Many have wondered, why did the Pope kiss the Koran?
Is it not a book that speaks directly against the Catholic faith? Does it not reduce the Son of God to a mere prophet? Did not the popes of the past demand its burning? The answer to all these questions is YES, and yet what the Holy Father did was more complicated than what the anti-Catholic and/or sedevacantist spin-doctors might say about it.
One critic argues that it was a blasphemous act, showing his “hatred” of God and his apostate defection from the true faith. It was none of these things. The Pope is on the record about the differences between Catholics and the followers of Islam. Let us look at the situation. The Pope has longed to go to Iraq in order to walk in the footsteps of Abraham, claimed as a father in faith by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Pope John Paul II has seen first hand the debth of man’s inhumanity to his brothers and sisters. Our history as a world is written in blood. As illustrated in his many Mea Culpas, he strives for a new understanding between peoples where dialogue, tolerance, and cooperation will replace anathemas, persecution, and rivalry. Abraham is an integral figure of unity in turning things around politically. Looking at the incident in question, the Holy Father received a delegation that included the Shiite Imam of Khadum Mosque, the Sunni President of the council that operates the Iraqi Islamic Bank, and a member of the Iraqi Ministry of Religion. The invitation of a papal visit was renewed. They even went so far as to say that it would be “a grace from heaven”. While Iraq has been guilty of real violations of human rights, this Islamic state has been the most tolerant of Christians than any of its islamic neighbors. Many Catholics hold positions in government, commerce, education, etc. The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon (Iraq), His Beatitude Raphael I Bidawid, who was a major spokesman for the delegation. He applauded the Pope’s actions and words as a true sign of concern from the Successor of St. Peter. (Christians represent 5% of the 20 million people in Iraq. Catholics of the large Chaldean rite [implementing the Aramaic language] and of the smaller Latin rite represent 80% of all Christians there.) It was said that a papal visit would confirm the faith of Christian believers while showing forth a genuine love for all in this mostly Muslim nation.
The Koran was a gift to him from the delegation. Islamic peoples are not casual in the giving of gifts. It represents the giver. They knew perfectly well that the Pope was a Catholic Christian, but they gave to him that which was regarded as most important in their life, their own holy book. Thus, at the end of the audience, the Pope showed his deep appreciation to this intimate self-donation, by bowing and kissing the Koran as a sign of respect. Such a gesture ran totally against the grain of crusades and condemnations. It did not mean that the Pope accepted all that was in the book, only that his love for the Muslim people, and the Iraqis in particular, was genuine. He makes the first move, not in the capitulation of our faith, but in the recognition that the followers of Jesus and those who cherish Mohammed should not be engaged in name-calling, or worse, killing each other. The Pope appreciated the suffering of the Iraqi people, particularly the women and children. It showed he did not look down upon them but had a genuine respect for them within the brotherhood of man.