ISLAM should not be blamed for the terrorist violence sweeping Europe and the Middle East, Pope Francis said this week.
The Pope rejected a suggestion that the religion, which has the world’s second-largest number of followers, was inherently responsible for repeated waves of attacks on innocent civilians — including Fr Jaques Hamel, whose throat was slashed last week as he celebrated mass (News, 29 July).
During an in-flight press conference on his return to Rome from Krakow, Poland, a reporter asked, “Why, when you speak of these violent acts . . . you speak of terrorists, but never of Islam? You never use the word Islam.”
“I do not think it is right to identify Islam with violence,” the Pope replied. “This is not right, and it is not true. I believe that in every religion there is always a little fundamentalist group,” he continued. “I don’t like to talk of Islamic violence because every day, when I go through the newspapers, I see violence, this man who [kills] his girlfriend, another who kills his mother-in-law.
“And these are baptised Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, then I have to speak of Catholic violence.”
Pope Francis said that he was convinced that imams he had encountered were “looking for peace”, and he rejected the claims of the so-called Islamic State to be acting in the name of Islam. The terror group “presents itself with a violent identity card, but that’s not Islam”.
The themes of terrorism, violence, and peace were, predictably, often the focus of the Pope’s attention throughout the trip.
In a prayer vigil in Krakow, the Pontiff prayed to God to “keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism”, and also “for all those who have died as victims of brutal terrorist attacks. . . Touch the hearts of terrorists, so that they may recognise the evil of their actions, and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life, and for the dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth, or poverty.”
In the footsteps of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Pope Francis also visited Auschwitz-Birkenau.
During his visit there last Friday, the Pope led the prayers, but instead of preaching he sat on a bench and prayed in silence with his eyes closed for ten minutes. Then he rose and walked slowly to the barracks, touching and kissing one of their wooden posts.
The Pope prayed before the “death wall”, a place where inmates were forced to kneel before they were shot through the backs of their heads.
He also visited the cell where St Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who offered his own life in the place of a married man, was starved before he was killed by an injection of battery acid.
On departing, the Pope wrote in the visitors’ book the brief message: “Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive so much cruelty.”