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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyA visit to Egypt

When Pope Paul VI published his landmark social encyclical, Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), in 1967, he made famous the phrase, “Development is the new name for peace.” This phrase has since become a mantra for people working for social justice and global development.

Pope Francis’ phrase, “the only fanaticism believers can have is that of charity,” which he used in his recent visit to Egypt, will likely join Pope Paul’s as a mantra to guide Christian motivation for actions. It neatly sums up what the Gospel message is all about.

It is, of course, a slam at the fanaticism, getting more common every day, that promotes violence as an exercise of religion. Violence and destruction is the mantra of ISIS which purports to be religious, but which is repudiated by Muslim faith leaders. But fanaticism can take many forms in religion and Pope Francis has given us a principle by which to guide our motivation.

In his April 29 address to the 15,000-strong crowd at the Air Defense Stadium, the pope said, “True faith is one that makes us more charitable, more merciful, more honest and more humane. It gives us the courage to forgive those who have wronged us, to extend a hand to the fallen, to clothe the naked, to feed the fallen.”

In his remarks at different venues in Egypt, Pope Francis not only called on Islamic leaders to join him in condemning violence carried out in God’s name, but he also called for respect for religious liberty and human rights in a speech in front of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. “History does not forgive those who preach justice, but then practice injustice,” the pope told the president.

In a speech at the Coptic Catholic seminary — a formation centre for priests — the pope warned believers against falling into seven temptations, including gossiping, individualism, complaining and comparing themselves with others. He also warned against acting like “pharaohs,” which leads people to ignore their neighbours. “Here the temptation is to think we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than to serve,” he explained.

Reaction to this papal message is in marked contrast to a similar message by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. Vatican commentator John L. Allen, Jr. noted that six years ago Pope Benedict XVI expressed outrage over an attack on a Christian church and called for efforts against religious extremism. The Egyptian government denounced his comments as “unacceptable interference” and withdrew its ambassador from the Vatican.

Now, Pope Francis came to Egypt and said much the same thing and was embraced by Egypt’s political and religious leaders. One thing that seems to have changed, Allen comments, is the mounting frustration of ordinary Egyptians with terrorism and violence.

There was a sense of apprehension before the papal visit. Now, there’s a sense of hope.