Asked whether dialogue with the Islamic State is possible, Pope Francis said it wouldn’t be easy, but that he would never rule it out. Pope Francis tackled this and other issues in his Q&A session with journalists on the plane returning to Rome from Strasbourg on Tuesday.
“I never consider something a lost cause, never,” Francis said. “Maybe we can’t have a dialogue, but never close the door. It is difficult, you might say ‘almost impossible,’ but the door is always open.”
The door may be open from the Pope’s side, but everything suggests that things look quite different from the side of ISIS.
On the cover of its October issue, the Islamic State’s online magazine Dabiq placed a doctored photo showing Saint Peter’s Square with its central obelisk flying a black flag, with the title: “The Failed Crusade.”
The issue describes Islam’s “final crusade” with the bulk of jihad directed against “the cross-worshipping Romans.” This will be the case, it reads, “until their cross is broken by the Masih Isa.” It goes on to narrate a prophecy in which Islam crushes Christianity. Rome, it reads, “refers to the Christians of Europe and their colonies.” All events, the prophecy ends, “lead up to the final, greatest, and bloodiest battle between the Muslims and the Romans.” This battle “ends the era of the Roman Christians, as the Muslims will then advance upon Constantinople and thereafter Rome, to conquer the two cities and raise the flag of the Caliphate over them.”
Recent reports, in fact, suggest that threats to the Pope’s life are very real. Some have noted, for instance, that the Pope’s decision to live in the Santa Marta residence, while highly symbolic, is also risky. It is a hotel, after all, and receives everything from the outside: pasta, bread, meat, and other foodstuffs. Moreover, it is separated from Italy only by an old brick wall.
The Pope, however, bristles at the idea of greater security. In his visit to an outlying Roman parish of Tor Sapienza in December of 2013, the Pope said from the pulpit: “If anything about this visit has bothered you, like excessive security, know that I am not okay with that. I agree with you.”
Earlier this month, the Buenos Aires daily La Nación reported that Father Juan Carlos Molina, an Argentinian priest, had a recent personal conversation with Pope Francis, in which Molina said to the Pope, “Be careful, they could kill you.” Francis replied, “Look, it’s the best thing that could happen. To you, too.”
According to Father Molina, these were not words of resignation, but the Pope understands that “martyrdom” is part of his job description.
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome