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Orthodoxy and Islam: Benedict XVI Prepares for His Trip to Turkey

Sandro Magister

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He has dedicated an entire catechesis to Saint Andrew, the apostle of Rome's "sister" Church of Constantinople, and has expressed his hope for the teaching of the Islamic religion in European schools, under precise conditions. From Muslim thinker Khaled Fouad Allam comes a proposal in agreement with the pope.

ROMA, June 16, 2006 -- After Simon Peter, Andrew. Continuing the cycle of weekly catecheses that he is dedicating to the primitive Church, Benedict XVI sketched a portrait of this other apostle last Wednesday.

Pope Joseph Ratzinger highlighted the fact that Andrew "was the first apostle who received the call and followed Jesus. For this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honors him with the nickname Protóklitos, which means the 'first called.' Because of the fraternal relationship between Peter and Andrew, the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople regard themselves as sister Churches."

The pope recalled that "to underline this relationship, my predecessor Paul VI, in 1964, returned the famous relic of St. Andrew, until then kept in the Vatican basilica, to the Orthodox metropolitan bishop of the city of Patras, in Greece, where, according to tradition, the apostle was crucified."

But Benedict XVI had more to say about the bond between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople:

"Peter arrived in Rome from Jerusalem, passing through Antioch, to exercise his universal mission. Andrew, his brother, on the contrary was the apostle of the Greek world. In this way, both in life as in death, they appear as authentic brothers, a fraternity that is expressed symbolically in the special relationship of the sees of Rome and Constantinople, Churches that are truly sisters."

It is utterly clear that in writing these catecheses Benedict XVI was thinking of the trip that he will make next November 30, the feast of Saint Andrew, to Istanbul, where he will meet with ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I.

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But on that trip, which includes stops in Ankara and Ephesus in addition to Istanbul, Benedict XVI will also encounter Islam, and Turkish Islam in particular.

And the pope made statements of significant interest on this topic in recent days.

He made them while receiving in private audience the president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, who later related the pope's comments during an interview with Vatican Radio.

Around a million Muslims live in North Rhine-Westphalia, most of them having come from Turkey.

Jürgen Rüttgers said that Benedict XVI "holds that it is very important for Muslim children to have the opportunity to attend in our schools an hour of instruction, in German, in the Muslim religion, with teachers who have been trained in Germany and under school supervision."

And not only that: "The Holy Father vigorously called attention back to the necessity for every society to live on the basis of values. These are the same values found in the German constitution, which are founded on the Jewish-Christian West and the Enlightenment." A positive integration of the new Muslim generations "presupposes the recognition of the rules of the federal Republic."

It is interesting to link these affirmations from Benedict XVI to the controversy unleashed last March by a statement by cardinal Renato Martino in favor of the teaching of the Muslim religion in the schools in Europe.

Benedict XVI also says he is in favor of this instruction. But he joins it to precise conditions, which Martino ignored.

They are the same conditions to which cardinal Camillo Ruini referred when speaking on the controversy: "in particular it is necessary that there not be any conflict in the content of the instruction with respect to our constitution, for example with regard to civil rights, from religious freedom to the equality between man and woman to marriage".

It is well known that pope Ratzinger sees in this instruction a decisive vehicle for the integration of Muslims into Western society. He said so in no uncertain terms on August 20, 2006, while meeting with German representatives of Islam in Cologne:

"You guide Muslim believers and train them in the Islamic faith. Teaching is the vehicle through which ideas and convictions are transmitted. Words are highly influential in the education of the mind. You, therefore, have a great responsibility for the formation of the younger generation. As Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time."

By coincidence, in recent days in Italy an authoritative Muslim thinker of Algerian origin recently elected to the Italian parliament, professor Khaled Fouad Allam, advanced a proposal that has much in common with the hopes of Benedict XVI.

In a June 14 interview with the daily "il Foglio," Allam said:

"We must think of a future cycle of education for Italian and European Muslim students that has their faith at heart. And not an exported faith, but one that has been reformulated, because living in Rome or Venice is not the same thing as living in their countries of origin. I am thinking of an Islamic faith that has internalized the principles of humanism and the modern West: the theology that intellectuals like Abdennour Bidar have been reflecting on for years in Turkey, a country that looks toward Europe. One can imagine the creation of a three-year cycle of studies in Italy and Europe, and a two-year cycle of specialization in one of the Muslim countries that adhere to the initiative."

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The complete text of the pope's catechesis on the apostle Andrew, in an English translation by the news agency Zenit:

St. Andrew, the Apostle of the Greeks

Benedict XVI

June 14, 2006

Dear brothers and sisters, in the last two catecheses we have spoken about the figure of St. Peter. Now, in the measure the sources allow us, we want to know the other 11 apostles a bit better.

Floyd and Acunta Franz

St. Andrew

Therefore, today we speak of Simon Peter's brother, St. Andrew, who was also one of the Twelve. ??What first impresses one about Andrew is his name: It is not Hebrew, as one would expect, but Greek, indicative of a certain cultural openness of his family. We find ourselves in Galilee, where the Greek language and culture are quite present. In the lists of the Twelve, Andrew is in second place in Matthew (10:1-4) and in Luke (6:13-16), or in the fourth place, in Mark (3:13-18) and in the Acts of the Apostles (1:13-14). In any case, without a doubt he had great prestige within the early Christian communities.

The blood tie between Peter and Andrew, as well as the joint call addressed to them by Jesus, are mentioned expressly in the Gospels. One reads: "As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men'" (Matthew 4:18-19; Mark 1:16-17).

From the fourth Gospel we know another important detail: at first, Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist; and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared Israel's hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord. He was truly a man of faith and hope; and one day he heard that John the Baptist was proclaiming Jesus as "the Lamb of God" (John 1:36); then, he moved, and together with another disciple, whose name is not mentioned, followed Jesus, he who was called by John "Lamb of God." The evangelist says: "They saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him" (John 1:40-43), demonstrating immediately an uncommon apostolic spirit.

Andrew, therefore, was the first apostle who received the call and followed Jesus. For this reason the liturgy of the Byzantine Church honors him with the nickname Protóklitos, which means the "first called." Because of the fraternal relationship between Peter and Andrew, the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople regard themselves as sister Churches. To underline this relationship, my predecessor, pope Paul VI, in 1964 returned the famous relic of St. Andrew, until then kept in the Vatican basilica, to the Orthodox metropolitan bishop of the city of Patras, in Greece, where, according to tradition, the apostle was crucified.

The Gospel traditions mention Andrew's name particularly on three other occasions, allowing us to know something more about this man.

The first is the multiplication of the loaves in Galilee. On that occasion, Andrew pointed out to Jesus the presence of a young boy who had five barley loaves and two fish: very little, he said, for all the people that had gathered in that place (cf. John 6:8-9). It is worthwhile to underline Andrew's realism. He had seen the boy, that is, he had already asked him: "But, what is this for all these people?" (ibid.) and he became aware of the lack of resources. Jesus, however, was able to make them be sufficient for the multitude of people that had gone to hear him.

The second occasion was in Jerusalem. Leaving the city, a disciple showed him the spectacle of the powerful walls that supported the temple. The Master's response was astonishing: He said that of those walls not one stone would remain upon another. Then Andrew, along with Peter, James and John, asked him: "Tell us, when this will be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?" (Mark 13:1-4). As a response to this question, Jesus pronounced an important discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, inviting his disciples to read with care the signs of the times and to always maintain a vigilant attitude. From this episode we may deduce that we do not have to be afraid to ask Jesus questions, but at the same time, we must be ready to accept the teachings, also astonishing and difficult, which he offers us.

Recorded in the Gospels, finally, is a third initiative of Andrew. The setting continues to be Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. On the occasion of the feast of Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the Holy City, perhaps proselytes or God-fearing men, to worship the God of Israel during the feast of Passover. Andrew and Philip, the two apostles with Greek names, were the interpreters and mediators for Jesus of this small group of Greeks. The Lord's answer to his question seems enigmatic, as often happens in John's Gospel, but precisely in this way it is revealed full of meaning. Jesus says to his disciples and, through their mediation, to the Greek world: "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:23-24).

What do these words mean in this context? Jesus wishes to say: Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but mine will not be a simple and brief talk with some persons, moved above all by curiosity. With my death, comparable to the fall into the earth of a grain of wheat, the hour of my glorification will come. From my death on the cross great fruitfulness will stem. The "dead grain of wheat" -- symbol of my crucifixion -- will become, in the Resurrection, bread of life for the world: It will be light for peoples and cultures. Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will take place in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of the earth and of heaven and becomes bread. In other words, Jesus prophesies the Church of the Greeks, the Church of pagans, the Church of the world as fruit of his Pasch.

Very ancient traditions believe that Andrew, who transmitted these words to the Greeks, not only is the interpreter of some Greeks at the meeting with Christ, which we have just recalled, but he is considered as the apostle of the Greeks in the years that followed Pentecost; they tell us that for the rest of his life he was the herald and interpreter of Jesus for the Greek world.Peter, his brother, arrived in Rome from Jerusalem, passing through Antioch, to exercise his universal mission; Andrew, on the contrary, was the apostle of the Greek world. In this way, both in life as in death, they appear as authentic brothers, a fraternity that is expressed symbolically in the special relationship of the sees of Rome and Constantinople, Churches that are truly sisters.

A subsequent tradition, as I was saying, recounts the death of Andrew in Patras, where he also suffered the torture of crucifixion. However, in that supreme moment, as his brother Peter, he asked to be placed on a cross different from that of Jesus. In his case, it was a cross in the shape of an X, that is, with the two beams crossed diagonally, which for this reason is called "St. Andrew's cross." ?This is what he would have said on that occasion, according to an ancient narrative (of the beginning of the sixth century), entitled "Passion of Andrew": "Hail, O cross, inaugurated by the body of Christ, which has become adornment of his members, as if they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you caused an earthly terror. However, now, gifted with a celestial love, you have become a gift. Believers know how much joy you possess, how many gifts you offer. Confident, therefore, and full of joy, I come so that you will also receive me exultant as disciple of him who hanged from you. Blessed cross, which received the majesty and beauty of the members of the Lord, take me and lead me far from men and hand me to my Master so that, through you, he will receive me who through you has redeemed me. Hail, O cross, yes, truly, hail!"

As we can see, we are before an extremely profound Christian spirituality, which sees in the cross, beyond an instrument of torture, the incomparable means of a full assimilation with the Redeemer, with the grain of wheat fallen into the earth. We must learn a very important lesson: Our crosses have value if they are considered and welcomed as part of the cross of Christ, if they are touched by the reflection of his light. Only through that cross our sufferings are also ennobled and attain their true meaning.

May the apostle Andrew teach us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Matthew 4:20; Mark 1:18), to speak with enthusiasm of him to all those with whom we meet and, above all, to cultivate a relationship of authentic familiarity with him, conscious that only in him can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

Read the entire article on the Chiesa Espress Online website (new window will open).

Posted: 27-Jun-06



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