On Friday, March 22, 2013, Pope Francis did something remarkable. In honour of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, he reached out toward the Muslim people in the name of fighting poverty and building bridges of peace. To do this, he cited a phrase used by his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which defined his papacy. With many of the world's leaders in audience, Pope Francis stated...
But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. And that brings me to a second reason for my name. Francis of Assisi tells us we should work to build peace. But there is no true peace without truth! There cannot be true peace if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth... In this work, the role of religion is fundamental. It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions, and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam.
Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI are two sides of the same coin, and their relationship with the pontificate of Pope John Paul II is now impossible to deny. The mission of Pope John Paul II was to defeat communism with faith. He accomplished this not only in Poland, but on the world scene in general, by providing a consistent obstacle to Marxist ideologies arising in Europe and Latin America. The source of conflict between the East and West during that time was ideological. It was Marxism that drove it, whether it be in the form of godless communism in the Soviet Union and China, or the white-washed Christianised version called "Liberation Theology" in Latin America. The result was always the same. Faith in God played second-fiddle to the cult of the omnipotent state! The Church was expected to bow the knee to the government, thus diminishing her role as the harbinger of salvation to the lost and relief for the suffering.
The mortal blow to classic communism was delivered on December 8, 1991, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception according to the Catholic liturgical calendar, when the Soviet Union was dissolved. Communism still exists of course, and we are seeing it rear its ugly head in many places, but the biggest proponent of communism is dead, and so the devil has surely focused his attacks on Holy Mother Church elsewhere. His new antagonist is the secular West. That's right. It's us!
Now that's a hard pill to swallow. How can it be us? When we look at the relentless attacks against Christians in Islamic nations, particularly by radical extremists hell bent on jihad, and when we look at the continual oppression of Christians in what remains of communist nations; how can anyone say that the secular West is the problem?
Well, I don't think anyone is saying that the secular West is THE problem. Rather, it is the LATEST problem. Persecution of Christians in Islamic nations has been going on for a very long time. It is certainly intensifying in recent decades, but it's always been there. Persecution of Christians in communist countries is the norm, and has always been a hallmark of communism. There's nothing new there. What is new is what's happening in the secular West, and it's a really bad kind of new. For the last two centuries, the secular West has been a refuge for persecuted Christians around the world. That is starting to change, and in its place, is arising a new kind of tyranny that not only demands the Church to bend the knee to a foreign moral paradigm, but a moral paradigm that itself justifies its own meddling in the poor developing world for the benefit of the rich industrialised world.
That new moral paradigm is called militant secularism, and it is characterised by a growing open hostility toward traditional Christianity, Islam and Judaism, in favour of moral relativism. We see it develop in the insistence that religion must retreat from anything associated with the government, while simultaneously, the government advances everywhere, into every sphere of human existence: civics, education, charity, welfare and medicine. We see it in the demands that religion must adopt the morality of relativism, particularly in areas related to: life, sex, marriage, gender, and family. We see it in a willingness by certain Western governments to financially persecute, and possibly even legally prosecute, religious businesses and institutions that fail to adopt this new moral paradigm. It is a moral paradigm promoted by the mainstream press and entertainment industry, indoctrinated into our youth through the universities and school systems, and ultimately enforced by the power of the government itself. It is in every way a "tyranny" to people of faith; Christians, Muslims and Jews, but most especially Christians, who seem to be the primary target of this new moral paradigm, this new "tyranny of relativism," this emerging persecutor of the Church that is the secular Western world.
What Pope Francis has done here is remarkable, and is 100% consistent with his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II. He has effectively drawn the battle lines. His address to the leaders of the nations is warm and cordial. The conflict is not with them personally, nor with their governments respectively, but rather with the ideology some of their governments and people are gradually embracing -- militant secularism. It is this militant secularism that is a "tyranny of relativism" that attacks people of faith, most especially Christians, but not excluding Muslims and Jews. The result is poverty! This is manifested in the spiritual poverty of the rich industrialised nations, that leaves people without direction and purpose, thus condemning them to a future of endless materialism. It is also manifested in the physical poverty of the poor developing nations, that leaves the people therein exploited and destitute, for the benefit of the rich. He has called out militant secularism for what it is -- A FARCE! It's a complete lie! It claims a moral paradigm that is supposedly superior to all religions, but in practical reality, it is the most debase of all ideologies, on par with the hedonistic Paganism of antiquity. It creates an image of morality, but it is a false image, that is clearly demonstrated by the spiritual and physical poverty abounding throughout the world today. It is an idolatrous system that sets the practitioner up as a paragon of virtue, but in reality, he is a hedonistic tyrant. The Muslims of the world have seen this developing trend in the West for some time, and while most have simply tried to live apart from it, some have openly rebelled in the form of senseless violence, thus giving the tyrants in the West more justification for their tyranny. Some of these Muslims have made the egregious error of connecting Christianity to militant secularism, and this of course has fuelled their persecution of Christians in some places. What they fail to understand is that militant secularism is rooted in Marxist ideology not Christianity, and that Christians themselves are suffering at the hands of militant secularism, just as they did under godless communism. The persecution itself comes in a different form. While communism sought to rid the world of Christians, secularism now seeks to rid the world of Christianity. Which of the two is more insidious? Are they not evil sisters? Are they not the wicked witches of the East and West? Some Muslims error in connecting the persecuted with the persecutor, and in this it would appear Pope Francis is beginning to set the record straight. So the modern Franciscan dialogue with Islam begins.
In AD 1219, discouraged by the horrors and suffering of war, Saint Francis of Assisi left the camp of the crusaders besieging the Egyptian city of Damietta. He crossed enemy lines to meet with the young Muslim Sultan of Egypt -- Malik al-Kamil. As the story goes, the young sultan was very hospitable to Saint Francis and spent many days in dialogue with him. Saint Francis naturally hoped the sultan would convert to Christianity, which of course would result in the instantaneous end of the war. Legend has it that Saint Francis was even willing to risk immolating his own body with fire to prove the power of Christ to this young Muslim. The sultan pleaded with Francis not to harm himself. In the end however, the one who converted was not the sultan, but Saint Francis of Assisi, who learned that peace is possible with Muslims even outside of conversion. He eventually returned home to his friary in Italy. There he instituted certain reforms that allowed Franciscans to work together with Muslims, without constantly seeking their conversion. From this comes the statement Saint Francis likely never said, but is often attributed to his life and ministry: "Evangelise always, and if necessary, use words." This of course points to the corporate works of mercy often associated with the Franciscan way of life. By our mercy and compassion, Jesus Christ will be made known to the unbaptised.
So Pope Francis here moves forward with this in mind. The Muslims are not the natural enemy of Christians. They never have been. The conflict between Christianity and Islam is artificial and contrived, often motivated by people of neither faith who tend to benefit the most. In our modern times, the only natural enemy of Christians is the same enemy we have in common with the Muslims. It is the godless ideologies of communism and militant secularism that find their root in Marxism. They have left Christian societies in spiritual poverty and Muslim societies in physical poverty. Militant secularism, this "tyranny of relativism," must be resisted in the same way communism was resisted. For their goals are one in the same. This is something Christians, Muslims and yes even Jews, can work together toward. For there is only one God, and God alone is sovereign. He will not bend the knee to any government or ideology. This much our three religions can agree on; and it is this very thing militant secularism, like her godless sister communism, fears the most.
Pope Francis is an ecumenist but he is not a syncretist. He is a Catholic Christian through and through. There is nothing in this cooperation with Islam that smacks of merging with Islam. So the hysteria among Fundamentalists of all stripes can cease. Pope Francis was born a Catholic and he will die a Catholic. He asks no more or less from all Catholic Christians. When it comes to this "tyranny of relativism" however, this product of militant secularism in the West, this FARCE of a new moral paradigm; does it not threaten Christians and Muslims equally? Abortion shows no partiality between Christian and Muslim babies. Same-sex marriage threatens Muslim society just as much as Christian society. Physical poverty in the name of rampant consumerism starves Christian children in Latin America just as it starves Muslim children in Africa and Asia. Spiritual poverty threatens the Christian youth of Europe and North America, just as it does the Muslim youth in those same regions, as well as the wealthy in Arab nations. The modern conflict between the Western world and the Muslim world is primarily driven by money (the flow of oil) not religion. Herein lies the greatest threat of our time, the threat of war. We have already seen how this is playing out in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the American sponsored uprisings (so-called "Arab Spring") in Egypt, Libya and Syria. It's one disaster after another, not unlike the crusades nearly a thousand ago. The only difference is, these modern "crusades" have nothing to do with Christ nor Christianity. They are driven entirely by secular interests. Perhaps they would more accurately be called the "secularades." Whatever we call them, the greatest conflict has yet to unfold, and this will only result in the greatest horror and poverty for all those involved. It is in this time, the calm before the storm, that a pope named Francis crosses enemy lines to meet with the leaders of the Muslim world. His hope and desire is to find common ground for working together to fight the poverty of this modern world, which was originally started by godless communism, and now continues under her wicked sister of militant secularism -- a tyranny of moral relativism that impoverishes everyone!
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