You just might think you've struck a nerve when a guy who goes to work every day at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to promote interfaith dialogue -- someone who keeps people talking -- hangs up on you. You've certainly struck out, anyway. But "dialogue" with John Borelli, the bishops' staff man on Catholic-Muslim relations, didn't hold much promise after he said he wouldn't comment on an extraordinary article about the desperate plight of Christians in Islamic societies that appeared in La Civilta Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine thought of as the semi-official voice of the Vatican.
"I won't comment on an article that I have not read in its entirety," Mr. Borelli said, noting that the English translation of the Italian article, "Christians in Islamic Countries" by Giuseppe De Rosa S.I., available at www.chiesa.espressonline.it/english under the headline "The Church and Islam. 'La Civilta Cattolica' Breaks the Ceasefire," is incomplete. (It is a 3,083-word excerpt.) "I don't know what the point of the article is."
Here's the point: For the first time in almost 30 years, a source close to the heart of the Catholic Church (articles in La Civilta Cattolica are approved by the secretary of state of the Vatican) has published what Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister calls "a strikingly severe" account of the Christian condition under Islamic rule. The article may represent a shift, if not a break, in the long-standing Vatican policy of silence on the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries.
The article highlights the "seemingly rather curious fact" that wherever Islam has imposed itself by conquest -- in what is now Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and in the regions of historic Mesopotamia and Palestine -- "Christianity, which had been extraordinarily vigorous and rooted for centuries, practically disappeared." And, the article further notes, "for almost a thousand years, Europe was under constant threat from Islam, which twice put its survival in serious danger."