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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
Can the Pope make a difference?

The Pope has called for understanding, respect and peace between Muslims, Jews and Christians.

He was speaking during a visit to Syria where, he is to become the first pope to visit a mosque.

The Pontiff began his historic pilgrimage to Syria on Saturday with an emotional plea to Israel and its Arab neighbours to reach out for peace in the troubled Middle East.

The BBC's Rome correspondent David Willey says that in its way, the Pope's mosque visit is as ground-breaking as his first to a Jewish synagogue in Rome in 1986.

Can the Pope make a difference to the Middle East crisis? Can religions ever live in harmony?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Religion is about division - the whole point is to "convert" people to your dogma, by force if necessary. Failing that, to exterminate the unconvertible. The Pope's efforts to bring peace to the Middle East are no doubt well-intentioned and wholly laudable, but distrust, disrespect and violence will always dominate respect, trust and peace wherever religious superstition is allowed to dominate.
Brian Beesley, United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)

I cannot understand why there should be a problem. The Jews, Christians and Moslems all worship the same God and differ only in the way in which that worship is carried out. Each religion claims theirs is the correct way. With so many self-appointed religious leaders on earth, why don't they ask God what he wants, and let his decision be final? Surely one of them must be in direct contact with God. Or am I too simpleminded?
John Gant, UK

Religion is sadly to blame for a large number of the world's conflicts, both past and present. Although each religion preaches goodwill, forgiveness etc to everyone, this rarely happens - and is never likely to happen, as long as people try and tell each other what they believe in is wrong. What would the world be like without religion? Just consider the wealth of knowledge that has been lost to the world because of religion - Mayan and Aztec for example.
Roger, Oz


I don't think the Christian doctrine has anything to teach the world about peace

Shimon Margolis, Israel
I don't think the Christian doctrine has anything to teach the world about peace since over the centuries, including during WW2, the church has either participated actively or stood by in silence while countless millions over the years lost their lives in the name of Jesus Christ (a Galilean Jew misunderstood by many). Obviously the world would have been better off without it. As a Jew I'm sick of the Christian world pursuing the Jew into his own country promised by g-d in the bible and even here giving him instruction as to where he can or cannot live.
Shimon Margolis, Israel

Pope John Paul II has started the ball rolling. How fast the ball rolls, and how well it rolls will now be up to the individual religions contacted. All truly religious people will welcome this opportunity. I pray that this succeeds.
Doug Durst, USA

The Pope being a great spiritual leader of humanity, there is much possibility that he may succeed in making a difference. He can make a difference to the Middle East crisis enabling the different religions to live in harmony - provided that other spiritual/religious leaders of the Muslims, Jews and Christians and others co-operate with him. His acts may be effective as an additional political/diplomatic move to those taken by the United Nations and other allied global organisations - moves which are needed in this region, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
A.R.Shams, Pakistan


Unfortunately, the answer is no

Sonia Shah, UK
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The biggest shame is that the reality is probably that we all share the same God but just have different interpretations. The biggest tragedy is people can't accept the differences.
Sonia Shah, UK

If this Pope does not make a difference it is because we did not listen to him. In practice, it is only us who can make things different. The question is will we? Sadly, the answer to this question is probably not. However nobody will be able to say John Paul II did not try to change our ways.
Manuel Sobrino, Santiago, Chile

You have to give the Pope credit for his effort in trying to bring all religions together. That said, as long as there are the arrogant few who believe in the superiority of their particular religion, there will never be a true harmony. History tells of the many heinous events caused by various religions over the centuries and this will never change. For some zealots, the end will always justify the means even if it means bloodshed and the death of the innocent.
Di Stewart, USA


We should be at harmony with all other religions

Paul Livesey, UK
The question has two parts. Firstly, the Pope's initiative to influence the peace process in the Middle East is entirely congruent with Christianity. We are to be at peace with all men. The second question about religions living in harmony has a lot to do with how we understand harmony. The Christian gospel is exclusive and makes no provision for a kind of syncretistic harmonisation. If harmony means simply the same thing as peace then by all means we should be at harmony with all other religions.
Paul Livesey, UK

I am not religious, and it does not matter one iota to me who believes in which god, but I'm most definitely in favour of anyone who can help bring peace to the world. It would be encouraging if other influential religious leaders were to take steps in the same direction.
Harry Knapp, Germany

I don't think the Pope can make a difference. Conflicts in the Middle East are not religiously based. They are political and economic in nature. Words of peace are nice but they don't deal with the real problems.
Joan Fiver, USA


You can pick and choose whatever spiritual pick-me-up you want from the endless choices on display

Sonny Azhak, UK
The Papal tête-à-tête with the Syrians may be genuine, but could also be construed as cynical. Religions and Christianity in particular, have been losing ground in the West, with many leaving the fold in droves. Organised religions like Christianity with their timeless rituals and boring sermons have driven sane and broad-minded people away from it and towards more New Age beliefs. The world has become like a supermarket, where you can pick and choose whatever spiritual pick-me-up you want from the endless choices on display.

What all these primitive, organised religions have forgotten is that people in the advanced and developing democracies have evolved intellectually, and are now asking searching questions that these ancient superstitions cannot possible answer!
Sonny Azhak, UK

I would not get carried away with the Pope's role during the Solidarity years in Poland. He supported action against Communist governments but fiercely opposed opposition movements in South America who were fighting against military juntas and other tyrannical regimes in the area.
Brian, UK


Religion usually creates hate and war if not practised in isolation

Volker, England
Religion usually creates hate and war if not practised in isolation. The Pope shouldn't be allowed to travel and spread his misguided thoughts amongst people who don't have the same belief. The same applies to all other religions.
Volker, England

Without a shadow of a doubt this charismatic religious leader is indeed a great role model to all other world leaders. In spite of his frail and ailing health he still generates a great deal of respect to all those, Catholic or not who take the time to listen to his message of love, reconciliation and peace amongst humanity.
Pauline O'Brien, Australia

The Bible says, "Love thy neighbour as thyself". The Koran says, "Truly Allah loveth not the aggressor". When Christians (who claim the Bible is holy) and Muslims (who claim the Koran is holy) fight each other over religion in the face of what their holy books instruct it will take more than a visit from an ageing representative to correct things.
John B, UK


He is giving us hope that the world CAN be a better place

Jill Chia, Singapore
The Pope's visit to Syria is a lesson the rest of us should learn from. It doesn't matter if the Christians and Muslims have their own beliefs, what matters is that we are have the opportunity to reach out to each other. There is hope. And by the Pope's visit, he is giving us hope that the world CAN be a better place if only we stop and try to understand each other better. Now it's up to all of us. All of us.
Jill Chia, Singapore

The word religion comes from the Latin 'religere' which means 'to bind', 'to bring together'. Religion's true function is therefore to unite humankind and thereby help to bring abiding peace and lasting security to the world. Those who either do not value religion or apply its message wrongly to create divisions between themselves and others have simply not understood this. The Pope has continually sought to apply the maxim of unity both officially in Vatican publications and pragmatically in everything he has said and done.
Simon Cameron, UK

It's worrying to think that there are still people out there who blame religion for acts of war. I will concede the point that it has some influence but, in reality, surely it is blatantly obvious that the strongest controlling power in this world is money.
Hazel, England


The Middle East conflict has little to do with religion

Paul, UK
I think most people are missing the point. The Middle East conflict has little to do with religion. It's all about land and politics. The Pope can help exert moral pressure but this could have just as easily come from a secular source (e.g. Nelson Mandela).
Paul, UK

In all steps towards peace it is God who makes the difference, because people's hearts have to change so much against all the odds of hatred and oppression. The Pope is communicating God's heart to the nations at the centre of the world's religions, so there is power in his message. Many will listen carefully and will chose how to continue in their attitudes towards neighbouring races. Hopefully the Pope's goodwill will free people into changing their attitudes and behaviour.
Ruth, Oxford, UK

Absolutely!! I think he already has. He never ceases to amaze. He is really a true Christian.
David Evans, Great Britain

The Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II has modernised more than at any other period in history, this visit shows stronger than ever that the Pope, despite his age wants undo the damage that his Church has done over the centuries and send the true Word of God out into the world, not the propaganda and political one-upmanship that it has so often done in the past.
Simon Giles, UK


When did Rome learn to promote tolerance and peaceful co-existence?

Andy Millward, UK
No, in a word. Since he can't resolve differences between Christian churches, a representative of the RC church is hardly likely to succeed with other religions. Remember that for centuries popes have declared their own infallibility and determined anybody not submitting totally to the authority of Rome will by definition go to hell. When did Rome learn to promote tolerance and peaceful co-existence?
Andy Millward, UK

Religion is without a doubt becoming more and more ineffective as people are diverging away from it. In this respect, the Pope cannot really make a difference, because there are fewer people willing not only to listen but to follow. With this comes a loss of respect, importance and thus power.
The Middle East conflict, like many others, is now based around institutionalised hatred under the masquerade of religion; again, in this capacity, religions can't really live in harmony because there are other variables than religion. The only course possible for harmony is for the people to realise the inhuman nature of their actions. Is this likely? I don't think so.
John Randelf, Cambridge, UK

The Popes effect on the Middle East will be brief. The main religions of the world are in opposition and are jealous possessors of people and materials. They have sadly missed the point of their mission. That is to seek truth and give truthful guidance to the masses. To highlight God's beneficial standards and heal society. The Middle East is a prime example of failure of religion.
Craig, England

I am very happy to see the Pope trying to reach out to the Muslim world.
Akram, USA


What chance does the Pope have of making a difference when religious leaders are still moaning about what happened a thousand years ago?

Ray Marsh, Australia
What chance does the Pope have of making a difference when religious leaders are still moaning about what happened a thousand years ago? Recent events in Bosnia indicate we're still fighting religious battles which began hundreds of years ago. No, he can't make a difference.
Ray Marsh, Australia

I think Pope has done a wonderful job. Every religion is only for the betterment of humans. This is the only point we should have to understand.
Rizwan Cheema, Pakistan

The Pope's visit will not bring peace immediately, but will sow some seeds, which may bear fruit. Peace requires a rare courage - forgiveness. This seems to be his message. I hope someone takes the time to listen for his or her own sake and for the sake of their countries.
Ben, USA

I strongly hope and pray that the visit of the Pope will make a difference. But unfortunately the Middle East leaders religion don't seem to want the violence to stop. It is high time that this part of the world gets a sustainable peace; hopefully the Pope made the first step...
Mark Wallman, California, USA


Popes throughout history, and certainly a lot during the 20th century, have been sticking their noses to politics too much

LT, US
Popes throughout history, and certainly a lot during the 20th century, have been sticking their noses to politics too much. It is all a great game of manipulation and influences, power and money. It has been played for centuries and doesn't fool those who study history and not just read it.
It's a shame it is all done in the name of the Lord. But I guess it is in a way human nature to make mistakes...
LT, US (European)

The Pope's effect on the Middle East will be brief. The main religion's of the world are in opposition and are jealous possessors of people and materials. They have sadly missed the point of their mission. That is to seek truth and give truthful guidance to the masses. To highlight God's beneficial standards and heal society. The Middle East is a prime example of failure of religion.
Craig, England


The Pope still has a lot of influence over religious attitudes in the UK and even more so abroad

Simon Higgins, England
I believe that, although I am Anglican, the Pope still has a lot of influence over religious attitudes in the UK and even more so abroad. This move by the Pope to bring more co-operation between Christianity and Islam can only be a step in the right direction to both faiths becoming more understanding to one another and existing peacefully. Religion, even the difference between simply Protestant and Roman Catholic churches as in Northern Ireland, can sometimes trigger a violent response between people.

This increased co-operation between completely different religions must now start to be applied to the divisions which exist within Christianity (Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, etc.) so that we can start to learn from each other rather than fighting about the subtle differences which exist between us.
Simon Higgins, England

I'm afraid it's all just politics. In this age, as most people are becoming more and more alienated from their religions and churches, they become so ignorant of them that they begin to demand all-out co-operation and even conformity among their spiritual leaders. In this light, unwillingness to compromise centuries-old doctrines (such as that of the Orthodox churches) is looked upon as destructive and backward. Since most people stopped following many religious rules (such as Lent), it's easy for them to give the rest up as well. But that way nothing would be left of the religion. That is why you don't see Orthodox leaders visiting mosques - they try not to sacrifice doctrine for politics.
Andrej, Russia

One need only refer to the experience of Solidarity in Poland and the subsequent collapse of the Communist Eastern bloc to recognise that this Pope not only can but does make a significant difference in our world. The historical import of his reaching out to the Eastern Church and to Islam on his current journey cannot be underestimated by anyone with even a passing knowledge of Western history.
Greg Jones, Canada


The only path toward reconciliation is through acknowledging one's mistakes

R. Barbour, South Korea
Surely the only path toward reconciliation is through acknowledging one's mistakes. The Pope's powerful message is clear. Middle East peace will only come by having Jew Arab and Christian embrace each other as children of the same God. Followers of all three monotheistic religions must be made to realise that their greatest strength will be their unity. Divided, all three run the risk of being overtaken by the rising tide of spiritually bankrupt secularism.
R. Barbour, South Korea

Religion is without a doubt becoming more and more ineffective as people are diverging away from it. In this respect, the Pope cannot really make a difference, because there are fewer people willing not only to listen but to follow. With this comes a loss of respect, importance and thus power.

The Middle East conflict, like many others, is now based around institutionalised hatred under the masquerade of religion; again, in this capacity, religions can't really live in harmony because there are other variables than religion. The only course possible for harmony is for the people to realise the inhuman nature of their actions. Is this likely? I don't think so.
John Randelf, Cambridge, UK

Here is a statesman, just like the other statesmen, doing more than just his duty, despite of age and frailties. Traditionally, he is the Pope for Roman Catholics, but now he has extended the boundaries of his papacy. Here is a man showing us how religion could be a unifying force instead of a dividing element.
Susan, USA

First and foremost you have to recognise the fact that among all the religions of the world, the Pope is the first to take the initiative to meet, discuss and bring about some sort of peace/stability. It's not going to be easy with everyone wanting their own cause to be heard first, but kudos must be given to him and there should be some kind of attempt made by the rest to follow suit.
Sean, USA

I very much appreciate the Pope's visit to the mosque in Syria. The urgent need of the hour is more and more openness among religious leaders and readiness to have more and more inter-faith dialogues.

The Church should not side with any particular country, whether it is a Christian nation or Islamic nation, and raise its voice against all types of injustice. That is the real spirit of Christ.
Albert P'Rayan, Rwanda / India

Let us hope (pray!) that the Pope can make a difference, and he can because he wants to help forge peace. That is the point: the desire for peace and good relations must start from wanting to. Without that hold by all peace partners, it is no different than a tug of war with only one end of the rope being held onto. Mean language and insensitivity to the pain of all sides will continue to prevent peace. We can all make a difference if we want to.
Keren Adam, Israel

I don't know whether he can make a difference to the lack of peace in that region or not, but it is refreshing to discover that he can apologise for wrongs committed a thousand or more years ago. We in Australia are saddled with a Prime Minister who refuses to apologise to the aborigines for much more recent wrongs, on the grounds that he wasn't personally responsible! The Pope, this Pope especially, can still teach us lots about humility and forgiveness, and that's got to be a good thing.
Howard J. Rogers, Australia


The more peaceful efforts influential people of the world take up, the better

Tatiana T. Tolstova, Russia
The more peaceful efforts influential people of the world take up, the better. As to the mission of the Pope and his particular role in establishing harmony in the region, it's great. Of course, the Middle East is not obliged to follow the Pope's calls. Both Arabs and Israelis appear not to want to give in, as every party considers its claims and interests as the only right ones. And nobody can convince them to change. But even if the results of the Pope's visit are not obvious immediately, it does not mean his mission has failed, for it has a global meaning for the mankind, rather than a local one. It's great exactly because of its historical scale to unite all existing religions to achieve their common goal - to change the world for the best.
Tatiana T. Tolstova, Russia

The Pope is the only one who has so far made the effort to reach out to the other major religions and offer an apology for past offences. For a man of his age and in his condition to make the effort and travel the world to give his message is deeply admirable. Of course the world's major religions can live in harmony if they are prepared to try.
G Martin, England

Absolutely not. Christianity and Islam both believe that they know the TRUTH - THEIR truth. They have completely different ideologies on how one gets to be "saved". I can't see either of them acting outside of their own self-interests on that score.
Susannah, Australia

The less religion we see in the Middle East, the better for the region. The source of conflict is of course complex and based not only on religion, but it is easy to worsen the situation by religious demonstration. It would be much better if Pope stayed in Rome performing his duties only for Catholics and not messing up with secular world problems.
Hanna, Poland

I see all three religions carrying the same words from God Almighty through his messengers at different points in time in history for the good of his people. It is easier to study and follow the" message" from God and communicate amongst the three religions now than it was in the past. The Pope is on the right track and I think the other two should reciprocate and try to understand each other.
H . Kamran, USA

There is no doubt in my mind that far from helping the situation all the Pope can do is aggravate the present situation in the Middle East. Not only will he be used by each side to support their views, but he will come off as arrogant and high and mighty, condescendingly telling the "children" that make up other religions what to do. The source of all the trouble in the Middle East is human nature. As long as people see each other as being different they will hate each other. The ultimate solution to the problems must be forgetting the word of God and working towards a practical harmony.
Miguel Sanchez, Canada

Let's hope and pray. Ireland's peace process shows where there's the will there's the way.
P. O Tuama, Ireland

No religion in its basics teaches violence and disharmony. The Pope and other major religious leaders must teach their followers the true basics of their respective religion.
M. Yahya, Pakistan

There is no doubt in my mind that far from helping the situation, all the Pope can do is aggravate the present situation in the Middle East. Not only will he be used by each side to support their views, but he will come off as arrogant and high and mighty, condescendingly telling the "children" that make up other religions what to do. The source of all the trouble in the Middle East is human nature. As long as people see each other as being different they will hate each other. The ultimate solution to the problems must be forgetting the word of God and working towards a practical harmony.
Miguel Sanchez, Canada

Of the three religions, Christians are the only ones not currently engaged in a war. Of course the Pope can bring understanding and peace to the region, if everyone will shut up and listen.
Mike Y., USA


I think he can make a difference. We need to start somewhere

David Graft, US
Yes, I think he can make a difference. We need to start somewhere.
If we can get the religious leaders to make peace, then maybe we can get the people to do the same.
David Graft, US

Of course the Pope can make a difference. He has a unique credibility, no matter what his decisions and words are based on conviction and principle. He truly has been one of the most influential men of the past 40 years.
Michael Carrasco, USA


This particular Pope, because of his charisma, can do a lot to improve relations between major religions

Mirek Kondracki, USA
This particular Pope, because of his charisma, can do a lot to improve relations between major religions. However Karol Wojtyla cannot do anything which would lead to peace in the Middle East. This conflict has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the mere existence of the state of Israel which Arab countries never reconciled themselves with.
Mirek Kondracki, USA

The desperate wooing of Muslims as allies that so many Church leaders engage in is prompted by the conspicuous demise of their religion. It's cynical rather than 'ground-breaking'.
Michael Entill, UK

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See also:

06 May 01 | Middle East
Mosque ready to welcome Pope
05 May 01 | Europe
In pictures: Pope in Syria
06 May 01 | Middle East
Inside the Umayyad mosque
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