-nun, Luther proved to those around him  that one could be a clergyman and a happy husband and family man, all at the same time.

No account of the life of Martin Luther can be complete without mentioning his hateful rants against the Jewish people in his later years, his legacy thus forever tainted.  That said, Martin Luther, flawed human being though he was, deserves to be acknowledged, especially today, for freeing those held captive by Rome and revealing once more “the glorious liberty of the gospel.”

  Portraits of Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther

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Waiting for Figs

Hanging FruitOne of my thrills as a gardener this past year (I use the term ‘gardener’ loosely) has been to watch a fig tree grow and produce fruit for the very first time.  My fig tree produced its first crop of figs in late August.  There were four figs in all. I wasn’t sure what a ripe fig should look like, and so sampled the first one too early. Which explains why it was pink inside and not as sweet-tasting as I had anticipated.

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I subsequently learned that a ripe fig is soft and squishy–gooey almost–and brown, like the one in the photo.

Watching my fig tree flourish and produce fruit these past months has brought to mind a number of biblical passages in which a fig tree features prominently.  I’m told that there are some 50 references  to figs and fig trees in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and New Testament.  (I don’t intend to comment on all 50!) In two earlier blogs,  I describe how our primeval parents Adam and Eve used fig leaves in an attempt to cover their nakedness  (9 June 2017 blog); and how Jesus, in what was a prophetic sign-act,  pronounced judgment on a fruitless fig tree (28 June 2017 blog).

Jesus also told a parable about a fig tree (Luke 13:6-9).

A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any.  So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.  Cut it down!  Why should it use up the soil?” “Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.  If it bears fruit next year, fine!  If not, then cut it down” (NIV).

The characters in this parable are usually identified thus:  the owner of the fig tree is God, the caretaker is Jesus, and the fig tree is Israel.  Jesus’ ministry, begun in approximately AD 28-29, lasted for three years.  In that time there has been little response from his own people, the Jews.   Jesus, not willing to see the fig tree destroyed,  intercedes on its behalf. He calls for a reprieve for the fig tree,  another chance, one more year.   During that time, he himself will do all he can for the tree. If, at the end of one year there is no fruit, then the owner of the tree can uproot it.

Jesus intervenes to save the fig tree, recalling Moses’ earlier intercession on behalf of his people.  The Israelites had Aaron build a golden calf to worship when Moses was overly late in descending from the mountain.  God was ready to annihilate the “stiff-necked” people, but  Moses implored God to  “turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (Ex 32:12).  Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened (v. 14). 

In the parable, the caretaker asks for a delay, not a total reprieve, on behalf of the tree, knowing that the owner is within his rights to remove a fruitless tree taking up valuable space in his vineyard.  The parable of the fruitless fig tree raises a somber note: While God may delay judgment for a time, a day of reckoning will inevitably come.

Fall FruitMy first crop of figs–the so-called ‘early’ figs–ripened in late August.  A second crop of figs is growing now–the so-called ‘late’ figs–even as the tree’s leaves change from green to yellow.  I’m not sure what will happen to the developing figs as the weather grows colder.  In Israel in Jesus’ time, the first crop was eaten fresh, and the later figs were dried for the winter.  Are there any biblical passages that refer to these ‘late’ figs?  Yes there are–I feel another blog coming on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the Male-Female Binary

A few days ago I found myself in a medical walk-in clinic, perusing the latest issue of a women’s fashion magazine while I waited to see the doctor.  (Thankfully, doctors’ waiting rooms are no longer the repositories of stale news magazines and nothing else.) Although I consider myself fairly up-to-date when it comes to fashion trends, I was taken aback by what I saw on the pages of the magazine.  I saw men–at least I assumed they were male models–dressed in ruffled bodices and high heels.  There were ‘man-spreading’ girls–I believe they were women–sporting suits and ties and clunky boots.  I literally could not tell who was male or who was female by the clothes they were wearing or by their body shapes or facial features or hairstyles or their postures.  And that was the point.  This issue of the magazine had nothing to do with the latest styles in women’s clothing; this was all about gender identity.

There is a movement afoot to do away with the male-female binary.  Until recently, biological sex and gender were regarded as the same thing and the terms were used interchangeably.  Before the time of ultrasounds, new parents waited to hear those all-important words from the doctor or midwife. who would say one of two things after examining the newborn’s genitalia, “it’s a boy” or “you have a girl.”  The child would then be raised as either a boy or girl and eventually become an adult man or woman.

Social activists and certain ‘experts’ now claim that biological sex and gender are not the same: sex refers solely to biological characteristics, e.g., genitalia and hormone levels, while gender has to do with an individual’s internal, personal sense of being male or female.  A problem arises when an individual’s perception of themselves as male or female does not line up with their actual ”plumbing’:  a condition formerly classed as the psychological disorder,  gender dysphoria.  Today we use the adjective ‘transgender’ to describe such individuals–represented by the T in LGBTQ.  From 0.25% to 1% of the population in Canada and the US is believed to be transgender.

Once gender was separated from biological sex and came to be based on personal feelings, new categories appeared.  Some individuals identify now as neither male nor female but as non-binary (NB), meaning that they locate themselves outside the male-female dichotomy.  Others describe themselves as ‘gender fluid’ meaning that they sometimes identify as male, on other occasions as female–their gender can vary at random, or alter with changing circumstances.  Some label themselves neutrois, meaning neither male nor female, but neutral.  There’s even an new adjective to describe those whose biological sex and sense of personal gender align (like the vast majority of the human race):  we are ‘cisgender’.

The idea that there are more than two genders is being promoted by no less an organization than the Associated Press (AP).  In their 2017 stylebook–the writing and editing resource for newsrooms–the AP directs news writers to avoid using  the words “both,” “either,” or “opposite” when talking about gender, to reject any reference that would imply there are only two genders.  That news writers are following this latest edict was confirmed for me recently when I heard a news presenter refer to “all genders.”

Astonishingly, assigning a gender at birth based on biology is now viewed by some as a violation of a child’s human rights.  A Canadian woman who identifies as non-binary and transgender wants to keep her newborn’s gender off the child’s birth certificate.  ‘They’ want to avoid placing “restrictions on the child that come with the boy box and the girl box.”

Are there really more than two genders, as the social activists claim?  Science says “no.” A female has 46 chromosomes, which includes two Xs.  A male has 46 chromosomes, including an X and Y.  It is this Y chromosome which is dominant and carries the signal for the embryo to grow testes.  Maleness or femaleness is embedded in the very DNA of individuals and remains unaltered by surgery or hormone therapy.  An individual may decide he or she is non-binary, but his or her DNA would say otherwise.  Interestingly–but not at all surprising to me–science supports the biblical and traditional view of gender.

We have barely begun to see the consequences of making gender a matter of personal feeling!  An male inmate in a Canadian prison who now identifies as female has won the right to be transferred to a women’s prison,  thanks to recent legislation passed by the Canadian government.  He/she is being allowed to do this, despite not having begun sex-change surgery.

Back to the gender-bending fashion magazine in the doctor’s waiting room:  It was obvious to me that the editor was ‘on board’ with the move to do away with this whole male-female notion.  In retrospect: I can’t remember whether I even liked any of the clothes I saw in the magazine.  But then, it wasn’t about clothing anyway.  This was essentially a propaganda piece.

 

 

 

 

The Russian Bear’s New Best Friends

If you are someone who depends solely on the Main Stream Media (MSM) for your news, you likely are  unaware that a geo-political shift of seismic proportions has occurred in the Middle East.  Like me, probably all you have heard from the MSM is that, for the first time ever, Russia launched a bombing raid on the so-called Islamic State (IS) from a base inside Iran.  Nor is it likely that you learned Turkey wants to make Incirlik, the US military’s major base of operations in Turkey and site of the US’ largest stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons on foreign soil, available now to Russia as well.

In an unprecedented move, and something even the shah of Iran never allowed, the Islamic Republic of Iran has permitted a foreign power, Russia, to use one of its air bases–Shahid Nojeh air base 50 km north of Hamadan–from which to launch bombing raids against IS in Syria.  (Critics of Russia’s bombing campaign claim that Russia targets predominantly moderate Syrian opposition forces, allies of the US, not IS.)  What does Russia get out of this new arrangement?  A greatly reduced flying time to terrorist targets in Syria.  What does Iran get out of collaborating with Russia?   Given that Iran calls the US ‘the Great Satan’ and Israel ‘the Little Satan’, I can’t think of anything good to come out of it for Israel and her allies.  (Since Russia “bragged” about its use of the Iranian air base, Iran has announced an end to the arrangement after only three sorties by the Russian bombers.  Be that as may, that Iran would allow it even once is jaw-dropping.)

Then there’s Erdogan’s Turkey,  a fellow NATO member, although, who could tell these days?  After the failed coup attempt in July, Erdogan ordered the blockade of Incirlik, the major base of operations for the  US military in Turkey, home to 5,000 US airmen and site of the US’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on foreign soil.   He has asked the US to hand over to Turkey the tactical nuclear weapons  (the US hasn’t).  Furthermore, he wants to make continued use of Incirlik air base by the Americans contingent on the US turning over Gulen, who Erdogan claims was behind the coup.  And, astoundingly, Erdogan wants the air base at Incirlik to be available now for use by Russia  as well.  An American presence on Turkish soil was established during the Cold War as a deterrent to the threat posed by the former USSR! Ironic, isn’t it.

The ‘cozy’ relationship developing between Russia, Iran, and Turkey should be a major news story, but to most, it isn’t.  Those who take Biblical prophecy seriously, however, are sitting up and taking notice.  In the Book of Ezekiel, the Hebrew prophet describes a coalition of nations, led by a leader named Gog, who attacks Israel in the latter days with disastrous consequences for the world (Ezek 38 and 39) in what has come to be known as ‘The War of Gog and Magog’.   Only one of the nations who make up this coalition is readily identifiable today:  Persia, or Iran as it is now known (38:5). Consequently, this has led to a lot of speculation as to the makeup of the rest of this latter day coalition.  Some claim that “Gog, prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:3) refers to Russia and its leader, and “Togarmah” (38:6) is Turkey, hence the interest in the new Iran-Russia-Turkey axis.

How did Russia come to be the dominant power in the Middle East, seemingly overnight?  I asked someone this question and he replied:  “The Russian bear moved into the Middle East, and Obama moved into the bathrooms of America.”  I think that sums it up pretty well.  In pursuit of so-called “transgender rights,” the Obama administration, through its policies and decrees, is forcing radical social change on America.  Under Obama, who claims to be acting on behalf of the 0.6% of the American population who identify as transgender, the concept of male-female is being made irrelevant.   Just last week, Pres. Obama decreed that every bathroom, shower, and locker room in every courthouse, every school,  indeed,  every federal building in the US, is now open to people of either gender.  One’s sexual identity–now considered a matter of personal choice–determines what bathroom or locker room one can use, and not the set of ‘plumbing’ one was born with.  Social change:  this is Pres. Obama’s priority at this moment in time.  I predict that future generations will regard this period in history with utter disbelief, trying to,  and failing, to make sense of the Obama administration’s  obsession with bathrooms at a time like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glamourizing Oppression

There was a Marks & Spencer (M&S) Store for a time in a city where I once lived.  I liked to wander the aisles of this British commercial icon; it was like taking a mini-trip ‘across the pond’.  There were tantalizing jams and marmalades, biscuits, candies, etc.:   products that one would normally encounter only in the UK.  Mostly I looked and salivated, though.  I think I purchased products from the frozen food case a couple of times.  Unlike the food offerings, the store’s limited selection of women’s clothing held little appeal for me, as it would have for most North American women, I believe.  I found their clothing rather matronly, even dowdy.  There must have been too many consumers like me, for the store closed its doors for good after what seemed to me like the briefest of forays into the local market.

M&S’s latest business venture is making news headlines these days.  For the first time, M&S will offer burkinis for sale in the UK, beginning with their flagship store at Marble Arch in London.  A burkini,  for those who don’t know, is a women’s bathing ‘costume’ which meets the Quranic requirements for Muslim women.  Resembling the wet suit worn by divers, the burkini covers the whole body except for the face, hands, and feet.  Up until now, M&S sold burkinis only at its stores in Dubai and Libya.  M&S will be selling two versions in its London store:  a blue item with a floral print across the front, and a black number with a paisley pattern.  “It’s  lightweight so you can swim in comfort,” promises the ad.

I wonder about that “swim in comfort” claim.  I have seen a woman wearing a burkini.  It was at a public pool during adult swim time.  As I watched her doing lengths, seemingly oblivious to the swimmers around her–young men with their bare chests and sleeve tattoos, female swimmers  wearing the latest swimwear–I couldn’t help thinking:  What must it feel like to do lengths in a soggy body-length suit?  Maybe it was tolerable while in the water, but one certainly wouldn’t want to sit around in it after coming out of the water.

Like M&S, a number of the world’s foremost fashion houses have recognized that there is money, big money, to be made in Islamic fashion for women.  A 2013 report revealed that Muslims spend $266bn on clothing and footwear–more than Japan and Italy combined.  The biggest buyers of haute couture fashion are not Westerners, but Arab women.  Determined to capture a corner of the lucrative Islamic fashion market, the Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana has launched, for the first time ever, a line of fourteen abayas ‘loose-fitting, full-length cloaks worn over clothes to conceal the woman’s shape’ with matching hijabs ‘head scarves’. Their new line of Islamic clothing, according to some, is so beautifully-made that even non-Muslim women would like to wear it.  Other fashion houses are getting into the act:  Chanel, H&M, Gucci, to name a few.

Thankfully, not everyone believes  that designing and selling clothing for Muslim women that meets Quranic standards is the right thing for Western businesses to do, and they are speaking out.  British journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, herself a Shia Muslim, protests, “These companies might not think they are encouraging fanaticism, but they are.  They’re complicit in a version of Islam that believes women must be subjugated in public.”

Pierre Berge, French businessman and co-founder of the fashion house Yves Saint Laurent, outraged by what fashion houses are doing, told a French radio station that “creators should have nothing to do with Islamic fashion…[that] designers who do are taking part in the enslavement of women…Designers are there to make women more beautiful, not to collaborate with this dictatorship which imposes this abominable thing by which we hide women and make them live a hidden life.”

Another voice of protest is that of France’s Minister of Women’s Rights Laurence Rossignol who argues that “What is at stake is social control over women’s bodies.  When brands invest in this Islamic garment market, they are shirking their responsibilities and are promoting women’s bodies being locked up.”

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(Courtesy Pixabay)

Glamourizing abayas and hijabs by trimming them with black lace, beads, and flowers does not alter the garments’  purpose, namely, to conceal the feminine form from public scrutiny.

Is being made to wear abayas and hijabs a form of oppression?  And do those who design and sell the garments contribute to that oppression?   I still vividly recall a scenario I witnessed while sitting on a park bench in Vienna.  Having spent several hours inside the cool of Vienna’s war museum and not realizing how hot the weather outside had turned during that time, I started out for the bus stop, managing only to make it as far as the first park bench before being forced to take a ‘breather’.  As I sat there, a young female jogged by at a brisk pace, arms and legs bare, pony tail flying!  Behind her, along the path plodded three young Muslim women–comparable in age, I would guess–wearing hijabs and abayas, only their hands and faces exposed.  Looking uncomfortably warm, they plunked themselves down on the park bench down from me.  Their actions and that of the jogger spoke volumes to me that day.

The Pope’s Politics vs. Trump’s Christianity

The spat between His Holiness Pope Francis and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump appears to have ended. The unholy brouhaha began when Trump, speaking on Fox Business Network’s “Varney & Co.”, called the pontiff “a very political person” who didn’t understand the dangers an open border with Mexico posed to the US.  “I think Mexico got him to do it,” claimed Trump, “because they want to keep the border just the way it is.”

The pope pushed back by calling Trump’s profession of Christian faith into question, averring that “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian.”  Trump, in turn, called the pope’s questioning of his faith “disgraceful.”  Realizing that a fight with the pope would not likely endear him to Catholic voters, Trump has since assured everyone that he actually has great respect for the pope.

Pope Francis, to quote ‘the Donald’, is “a very political person.”   Just how political is the pontiff?   On the last night of his visit to Mexico, the pope, hoping to influence the outcome of the upcoming US presidential election (what other explanation could there be?)  turned the celebration of the Catholic Mass into a piece of political theatre.  On the evening of 17 February, the pope, accompanied by some 200,000 people, gathered on the southern shore of the Rio Grande River across from the city of El Paso, Texas, for an open-air mass.  On the US side of the river stood about four hundred or so.  During the ceremony on the Mexican side, the pope laid flowers on a memorial dedicated to those who had perished trying to reach the US.  He lamented “the forced migration” of thousands of Central Americans. As the pope well knows, what to do about the US-Mexican border is a huge issue in the 2016 election.  Deliberately injecting himself into the debate as he has done, the pope made it clear where he stands.

How political is the pope?   In 2014, the pope wrote a letter to Pres. Obama, urging the president to pursue a closer relationship with Cuba and to ease the trade restrictions imposed on the island by the US after Fidel Castro’s Communist Revolution.  Pope Francis, who acted as mediator between the US and Cuba throughout 18 months of secret negotiations, can be credited with the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  (Interestingly, the Holy See never broke off relations with Cuba even after Castro imprisoned or exiled the priests and confiscated all Catholic property on the island.) In protesting the economic embargo imposed by the US, the Cuban people knew they had an ally in the Vatican, which had always objected to the embargo on the grounds that impacted most adversely Cuba’s poor.

Overcome with gratitude for the economic lifeline Pope Francis has thrown him,  Raul Castro gushed on a recent visit to the Vatican:  “If the pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic church–and I’m not saying this jokingly.”  A new Catholic Church is slated to be built on the island at Sandino, the first one since the 1959 Revolution. Strangely enough, since the restoration of diplomatic relations with the US, the number of imprisoned dissidents has reached the highest level in five years.

How political is the pope?  Probably the pope’s greatest political achievement since assuming St. Peter’s Throne  has been the historic meeting between him and His Holiness  Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia’s Orthodox Church, which took place on 12 February at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba.  This was the first meeting between a Catholic pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since the Great Schism of 1054. This was not a political meeting, however, the pope claimed:  the purpose of the meeting was for the two branches of the church to deal jointly with the dire problem of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.   The pope might have not regarded their meeting as political, but it was nevertheless.

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Photo from Asia News .it  01/27/2016

The meeting could never have taken place if Russian President Putin had not first given the patriarch the ‘green light’ to attend.  His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, the first patriarch since the breakup of the USSR, is closer to the Kremlin than any of his predecessors, even to calling Putin a “miracle from God.”  [I wrote about the unusually close relationship between Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church in a previous blog (2 January 2015).] The pope’s meeting with the saintly-looking Russian patriarch (rumoured to be, like Putin, a former KGB officer) helped to restore–somewhat–the image of Putin’s Russia in the West.

Trump was correct when he called Pope Francis a very political person.  How does one account for the pope’s political activism?  The answer is:  Latin American liberation theology aka ‘Christian’ Marxism.  Liberation theology puts social action on an equal footing with the gospel message.  In the eyes of the Argentine pope, someone who would build a wall to keep migrants out is not a Christian.

Is Trump a Christian?  When it comes to determining who is or is not a Christian, it is not our place to judge, but, as the saying goes, that doesn’t mean we can’t be ‘fruit inspectors’.

Pope Francis: Peace through Religious Reconciliation

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.