For most of the world, last Thursday was just another Thursday in a series of pandemic-era Thursdays that last approximately a decade each, not so different from every other day.
But for Pope Francis and the other faith leaders from the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, it was a day to petition God for the end of the COVID-19 crisis by means of prayer, fasting, and charitable works.
That’s got some of Catholicism’s most conservative voices crying foul.
Lest you suspect there’s something more sinister at play here — and that’s fair enough, we’ve all had ample reason to mistrust the Church hierarchy in the past — here’s the call the Committee actually addressed to “fellow believers in God, the All-Creator” by way of the Holy See Press Office:
[W]e call on all peoples around the world to do good deeds, observe fast, pray, and make devout supplications to God Almighty to end this pandemic. Each one from wherever they are and according to the teachings of their religion, faith, or sect, should implore God to lift this pandemic off us and the entire world, to rescue us all from this adversity, to inspire scientists to find a cure that can turn back this disease, and to save the whole world from the health, economic, and human repercussions of this serious pandemic.
As part of its efforts to realise the objectives of the Document on Human Fraternity, the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity suggests announcing Thursday May 14th, 2020, a day for fasting, prayers, and supplications for the good of all humanity.
Conservative outlets are spinning that as deeply, deeply awful.
For them, the fundamental problem with all of this is that Pope Francis is treating Jews and Muslims as equally valid human beings instead of emphasizing how very much they’re going to hell.
That was the objection expressed by LifeSite News correspondent Jeanne Smits, who complained that Jesus was “totally absent from this global prayer call.” Sure, Christians were included, but that wasn’t good enough as long as other religions weren’t explicitly excluded:
If this is not an actual global unified religion in action, it is beginning to look more and more like it. The call for prayer, fasting, and ‘good deeds’ for an end to the pandemic speaks not of man’s waywardness and disregard of divine law, nor of a call to penance and search for the true God: only for inspiration for a “cure,” that God — whomsoever He may be — should “rescue us from all this adversity”… Since the beginning of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, mainstream voices have been raised, telling us that we were moving towards a new civilization of empathy and solidarity.
Proving that there’s no one so zealous as a convert, former Anglican bishop Gavin Ashenden told extremely conservative Catholic outlet Church Militant that the very idea of praying with people from other faiths is “nothing less than blasphemy for a Christian”:
[The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity] makes the second error of presuming that truth does not matter. Jesus taught us that truth consisted in Him alone and His relationship with the Father. But the Committee describes ‘God’ as ‘All-Creator’ — superimposing Allah onto Yahweh. Even Wikipedia offers a choice of 135 wholly different notions of Creator God to choose from.
Any promotion of this committee is the promotion of syncretism at the expense of the uniqueness of Jesus.
Interviewed by the same outlet, British deacon Nick Donnelly took it that one step further, accusing other faiths of literal devil worship:
The only ‘spiritual’ union that Christians recognize is the communion of the Holy Spirit with those baptized into the Body of Christ. He’s asking us to unite ourselves on the level of spirit with those who worship idols and demons or who venerate false prophets that deny the divinity of Christ.
Nor are these objections solely the province of vocal individuals. We would be remiss to ignore the über-conservative Society of Saint Pius X, known for spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. They described the prayer day as the “poison fruit” of the pontiff’s willingness to dialogue with Muslim clerics.
That’s right, Muslim clerics in particular. Although Francis’ failure to adopt high-pressure hellfire-based sales tactics against people from other religions technically applies to everyone from Buddhists to Wiccans to Unitarian-Universalists, virtually every objection to the interfaith prayer event mentioned Allah, Muhammad, Muslims, or Islam.
There’s an argument to be made that it’s a natural point of focus, since the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity was created in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, and has a majority Muslim membership. But it’s difficult to ignore the whiff of Islamophobia and anti-Arab bigotry flavoring the objections of most traditionalist critics.
The best example might be traditional Catholic blog Rorate Caeli, an outlet that appeared in most news outlets’ accounts of the controversy even though it didn’t bother releasing any analysis on the subject. Instead, the focus was their Twitter account, where they encouraged traditionalists to mark the pope’s “Fast with Infidels” by feasting on pork to mock Jewish and Islamic dietary restrictions.
Feasting on pork is fine, if that’s what you enjoy. But feasting on pork against somebody is weirdly and unnecessarily spiteful. It’s like gorging on KFC only because you spoke to a vegan.
In his May 14th homily at the Vatican’s Daily Mass, Pope Francis pointed out that everyone’s on the same team here:
How can we not pray to the Father of all? Each one prays as they know how, as they can, according to what they have received from their culture. We aren’t praying against each other… We are united in humanity as brothers and sisters.
For the traditionalists, that’s entirely the problem. All these objections to the Day of Prayer serve as a kind of proxy for traditionalists’ objections to the very existence of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, and to the challenge it presents to Christian supremacy — the notion that Christians are inherently better, more moral, and closer to truth than everybody else on the planet.
If only the Bible had thought to mention the virtue of humility…
(Top image via Shutterstock)