The new pope and his ‘world agenda’

Abdel Monem Said

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You cannot follow up with the interesting process of choosing a new pope for the Catholic Church without thinking of Dan Brown’s novels “Da Vinci’s Code” and “Angels and Demons” which were also produced into movies. In both works, the story of the Church of Rome, the seat of Saint Peter and the Vatican State were recreated and placed within the context of the current era. Religions before Christianity were brought up in the first novel while the struggle between science and religion was brought up in the second. Humanity’s history was reorganized and looked into all over again in both books. But this was not carried out by specialists and historians but by the public who read the books or watched the movies.

Perhaps this is what makes the difference between Muslims and Christians. Some of the former still see the necessity and inevitability of restoring a Caliphate state. The idea of restoring a Roman sacred empire however is an impossible idea

Abdel Monem Said

When one goes on a tour to the U.S. those interested in books are granted a day to check out a famous library. I remember going to one in Princeton. During my visit, I found a table of colored books and big photos and maps that explain how the setting of the city of Rome with the Vatican at its heart was produced for the movie “Angels and Demons.” I went through these books and remembered that such literature and science were not spread in Arabic libraries. Other than the novels “Azazel” and “al-Nabati” for Youssef Zeidan, you will not find much about that historically interesting moment of the birth of monotheistic religions that make their own special history which cancels what came before them and begins a “real” history for humanity.

Science versus religion

The white smoke billowed from the famous Sistine Chapel chimney in the heart of Rome. The election of Pope Jorge Bergoglio as head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican State was announced. Bergoglio carried the name of Saint Francis as it is tradition for the head of the church to carry the name of a saint. He was named as such because of his utmost interest in the poor. The elected catholic cardinal has been popular for his interest in the poor. The process of electing him and the events that came after it both had exceptional circumstances. This is because a head of a church has not resigned in 600 years. After all he is not a chief of a local council in some city. But Pope Benedict XVI - I think - got bored of the position or perhaps of the message itself. He had the courage to announce that the situation calls for a new generation. This circumstance and its consequences conveyed a lot of the crises of the Catholic Church itself, in addition to the historical struggle between religion and science where the former is confronted with the necessity of adapting with a new, quickly-changing reality. But the price of this adaptation may be the escape from the essence of the religious idea itself. At this point, the natural reaction is going back to traditions and protocols and to the truth of humanity’s need to “have faith” in God who grants meaning to the intangible world and some sort of imagery for the future after death. This is what makes life itself acceptable. This is what explains why an institution like the Catholic Church remains. It also explains why the Catholic Church has the loyalty of around one billion people who live their lives as per its dictations.

I remember that since the Vatican State is considered a small or a virtual one, Egyptian ambassadors to it used to say among each other that they were envoys for the Catholic world in order to emphasize the importance of their role and the position they enjoy.

The collapse of the Roman Empire

On a historical note, Christianity remained standing despite the collapse of the Roman empire, the emergence of religious reform, the Protestant challenges, the emergence of a national state, the eruption of world wars and the cold war and the shrinkage of the Catholic Church’s geographic area which became limited to the small area of the Vatican which lies in a huge city. Even when the church had to pay for its enmity for science like it did with Galileo, it could not but apologize at the end and consider that science too was made by the creator and that science was the creator’s logic in creating the universe.

The new pope and his ‘world agenda’

The media was quick to place a world agenda in front of the new pope. He now has to decide what to do about inaugurating women as pastors, allowing gay marriage and dealing with a history where it is no longer possible to avoid co-existence with different forms of suppression whether in Europe or Latin America.

This is the entire story from A to Z. Perhaps this confronts all religions. For us, it was no coincidence that four years after the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate, the movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic movements emerged across the Muslim world. Their emergence came to confirm that spiritual ties are the strongest and are above all other national ties.

Perhaps this is what makes the difference between Muslims and Christians. Some of the former still see the necessity and inevitability of restoring a Caliphate state. The idea of restoring a Roman sacred empire however is an impossible idea that no one calls for even if some leaders hint at it when describing the European Union as a council for Christian countries. Although the latter stance was used to exclude Turkey from the E.U., it does imply the unity of the several Christian sects present in E.U. countries.

Regression to cruelty

In all cases, religion continues to confront modernist "globalization" and not religious globalization. Religion attempts to reveal itself in humane forms. Some go back to the traditions of defending and aiding the poor and the deprived, while some go back to special traditions of the church's symbols and inaugurations that were handed over from a generation to another across eras.

But confrontation in Islam took different forms. The moderate focused on the concept of non- contradiction among religion, science and modernism. Some religious groups even said out loud that the Muslims' state has the essence of a civil one. The situation in reality however has brought about literal religious scripts and their analyses was based on old eras. It did not bring about knowledge in addressing worldly affairs. What is more dangerous than this is that all violent attempts to halt history and to forcefully go back to previous eras resort to the usage of armed force and persecution of women and religious minorities.

In the modern experiences of Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran and Somalia, there are many examples which indicate that going back to previous cruel eras was much easier than accepting the great challenge of dealing with the current era and remaining in it.

Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt’s Shura Council.

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