“I have a mustard seed, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

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Benedict XVI may preach against violence, but in his own fashion he takes a tougher stance than the American president. That surely is not the way it looks at first glance. Bush invaded an Arab country, while Benedict preaches reason to the Muslim world, receiving in the past few months Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah as well as delegations from Iran. He has agreed to a meeting with a group of 138 Muslim scholars at the Vatican in November. Why should Muslims fear Benedict?

For the first time, perhaps, since the time of Mohammed, large parts of the Islamic world are vulnerable to Christian efforts to convert them, for tens of millions of Muslims now dwell as minorities in predominantly Christian countries. The Muslim migration to Europe is a double-edged sword. Eventually this migration may lead to a Muslim Europe, but it also puts large numbers of Muslims within reach of Christian missionaries for the first time in history.

What seems to the West a low-key appeal to reason and Western norms of religious freedom, Dall’Oglio warns, looks like a Trojan Horse to Muslims. Islamic leaders already have noted that months before Allam’s baptism, the Vatican published a “doctrinal note” on evangelization that specifically repudiates the notion that Catholics should refrain from attempting to convert people of other faiths. Church-watcher Sandro Magister notes that one of the 138 Muslim scholars scheduled to meet with the pope in November already has filed a protest in the Vatican monthly Mondo e Missione.

Mustafa Cherif, an Algerian Islamic scholar prominent in dialogue with the church, singled out the December 3, 2007, doctrinal note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirming that “evangelization is aimed at all of humanity”, and seeking to correct “a growing confusion which leads many to leave the missionary command of the Lord unheard and ineffective”.

As Father Dall’Oglio warns darkly, Muslims are in dialogue with a pope who evidently does not merely want to exchange pleasantries about coexistence, but to convert them. This no doubt will offend Muslim sensibilities, but Muslim leaders are well-advised to remain on good terms with Benedict XVI. Worse things await them. There are 100 million new Chinese Christians, and some of them speak of marching to Jerusalem – from the East. A website entitled Back to Jerusalem proclaims, “From the Great Wall of China through Central Asia along the silk roads, the Chinese house churches are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ all the way back to Jerusalem.”

Islam is in danger for the first time since its founding. The evangelical Christianity to which George W Bush adheres and the emerging Asian church are competitors with whom it never had to reckon in the past. The European Church may be weak, but no weaker, perhaps, than in the 8th century after the depopulation of Europe and the fall of Rome. An evangelizing European Church might yet repopulate Europe with new Christians as it did more than a millennium ago.

An excellent article showing that Bush and Benedict may be two of the few people who understand the situation we’re in, and what it will take to change it.

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