The Independent published an important piece on Pope Francis’ effort to combat Islamophobia and promote the dialogue of civilizations between Muslims and Christians.
Two people close to Pope Francis – Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa (a Protestant) – wrote a joint article in La Civiltà Cattolica, a journal published by Jesuit priests in Rome and overseen by the Vatican, denounced U.S. Catholics and Evangelicals for supporting the far-right extremist views of Donald Trump and his allies. Specifically, the article stated that the worldview of hard-line Christians is “not too far apart” from the worldview of ISIS and its sympathizers.
The La Civiltà Cattolica article also blasted “value voters” who support the Trump administration for becoming a “community of combatants” in the United States. According to Spadaro and Figeuroa, U.S. Catholic and Evangelical voters have come together over a “xenophobic and Islamophobic vision that wants walls and purifying deportations.” A passage of the article notes:
The panorama of threats to their understanding of the American way of life included modernist spirits, the black civil rights movement, the hippy movement, communism, feminist movements and so on. And now in our day there are the migrants and the Muslims.
Spadaro and Figueroa singled out Steve Bannon, President Trump’s Chief Strategist who was raised Catholic, as a “supporter of an apocalyptic geopolitics” which had exploited fears about Muslims. The article did not come specifically from Pope Francis’ office, but the two authors are known to be close to him.
Speaking to the New York Times, Massimo Faggioli, a professor in theology at Villanova University, said he thought Spadaro and Figuero’s article would likely “be remembered in church history as one of the most important to understand the Vatican of Francis and the United States and American Catholicism.”
Mentioned specifically in Spadaro and Figeuro’s article is how Trump supporters’ vision contrasts with that of Pope Francis. According to the authors, “Francis is carrying a systematic counter-narration with respect to the narrative of fear… [He] gives no theological-political legitimacy to terrorists, avoiding any reduction to Islam to Islamic terrorism.”
How Christians engage with Muslims is a topic of a May 2017 post on this website. For some Christians, there is no engagement at all. Polls have actually found a correlation between a lack of engagement with Muslims and Islamophobia among U.S. Christians. Other Christians in the United States and around the world engage with Islam in an energetic way. Pope Francis is one such Christian.
During a 2014 Mass in the Vatican’s Casa Santa Marta, as I noted here, Pope Francis reflected on an Old Testament reading from Samuel (1:24). In the passage, David had the chance to kill King Saul, but he chooses, as the Holy Father noted, “a different path: the path of dialogue, to make peace.” Francis’ message encourages Christians to build bridges of dialogue, not walls of resentment. Ultimately, as the Pope notes, dialogue and humility defeat hatred and knock down walls which divide us.
U.S. Christians should reject Islamophobia and follow in his footsteps.