“Therefore the commitment of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification of such temptations, to illuminate consciences and to try and provide everyone with a clear image of God,” said Pope Benedict on Sept. 14 during an in-flight press conference on his way to Lebanon.
“We must all respect each other,” the Pope told a group of journalists at the beginning of his three-day trip, “Each of us is an image of God and we must mutually respect each other.”
Pope Benedict’s condemnation of fundamentalism comes as anti-American protest spreads across the Middle East following the online publication of a low-budget film mocking the Prophet Mohammed, the 6-7th century founder of Islam.
In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, one demonstrator was killed and two others were injured as crowds set fire to an outlet of the American fast food chain KFC.
Elsewhere, three people were killed in Tunisia as crowds attempted to storm the US embassy compound in the capital city of Tunis. Meanwhile the German and British embassies came under attack in Sudan leaving one dead.
“The basic message of religion must be against violence which is a falsification like fundamentalism,” stated the Pope. Instead, the message must be one of “education and the illumination and purification of conscience to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace.”
Despite the mounting levels of protest across the Middle East Pope Benedict said that “no-one ever advised me to cancel this trip and I never took that idea into consideration.” He asserted that as such diplomatic situations become “more complicated” it is “even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity.”
The Pope added that he took inspiration from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lebanon in 1997 when the country was still recovering from a quarter-century of bloody civil war.
“Therefore the aim of my visit is an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems,” he said.
In response to a question on the numerous anti-government uprisings in recent years across the Middle East, the Pope described the so-called “Arab Spring” as “a positive thing” given it denotes “a desire for greater democracy, more liberty, more cooperation and a new Arab identity.”
As with all revolutions, though, “this vital and positive cry for freedom risks forgetting” a “fundamental dimension for freedom – which is tolerance of the other.”
“The fact is that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living together with certain rules,” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict described fundamentalism as “a falsification of religion,” which goes against its true purpose as “an invitation to share God’s peace throughout the world.”
Pope Benedict, Middle East, Lebanon