Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to make a four-day visit to Turkey beginning this Tuesday. The personal risk is very high and the opposition to his coming to Istanbul is huge. Today more than 25,000 people have begun angry demonstrations, chanting "God is Great" in the streets and thus telling the pope to stay home. This has to be the largest anti-pope demonstration in modern history and he hasn’t even arrived in Turkey yet.
It comes as no great surprise that these protests have been organized by pro-Islamic political forces that were offended by Benedict’s remarks in September regarding the nature of Islam as a militant religion. I find it sadly consistent with my own reading of Islam that these Muslim groups that protested the pope’s comments in September, and thereby stirred up a response that has already resulted in deaths and senseless violence, now threaten the same again. Something about this kind of anger and hostility proves that the pope’s original citation of a ancient scholar’s view of Islam as violent was not all that wrong in the first place. While Muslim leaders regularly assure us that Islam is really is a religion of peace they do very little to calm the fearful, angry and hostile reaction of their fellow Muslims. I am aware that there is a small "radical" Muslim faction in the world, at least it is small when you consider the total number of faithful Muslims, but I remain quite convinced that few Muslims are actually willing to stand up against these demonstrations and actions with strong opposition. It is one thing to decry violence, in private and to the media, but quite another to actually tell your fellow Muslims to stop these expressions of jihad.
Benedict’s visit is intended to allow him an opportunity to meet with Patriarch Bartholomew I, the leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians. The pope knows full well that he is going into harm’s way in order to seek the unity of the church. This pope has had the courage to not only oppose the Islamicization of Europe but also to make it clear the future of Europe is in serious jeopardy now. He seems unwilling to bow to political pressures and has no seeming fear for his own life. I am deeply impressed with Benedict’s theologial knowledge and his great courage. I will pray for his safety this week and watch the news with intense interest.