Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pope names Vatican's Muslim expert as nuncio to Egypt, Arab League


Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald has been appointed as nuncio to Egypt and the Arab League. So, can Catholics expect the Vatican, through Archbishop Fitzgerald, to take a stronger stand for the rights of Coptic and other Christians in the Muslim world?

Two points need to be considered.

The first is that Archbishop Fitzgerald stands a very good chance to be among the first group of Cardinals elevated by Benedict XVI. This would give his actions a greater perceived weight and may be a subtle signal of the importance the Vatican will place on relations.

The second is a comment made by Archbishop Fitzgerald on April 15, 2005 (link):

Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said the next pope might more emphatically demand rights for Christian minorities in Islamic countries and the freedom of all people to choose their faith.

"There may be a greater insistence on religious liberty," said Fitzgerald, the church's point man on Islamic relations. "But I don't think we're going to go to war. The times of the Crusades are over. . . . I don't see any fundamental change in the way the church has been dealing with these questions."

This statement may not seem like much, but viewed through the language of international politics and Church speak, it could be very important. There are a lot of maybe's, but remember he was talking about what the new pope would do when elected. The line about no fundamental changes is designed to prevent speculation.

The fact that after making the statement Archbishop Fitzgerald is now appointed as the nuncio to Egypt and the Arab League is a good sign.

Here is some insight on how he plans to address the current tension over the cartoons (link).

a quote from a speech by Archbishop Fitzgerald from 2005 (link) gives us insight to where his heart and mind are on some issues. In this speech he cites John Paul II and John XXIII:

Pacem in Terris, after having mentioned first the right to life and all the means necessary to sustain life, moves on to freedom. Here is the key passage:

Moreover, man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and --- within the limits of the moral order and the common good -- to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events.

The proviso about respect for the moral order and the common good calls attention to the limits of this right. Access to information has to be combined with the necessary respect for confidentiality in some areas.

Libelous assertions or incitements to hatred cannot be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech. Yet the principle of freedom remains, to be respected both in the private and the public sectors.

Religions have a role to play in safeguarding this fundamental right. They are, or can be, a significant part of a communications network. They help to form public opinion. They have a duty to educate people about the issues that concern society, particularly from the moral aspect.

They must be concerned about inculcating respect and protecting human dignity. Their voices will be more powerful if they can be joined together. Hence the importance of joint statements by religious leaders, whether emanating from established interreligious bodies or ad hoc groups. In order to accomplish this task, religious bodies themselves need to enjoy freedom.

The encyclical thus goes on to enunciate this other basic freedom:

Also among man's rights is that of being able to worship God in accordance with the right dictates of his own conscience, and to profess his religion both in private and in public.

Pope John Paul II has been even more radical, identifying religious freedom as the most basic human right after the right to life. In his peace message for 1999 he put it this way:

Religion expresses the deepest aspirations of the human person, shapes people's vision of the world and affects their relationships with others: basically it offers the answer to the question of the true meaning of life, both personal and communal. Religious freedom therefore constitutes the very heart of human rights.

It must be observed that this principle of religious freedom has a public, a communal dimension. It cannot be reduced to a merely private matter. There cannot be harmony in a given society if certain sectors of it feel oppressed on religious grounds. Respect for religious freedom is therefore a factor in establishing and maintaining peace.

He then says:

It is obvious that this principle and its application have to be part of ongoing interreligious dialogue. Religious leaders may not themselves be able to rectify abuses of religious freedom, but they can put pressure on governments that may be guilty of such abuses and at the same time help to create a public opinion favorable to greater freedom in the religious domain.

All in all, I'd say that Archbishop Fitzgerald seems to be a man of excellent education, a good heart and impressive political abilities.

I pray that the Lord guides the heart, mind and actions of Archbishop Fitzgerald. May the Lord work through the new nuncio for the benefit of all who reach out to Him with an open heart.

1 comment:

Egypeter said...

Godspeed Archbishop Fitzgerald, Godspeed!