The Pope talks to Europe

The Pope talks to Europe

By M.J. Akbar | 23 April, 2016
Pope Francis welcomes a group of Syrian refugees after landing at Ciampino airport in Rome following a visit at the Moria refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos last Saturday. REUTERS
In Lesbos, Pope Francis offered support, comfort and prayer, and then took a dozen Muslim refugees back to the Vatican.
Real stories so often get lost in the news; and news itself becomes a passing banner in the long parade of information that sets out after breakfast on a march into the night. Who has time or attention span to measure significance?
On 16 April, something significant happened, which, largely if not completely, got lost in transition. It was an encounter between the Holy Father of Roman Catholics, Pope Francis, and anxious, even desperate refugees from ravaged Muslim countries like Syria, on the once-obscure and now famous Greek island of Lesbos.
After two centuries of independent existence on the fringe, Greece has again become the gateway to Europe—although Europeans want Greece to become a barricade rather than door. Once, Ottoman-Turkish armies made Greece their base for forward movement into the Balkans, from where they hovered over powerful European kingdoms. Today, refugees from war-torn Muslim lands have turned Lesbos, next to Turkey, their landing point on the way to harbours as distant as Germany, Scandinavia and Britain.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, European courts were legitimately worried about the expanding Ottoman power across Eurasia and Mediterranean Africa. Western dramatists, masters of the mass media in their time, turned the Turk into a monster waiting to ravish the civilisation, wealth and beauty of Europe. The liberal genius, Shakespeare, was an exception when he created a more nuanced hero like Othello the Moor, whose valiant exploits won Desdemona’s heart, and whose explosive jealousy lost love and life. This time it is not fear of the scimitar that has risen across Europe, but that of a demographic invasion. The hordes have arrived, on decrepit boat rather than charging horse; but in this democratic age the civilian is as alarming as the soldier, because the civilian can become a citizen.
Europe’s governments were initially overwhelmed by the refugee onslaught. Trapped between humanitarian instinct and growing public angst, they seemed frozen. Some furious diplomacy with Turkey, and effective frontier policing, calmed nerves; but there is now a huge population of refugees left in no-man’s land, dreading the thought of return to homelands they abandoned.
At such a fraught moment Pope Francis, a son of immigrants himself, visited a refugee camp in Lesbos. He has described the situation as the greatest human catastrophe since the Second World War. The Pope chooses his words with care, and acts after much thought. According to a report by Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times, London, the Pope offered support, comfort and prayer, and then took a dozen Muslim refugees back to the Vatican. [The 12, who happen to be from Damascus and Deir Ezzor, a town now controlled by ISIS, were chosen by lottery.] You may dismiss this as symbolic, but it was a powerful gesture of love that will resonate in the hearts of ordinary people. There is a beautiful photograph illustrating Lamb’s story, showing a young boy reaching out to kiss a smiling Pontiff’s hand while his mother can barely restrain her tears. Yes, there are tales of misery that need to be told; but hope is also a narrative.
True, the Pope was reaching out to Muslims. He has done this before and he will do so again. His faith is inclusive; his concern for human suffering transcends the boundaries of faith. But he was also telling Europe that it could not remain indifferent, or become hostile to families like that of Nour Essa and her husband Hasan, both engineers, along with their 2-year-old son, who will now spend their lives in the Vatican rather than Damascus. Five, or even three, years ago they would never have imagined such a churn in their existence. They never wanted to leave Syria. They were driven out by that most destructive and desolate human experience, remorseless war. They are lucky. Thousands have lost their lives in search for a different life. It would be unfair, and wrong, to suggest that Europe has not understood. Many governments have done their best. History will remember Angela Merkel, even if she has to pay a price at the next elections. But the world cannot forget those floating in limbo.
The Pope, as the world’s most famous faith-leader, has told us something that we do not really want to hear: if human beings do not understand the meaning of humanity then they are no longer human.
It is fashionable—and often, given the evidence, reasonable—to be sceptical about our contemporary leaders. Religion is no insurance against scepticism. So when we see a man of God believe in God, we must admire his courage and applaud his vision.

There are 7 Comments

Akbar Sir, lets wait and watch how much of a positive reciprocity does this human gesture bring about from the next generation of these refugees when they suddenly realise that the culture and surroundings that they are living in since the time of their refugee so damn UNISLAMIC and that it is all HARAM! and then all hell will break its already happening all over europe...much more will follow. YES, Anjela Markel will surely be remembered by history, but wether as a GREAT HUMAN or a GREAT TRAITOR who worked towards the cause of an ultimate existential threat to GERMAN or EUROPEAN Culture, Tradition & Values! Because they will get invaded...bull dozed and finally exterminated like it has always happened in the past by members of this specific GLOBAL COMMUNITY!!!

Beginning with the Biblical proclamation that God created the world for the sake of the Elected People with whom he made a Covenant, all the revealed religions practically extended their doctrinal exclusiveness throughout their history. The exception came - however slightly - with pre-Pauline Jesus and his message of universal brotherhood and of love, not only of the neighbour, but of the Other as the enemy. While hailing the Pope for his symbolic gesture, M. J. Akbar, leaves out of his computation of charity, the abomination at the heart of Islam which divides Humanity into Beloved, Paradise destined Believers and Ignominious, hell-destined, malefic Infidels. Nor does he notice the paradox of Muslims being persecuted by Muslims and seeking refuge among non-Muslims. What more then would it require the Muslim, the educated Muslim, to internalize his moral and spiritual inadequacy in the face of so much tragedy and to have the courage at least to propose words suggesting a modification of a so-called divine abomination?

Pope has indeed spoken but will Europe listen? For he took only symbolic few,Rest are to be taken in by democracies .

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