The revered Pope Francis was uniquely positioned to take a stronger stance on a brutal act of terrorism when he visited Auschwitz last week. He saw for himself how unthinkable crimes against a particular people of faith, in this case the Jews, were caused by the Nazis’ feverish urgency to exterminate the Jews. The pope’s only comments were to write a line in a guest book begging God to forgive “so much cruelty.”
Early last week, Father Jacques Hamel, an 84-year-old Catholic priest, had his throat cut by two Islamic terrorists tied to ISIS, while he was leading prayers inside a church just south of Normandy. That’s right, the same Normandy where, in 1944, Americans, Brits, Canadians and soldiers of other nationalities and probably all faiths died while wresting France away from Nazi Germany and helping to bring about the destruction of the nightmare of Hitler’s power.
Jews, from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to the leadership of the European rabbinate to the head of the World Jewish Council, condemned the outrageous act. Even European Muslim religious leaders publicly condemned the killers and refused to allow them an Islamic burial in France. The attack was called an “attack against all religions” by President Rivlin. British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis described it as “a despicable desecration of the sanctity of human life in place of peaceful worship.”
Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said that the “dastardly attack would only strengthen the world’s resolve to defeat Islamic terrorism.”
Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, called the pope’s visit to Auschwitz “an important reminder for the world of the depths of inhumanity that are possible and of how Jewish history uniquely testifies to this.” But it was Rabbi Rosen who would later tell the Jewish News Service of his dissatisfaction with the pontiff’s comments on Islam with the Auschwitz visit fresh in the pope’s mind.
At Auschwitz, the pope saw the infrastructure of unthinkable terror standing as a reminder that it should never happen again. Most of the free societies of the WWII era were fighting an existential war against a “religion” of Nazi tyranny. Nazism had to be destroyed to guarantee the freedom of the world. Today, it is well known that radicalized Islam is the new face of evil.
So while we know that the world is not at war with Islam itself, we wish that the pope had worked harder to join the side of good. The radicalization of Islam should and must be blamed for the wave of terrorism in Western Europe.
“I am not speaking of a war of religions,” Pope Francis told reporters on a plane from Rome to Krakow. “Religions don’t want war. The others want war,” he said. As he returned to Rome he also added, “It’s not right to identify Islam with violence. It’s not right and it’s not true.”
We wish that were the case, and we understand the distinction the pope tried to make: Islamic people versus Islamic terrorists. But the simple fact remains: These terror waves in Europe are directly linked to Islamic extremists.
We, too, mourn the death of Father Hamel as we mourn forever the 6 million. He was yet another religious target of hatred.
Radical Islamists killed Father Hamel.
How could the pope miss that?