BC Expert: Pope Francis in Turkey
Professor of Theology James W. Morris
James Morris is professor in BC’s Theology Department and Islamic Civilization and Societies program. He has lived and studied in Turkey, Morocco, Iran, Egypt, and Indonesia, as well as taught for almost two decades in Paris and the UK; he currently lectures throughout Europe and the Islamic world. He is a prolific author, having written dozens of journal articles along with thirteen books, including most recently: The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabī’s Meccan Illuminations’;Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilisation; and The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue. He has often been interviewed on current issues for the BBC and international journals and newspapers dealing with the Middle East.
Pope Francis heads to Turkey later this week to visit the country’s tiny Catholic population while highlighting the difficulties Christians are experiencing in heavily Islamic parts of the world.
“Turkey does not have a strong Islamist party that’s anti-minorities so by going there the Pope could say, ‘Look, we have a Middle Eastern, largely Muslim country in which the Christians and Muslims can get along very well,’” says Boston College Theology Professor James Morris, Ph.D., an expert in Islamic relations. “What he’s highlighting is it’s quite possible to have a majority Muslim country with a place where the Christians co-exist and live under a common government. We might think that’s very obvious but for these nationalist groups that’s not obvious so by going there, Pope Francis bring attention to the plight of Christian minorities.”
In a country of 76 million people, the Catholic population in Turley is just over 50,000 and lives in relative harmony. But the same cannot be said for neighboring areas of Syria and Iraq where Christians face Islamist extremism and persecution. This trip offers Pope Francis the chance to speak up in defense of Christian minorities.
“Pope Francis will use Turkey as an example,” says Morris, author of 13 books on the Islamic world, “and highlight, in contrast, the very difficult positions of Catholics and much larger Christian minorities in those nearby Arab countries where Islamist nationalism, whether in terms of violence or prejudice or discrimination, is making life very difficult for Christian populations that have been there for a little more than 2,000 years.”
During the three day trip, set to begin Friday, Pope Francis will also try and lay out a vision for Christian-Muslim relations while expressing concern for the violence occurring in the region, particularly the discrimination against religious minorities.
“Turkey has been a relatively secular country where peoples’ religious backgrounds have not been a tremendous target of discrimination in recent years but in the Arab world with Arab nationalism, there are large Christian minorities,” says Morris, who is fluent in classic Arabic and has studied and taught in Turkey, Morocco, Iran, Egypt, and Indonesia.“Anyone can see in reading about ISIS any minority group - be it Christians or others - have been very badly treated by many of these nationalist Islamist groups in Syria, Iraq and certainly there are strong tensions even in Lebanon and Egypt as well. So those are the countries with large Christian minorities and Christians there have a lot of problems.”
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