Francis wished to end his trip to Africa with a visit to the Bangui mosque. There, he exercised his particular charism, confessing that his pastoral mission goes beyond the flock of Christ: “My Pastoral Visit to the Central African Republic would not be complete if it did not include this encounter with the Muslim community.” (Address, Central Koudoukou Mosque, Bangui, November 30, 2015)
During the flight back to Rome, while responding to a question about what had been the most memorable moment of the trip, Francis ratified his words and with even greater clarity: ‘And then the Central African Republic: the desire for peace, for reconciliation, for forgiveness. Until four years ago, they lived together – Catholics, Protestants, Muslims – as brothers and sisters. Yesterday I visited the Evangelicals, who are doing good work, and they came to Mass in the evening. Today I went to the mosque; I prayed in the mosque. And the Imam joined me in the popemobile to ride around the small stadium…’ (In-flight press conference from the Central African Republic to Rome, November 30, 2015)
From the same interview:
[Journalist]: You have shown many signs of respect and friendship towards Muslims. I am wondering: what do Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad have to say to today’s world?
[Francis]: One can dialogue, they have values. Many values. They have many values and those values are constructive. I also have the experience of being friends – this is a strong word, ‘friends’ – with a Muslim: he is a world leader. We can talk: he has his values, I have mine. He prays, and I pray. Many values… For example, prayer, fasting, religious values but not only. One can not write off a religion because there are some groups – or sometimes many groups – of fundamentalists. It is a historical fact that there have always been wars of religion. And we too have to ask forgiveness. Catherine de Medici was no saint! Then there was the Thirty Years War, the eve of Saint Bartholomew… We too have to ask pardon for cases of fundamentalist extremism, for the wars of religion. Anyway, [Muslims] have their values and we can dialogue with them. Today I was in the mosque and I prayed; and the Imam wanted to come with me to circle the little stadium where many people were not able to fit… And there, on the popemobile, were the Pope and the Imam. We could talk. As everywhere, there are people who have values, religious people, and there are people who don’t… But how many wars, and not only wars of religion, have we Christians waged? The Muslims were not responsible for the sack of Rome! They have values, they have values. (In-flight press conference from the Central African Republic to Rome, November 30, 2015)
Some weeks ago, we saw how the Lutherans of Rome considered Francis as ‘the bishop of the Lutherans’ (see more here). Now, the followers of Allah and the Koran will certainly overflow with joy at so many expressions of friendship, respect and consideration. Of course, since it is necessary to convince all that the Koran is a ‘book of peace’…even though Francis had already tried to do this on other occasions without success (see more here). Will Francis now be seen as the Grand Mufti? Everything is possible. But we are concerned about what he is thinking of doing with the Church of Christ…or would it be more fitting to ask what the Church is thinking about him?
He is a pastor, yes…but whose?