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     Volume 5 Issue 114 | September 29, 2006 |

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White Smoke
Misread as Peace


I have always had the highest admiration, so must you, for people who create humour out of nothing. Not that a Pope on the rope is a nothing, but here's one that arrived as kilobytes. That also has nothing to do with the price rise of essentials as the buyer would tell you, these days every kilo bites.

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to convert or leave Italy. There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy, if the Pope won, they would have to leave.

The Jewish people met and picked an aged, but wise Rabbi Moishe to represent them in the debate. However, as Moishe spoke no Italian, and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they all agreed that it would be a "silent" debate.

On the chosen day, the Pope and Rabbi Moishe sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Rabbi Moishe looked back and raised one finger.

Next, the Pope waved his finger around his head. Rabbi Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine. Rabbi Moishe pulled out an apple.

With that, the Pope stood up and declared that he was beaten, that Rabbi Moishe was too clever, and that the Jews could stay.

Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope, asking what had happened. The Pope said, "First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there is still only one God common to both our beliefs. Then, I waved my finger to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He had me beaten and I could not continue."

Meanwhile the Jewish community was gathered around Rabbi Moishe "How did you win the debate?" they asked. I haven't a clue," said Moishe. "First he said to me that we had three days to get out of Italy, so I gave him the finger. Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I said to him, we're staying right here."

"And then what?" asked a woman.
"Who knows?" said Moishe, "He took out his lunch, so I took out mine."

The modern Pope does not speak in sign language, as they have interpreters for practically every language in the 110-acre Vatican City and perhaps several for the German/Italian that the Pope speaks.

So on Sept. 12 at a 40-minute academic lecture at the University of Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Alois Ratzinger, formerly a member of Germany's Hitler Youth albeit by compulsion, spoke on the relationship between reason and faith.

Prior to the speech, senior Vatican officials were touting it as a 'defining' address of Benedict's pontificate in terms of laying out his core concerns.

Benedict opened the speech with a reference to a 14th century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Michael II Paleologus and a "learned Persian," in which the emperor criticises Islam.

“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,” the pope said, emphasising that he was quoting the emperor. Tch! Tch!

The message was aired in original and in translations and most likely even by sign language on news and other programmes throughout the world. The guy is important, you know. More importantly, he was very well understood.

Outraged as they were by the unwarranted utterances, Muslims around the world showed extreme patience, and not one stone (Muslims are not allowed to have any other weapon in confronting the West) was thrown at the papacy. This did not make any news and was not covered by any self-respecting journalist.

What made the headlines though in five days was the Pope's public apology. In heavy rain during his Sunday address, Benedict apologised for the furore he had caused. "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," he said. The Pope went on. "These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought. … I hope that this serves to appease hearts and to clarify the true meaning of my address, which in its totality was and is an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect".

In an unusual move, the Vatican released a translation of just this paragraph of the pope's remarks in both English and French, in addition to the original Italian.

Someone please translate this Bangla for the Pope, that a thappar once landed cannot be reverted with a sorry, that the pain remains long after the pang has gone. The Muslims have been hurt and that shall remain. The combined conscience of the world--Muslim-Hindu-Christian-Buddhist-the rest--now better understands what this Pope stands for.

In a 1997 interview, then-Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger said of Islam, "One has to have a clear understanding that it is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a democratic society." Ten years later he is back with a bang.

"He has a dark mentality that comes from the darkness of the Middle Ages. He is a poor thing that has not benefited from the spirit of reform in the Christian world," said Salih Kapusuz, a top deputy in the governing Islamic party in Turkey.

Jesuit Father Daniel Madigan, rector of the Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said the central point of the speech was that "if we are really going into a serious dialogue with Muslims we need to take faith seriously." But, he said of the quote from the emperor, "You clearly take a risk using an example like that."

The Pope may serve the world to remember that not only does he head the world Catholic community, but he is also the head of a state. You hardly expect the Indian president to speak evil of a Buddhist monk, and this was the Prophet of Islam.

We recall the election of this very papal supremo when the world waited in wonder to see the black chimney smoke from a Vatican chamber turn white, signalling that a new Pope had been elected. Even the Muslims cheered the symbolic change from indecision to peace, the signs of good times.

Perhaps this Pope should stick to sign language. He may then be better understood and peace may prevail. Till then let every chimney around the world emit the true colour of smoke.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006