The leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, was in Washington and New York this past week. While Pope John Paul II, his predecessor, was known as a media figure, a sort of religious rock star, this Pope somehow touches people in a remarkable way. The crowds who turned out for the motorcades, the public Masses, the reception on the South Lawn of the White House and so on exceeded expectations. In fact, Father Jonathan Morris, who does religious commentary for the Fox News channel from Rome, said the crowds on Wednesday through Sunday far exceed those which turned out for the late John Paul II. One nun said, "This Pope is perfect. He makes us feel proud to be Catholic again."
The Roman Pontiff celebrated his 81st birthday while in Washington. Some church leaders worry that he will be a short-term Pope. Many of these same leaders assumed that he would just be an interim Pope who would take few new initiatives. That has not turned out to be the case. Among other major acts, Pope Benedict XVI has revived the traditional Mass, which has caused an uproar in some Catholic circles.
The Pope also has spoken out against radical Islam, proclaiming that no God can compel man to kill in his name. Again, Pope John Paul II was reluctant to take on Islam, which the Pope contends is a distortion of the historical religion.
His views have not silenced Muslim clerics. Yunis al-Astal, in a fiery sermon delivered on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV, claims that Islam will conquer Rome just as the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople. He predicted that Rome will become an advance post for Islamic conquests. He says these conquests would spread through Europe whereupon Islam will turn to the two Americas. He said Eastern Europe might be the most difficult to conquer.
"Allah has chosen you or himself and for his religion," al-Astal was reported by Fox News, "so you will serve as the engine pulling this nation to the phase of succession, security and consolidation of power, and even to conquests through da'wa and military conquests of the entire world."
Al-Astal, also as reported by Fox News, last June preached that it the duty of Palestinian women to martyr themselves by becoming homicide bombers. "The most exalted form of jihad is fighting for sake of Allah, which means sacrificing one's soul by fighting the enemies head on, even if it leads to martyrdom." He called Jews the brothers of apes and pigs "who should taste the bitterness of death."
So this Pope, who without success has tried to rekindle the spark of the Church in Western Europe, has turned to the United States as a religious ally. If radical Islam is serious, and there is every indication it is, then regardless of denominations it is essential that people of all faiths need to join with the Holy Father to confront those who kill in the name of God. As Pope Benedict said, "God is love," and thus is not compatible with hate either toward Jews or Christians.
Who prevails in this conflict will depend on who is more deeply committed. Indeed that was what the Pope's mission to the United States was all about.