Thursday, 9 June 2016

The "Meeting" is the Message

Towards the end of May, the month of Our Lady, Pope Francis met with, in the description of Catholic News Service, the 'grand imam of one of the most important Sunni Muslim universities in the world.'

In the wake of the "meeting" (sorry, I can't resist), media agencies around the world carried the story, zoning in on Pope Francis's passing comment to the imam that:

'The meeting is the message'.

Has there been as papacy as preposterously self-regarding as this one? When will sanity be restored? I am happy to concede that every institution the world over, including our own Royal Family, has a public relations team working to ensure that those institutions or persons are seen in a favourable light, even, the best possible light. And I'll also concede that it is impossible for some meetings to be devoid of a message that will go out to those who hear of it. When the Pope meets with a prince or minister from Luxembourg, or somewhere, we take little away from that other than the fact that there was a diplomatic meeting between the Supreme Pontiff and a prince from one of the Low Countries.

Yet, there is something particularly crass and vulgar - two adjectives which I am sorry to say describe quite well a great deal of this pontificate in both its style and in the little substance that is to be found in it - about this comment. This strange phrase, 'the meeting is the message' connotes not a small amount of cynical exploitation of persons and circumstances, because it gives the impression that the message is, in fact, the cause of the meeting and the end of the meeting. It's all for the cameras.

Fidel: "Don't tell me...the meeting is the message?"

Quite simply, it suggests that the meeting itself was of little importance, but rather more important is the message that it sends out to the world. In other words, it says, "This is a PR stunt" and we assume that the Pope, having said it, feels safe enough to say it under the impression that the person with whom he has met regards the meeting in a similar way. Whatever words were exchanged, the imam, too, we must assume, believes the message to be of greater importance than the meeting, because the meeting is the message. Conversely, the message is the meeting. The meeting isn't simply a meeting. The conversation isn't simply a conversation. It is all the message. But what is the message? Unity and fraternity between different faiths? Or is the message that these two leaders can meet and embrace now because that bigoted Pope who gave the Regensberg speech reminding the followers of Islam that their religion carries with it the story of brutal conquest, rape, pillaging, slaughter, enslavement and persecution is thankfully, out of the way?

There also appears to be an exceptionalism in Vatican protocol with Islam - and perhaps also with other religious leaders from other creeds - which makes this Pope, yes even the Pope, look rather inauthentic. You can only imagine the Pope without shame saying, 'The meeting is the message' to another religious leader because the message of religious unity is what they live for. There is no point in the Pope saying, 'The meeting is the message' when he meets a Macedonian governmental delegation who give him a new Papal Tiara. Suddenly, I have a feeling that the meeting is not the message, unless His Holiness is putting on that slightly repulsed face just for the cameras!

I'm guessing the meeting is not the message?

But then are we by now not used to this entirely cynical employment of the media to serve an agenda promoting the adulation of Pope Francis to the detriment of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ? 'The meeting is the message'. How ridiculous. There quite simply isn't any other walk of life on Earth in which anyone would contemplate saying that to another individual, even in the artificial world of public relations because saying it is utterly embarrassing. World leaders, foreign diplomats, politicians and others may be, in fact, quite shamelessly politically motivated, self-centred creatures using others (including their 'audience') to convey a desired 'message' to others through the media, but they tend not to brazenly admit it and have the message of their superficiality broadcast through the world. It's a bit like the man who gives alms to be seen by others. Once exposed, he should feel embarrassed, because the almsgiving is 'the message' and the message is for his audience.

There is another dimension to the 'meeting is the message' quote which is very revealing of today's insufferably naive but also incredibly pompous prelates that is the idea that public relations and photo opportunities can do, by virtue of the meetings themselves and reportage of them, that which cannot really be brought about by man. The idea is that by circulating images of two religious leaders 'getting on very well', hugging and kissing the like, people will be inspired to simply lay down their prejudices and this will foster harmony between religions and peoples around the world. Peace, however, cannot be brought about by such things. It takes more than photo opportunities to bring about peace between nations, tribes and religions. Prayer, reparation, penance, almsgiving, love of God and neighbour, perhaps real dialogue - meaningful dialogue, forgiveness and reconciliation will foster peace and concord in the world, but true spiritual fraternity will only be discovered under the true spiritual paternity of God the Almighty Father, in His Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Sin, enmity and fratricide are not overcome by the principles of the Enlightenment, but rather by grace, truth and charity.

Was it something he said?

It is no wonder, quite frankly, that Benedict XVI was a Pope with whom the Sunni Muslim imam simply could not do 'business' with as the CNS article makes very and poignantly clear. Relations apparently broke down between the Sunni Muslim community and the Vatican in the wake of the Regensberg address. They can only now be restored because Pope Francis is 'a man of peace'. Apparently, peace with Islam means Islam cannot be subjection to any scrutiny or any criticism, despite the fact that its adherents maim, murder, torture, rape and enslave peoples around the world in a manner that the adherents of no other religion on the face of the Earth do. Yet as long as Islamic fanatics maraude Africa, the middle East and elsewhere on the rampage, the idea that meetings - whatever they could achieve - can simply be about 'messages' is simply laughable. A real, honest dialogue with Islam may be beneficial, but it has to be honest and it has to confront Islam with truth, rather than remain silent for fear of offending it. A meeting and a message will not moderate or humanise, inhuman, militant Islam. Whoever thinks it will is not living in reality, but rather a pseudo-reality he has concocted.

During his reign, he consistently taught what he was entrusted to teach concerning the Faith. He taught that dialogue and respect between the world religions was important, but he did not fear opposition in stating the problems that are inherent within Islam, because it historically, as it does today, rejects the right use of natural reason and still today imposes itself by direct political force, to the detriment of other faith communities, including Christians. Benedict XVI, I am sure, would happily meet with anybody, but he is far too wise, prudent and faithful to abandon truth - or even a firm intellectual position - for a photo opportunity. Benedict XVI was not afraid to highlight the need for Faith to purify reason, nor did he shirk from shedding light on the sins within the Church for which the Church needed to be purified. We are, it seems, inevitably heading for that purification right now.

Unless you mistake liturgical beauty for personal ornamentation, to me it seemed that during his reign, Benedict XVI was a simple man with no showy impulses, who carried within his person a dislike of vanity and deep distrust for anything that was artificial. Yet he was at ease in the company of anyone. For Benedict XVI, I am certain, a meeting was a meeting. For such reasons did most who met him admire him. If there was a message, this was a bi-product that could not be helped. Benedict was authentic and genuine. Presumably, he felt and still believes people deserve the real deal, not an imitation. A meeting was a space in which to dialogue, very respectfully and cordially concerning matters pertaining to the interests of the parties concerned. What a contrast to what we have today.

And I suppose that when one thinks of the tightly planned meetings Pope Francis has had in his three years so far, including that infamous one with the Bolivian president who handed him the Communist Crucifix, one wonders who is organising these meetings - so regularly photographed and distributed around the world -  and how many of them are planned in order to send a particular message. In these meetings, is the meeting the message? I do hope not, because real friendship, brotherly love is not about that kind of thing.

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