View From Rome
View from Rome23 March 2017 | by Christopher Lamb
In 1998 police raided the headquarters of the Buenos Aires archdiocese as part of an investigation into a financial scandal. The local media had been tipped off, and a group of journalists was assembled outside the curial offices. Inside, the recently appointed archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was worried. He made a phone call to a young priest called Guillermo Marco, who he knew had experience of handling the press.
“He was very calm, but said if I had a minute would I mind coming down there, because there was a pack of journalists at the door,” Fr Marco later told Pope Francis’ biographer, Austen Ivereigh. This was the start of Fr Marco’s work for the future pope, which included advising him on the media but also on his work with other faith leaders. Fr Marco set up the archdiocese’s first interreligious institute and arranged for his boss to become the first bishop to visit the Islamic Centre of the Argentine Republic. Bergoglio wrote in the visitors’ book: “I give thanks to God, the Merciful.”
The dialogue with Muslims and with other faiths quickly gained recognition. Jean-Louis Tauran, the cardinal leading the Vatican’s interfaith work, praised the “Argentine model of interreligious dialogue” as “unique.” Francis has continued to use this model as Pope, an approach that has paid off with the announcement of a papal visit to Egypt next month and the renewal of the relationship between the Vatican and al-Azhar University, the main centre for Sunni Islamic thought. Al-Azhar had broken its ties with the Vatican in 2011 following a series of perceived slights against Islam in some of Benedict XVI’s speeches.
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