My spiritual encounter with Pope Francis was circumstantial. I had decided to fly to DC because Frontier had 58$ tickets from Chicago and I managed to find an airbnb which was not gouging me. My accommodations turned out quite nice and I had a rather fine time on H street the night before, carousing with a fellow airbnb’er. The result was that I awoke far too late to get in line at 4am with the rest of the Papal viewers who sought out prime real estate for the brief appearance around the White House (the ellipse parade). In fact, I simply woke up and walked an hour and a half to arrive at a gate where people had congregated and within 3 minutes, The Pope showed up, and I saw him – albeit a block away – in all his celebrity excitement. My timing made me wonder if perhaps everything did happen for a reason – and this happy condition lasted well into the afternoon.
It was 2:45pm when I decided maybe I should really go to the Papal Mass at the Basilica after all. I had no tickets, but I hopped a cab and arrived an hour before mass was to start. Things looked promising as there was a designated gate at which all the fellow derelicts without tickets were supposed to grovel to get in. I waited there as people behind me of finer stock were picked from the crowd by secret service and escorted to the ticketing area. The rest of us humbly petitioned for entry well past the start of mass, when the TSA looking folks at the gate communicated to us that under secret service orders, we were not to be allowed into the mass. For all my impetus to call the lowly masses to arms and rebel against The Man in the name of a Pope of The People, I quietly resigned and continued my tour of H street bars, because everything did happen for a reason… I’m Catholic afterall, and not Baptist.
It was not so long ago that students complained of bloody knuckles from the ruler. This type of treatment was more the norm than the exception in eliciting Catholic guilt, and it did not stop and end at nuns trying to teach mathematics. The heavy hand extended rather clearly – among the initiated – to the pulpit and even prayer, in advance of the rebirth.
We are not fully reborn of course, but there is something to be said for Pope Francis’ light guiding touch that has made the wait and persistence of faith worth it. No longer do I feel quite so guilty for enjoying myself in ways visceral but victimless, should I also pay respect to what is truly good. No longer do I feel the need to hide from authority because they are bound to only see things in the light of what could go wrong as opposed to what could go right. A God merciful to the good of heart, despite a love of life – I have been waiting for it all my life and it is here.
Tomorrow it does not matter if I see the Pope, though I happen to be in D. C. I have already seen the good done in the faces of those estranged from faith and The Church. We have a Pope respectful of humanity and the human condition, in the face of historical demands made in the name of God, though not always true to His spirit. It is a good time to be a Catholic, and a good time for the world to rethink faith.
In this follow up to Should The Pope offer St. Maria’s of Alhambra to Islam, I want to consider what the Catholic church has to gain by offering St. Maria’s as an offering to interfaith worship.
The short answer is that The Church has peace to gain, with a start toward reconciliation among faiths, which need to come together rather than grow further apart. The long answer is that it is only through an unsolicited offer by The Catholic Church, in advance of pressure from outside events, that The Church can authentically make a gesture that other faiths can trust as an offering to peace. The act needs to take place prior to strife, for it to be clear that The Church’s hand was not forced in the matter – which it is not, but could seem so, should such an offering occur after an event of great distress. This means that it is the right moment for such an offering.
Open dialog between faiths is much needed, so that theoretical reconciliations can be reached, which promise to support a broader day to day acceptance of other faiths living together in the same community. There is no better way to reach a state in which reconciliation can be achieved than through a community of shared worship. Seeing and hearing and feeling those in prayer and worship inevitably makes the practice and people of other faith less alien, more akin to yourself and your own needs and fulfillment. And the setting at Alhambra is the most perfect given the history of intolerance in Spain and the history of Alhambra, not to mention its beauty.
On a plateau over Granada, Spain stands Alhambra. It is a grand palace and former settlement of the Moors. It is today well preserved in its full history, but its history is still alive.
Inside the grounds of Alhambra is a church. It is a nice church, in the renaissance style, but it’s history is not so nice. Alhambra was a Moorish palace and settlement, and where the church of Santa Maria de la Encarnacion stands once stood a mosque. That mosque was torn down and in its place was put the church. It was common practice throughout Andalusia, Spain to convert old mosques to cathedrals. The major cathedrals of Andalusia were once mosques. But tearing down this mosque and building in its place a church, on the grounds of Moorish Alhambra, was a clear show of power by Catholic rule, and no mere convenience.
In The Alhambra Trinity I address – in literary and indirect form – some reasons for turning St. Maria’s of Alhambra into an offering of peace. What I do not address directly – though it is an underlying current – is its historical significance as a symbol of religious struggle and the domination by Catholicism in Spain. As such it holds a unique place for potential as a symbol of peace as Spain enters an age of religious diversity and tolerance, but I do not believe the proper action is to convert St. Maria’s to a mosque. It should instead be made symbol of interfaith peace and not a symbol of triumph by one side over another – diplomatic or otherwise. A place where all people of faith are welcome, including those of the Jewish faith, who have a long history in the region of Granada, and also worked on Alhambra.
To that end I, a Catholic, suggest it be converted to a place where all faiths can practice together, though in a unique way. I realize that the suggestion of re-architecting a renaissance style church in Europe may fall on deaf ears. And some may look at this approach as opening a can of worms, but I look at it as the most supreme offering of peace that the Church can make. And peace should be the goal of all faith, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish or otherwise.