It is known that Pope John Paul II has often voiced a desire to make a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Abraham, the common father of Jews, Christians and Muslims. For the Pope, Abraham is a figure which helps the unity of believers to overcome political divisions. On May 14th I was received by the Pope, together with a delegation composed of the Shiite imam of Khadum mosque and the Sunni President of the council of administration of the Iraqi Islamic Bank. There was also a representative of the Iraqi ministry of religion. I renewed our invitation to the Pope because his visit would be for us a grace from heaven. It would confirm the faith of Christians and prove the Pope’s love for the whole of humanity in a country which is mainly Muslim. At the end of the audience the Pope bowed to the Muslim holy book the Koran presented to him by the delegation and he kissed it as a sign of respect. The photo of that gesture has been shown repeatedly on Iraqi television and it demonstrates that the Pope is not only aware of the suffering of the Iraqi people, he has also great respect for Islam. A papal visit would be welcomed by both the people and by the authorities. After the audience I immediately sent a recommendation to the Iraqi government to make the official step of inviting the Pope to Iraq.Unfortunately, the original URL to the story at fides.org, which I still have, has long since gone 404, the Internet being the ephemeral beast that it’s always been. One thing to remember is that at the time of the story, Saddam Hussein, who will go down in history as one of the most sadistic and bloodthirsty dictators who ever walked the earth, was still busily feeding human beings to his infamous people shredder.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
Yesterday, while I was in the process of cleaning up my computer, I came across some old notes about a famous episode back in 1999 where the pope kissed the Koran. Some folks were scandalized by the story, and some folks thought the story was a fabrication. But the story, according to my notes, originated with Fides.org and their article of June 4th, 1999 (No. 4151, NE 312), where His Beatitude Raphael I Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, in an interview with Fides is reported to say: