In Mulder's Footsteps
In September, when his recent trip to Turkey had already been planned, Pope Benedict XVI made a speech at a university somewhere in Germany in which he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor by the name of Manuel II Paleologus as saying "[s]how me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". Naturally, many Muslims found this offensive, as did many non-Muslims - myself among them. I live in a country and a city where respect and tolerance for other people’s beliefs are paramount and I was astounded that the leader of a major religion would do something that idiotic. I mean, before he was Pope, Ratzinger was a very smart theologian, professor at several universities, a major policy maker in the Catholic Church and Pope John Paul II's right hand man. One might say a lot of things about him, but he is not a stupid man.
And then, back in September, the fact that Pope Benedict is not a stupid man made me think. I started wondering if perhaps, he did it on purpose. I wondered if maybe, he had chosen this quote very carefully in order to start facilitating if not peace yet, then the beginnings of conversation. And this week, with the success of his trip to Turkey and the small start of a dialogue between two major world faiths, this theory came back to me. I read up on Benedict at little and found that when he chose his papal name, it was seen as an intention to be a reconciler (after Pope Benedict XV – pope 1914-1922 – who was seen as a bridge-builder). And then I started thinking about Catholicism and priests and choosing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. I started wondering if perhaps this old Pope, chosen to be a bridge between John Paul II and what comes after, selecting the name of a bridge-builder and doing something which seemed beyond stupid and offensive at a time of great unrest, had decided that if his papacy, expected to be short, should mean something, then what greater gift to the world than the start of dialogue and coming together?
And regardless of my opinions of his conservatism and certain Vatican policies, if indeed I’m on to something here, these days, I'm starting to think that in some aspects, he might be a very good priest.