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ND ReSource: Professor Joseph Amar calls pope's trip a "calculated risk"

Author: Arts and Letters


“Pope Benedict’s trip to Turkey this week is something of a calculated risk,” according to Rev. Joseph Amar, professor of classics and concurrent professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

“The trip was planned well before the Regensburg speech,” Father Amar said, referring to the pope’s controversial remarks in Germany earlier this year. "Although some Vatican advisors wanted to cancel the trip in the aftermath of that speech, it seems that the pope himself made the decision to go ahead with it. Of course, the trip is fraught with all kinds of dangers, and reaction throughout the Muslim world against the visit is intense. The pope sees it as a fence-mending effort.

“Before he was pope, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed rather inflexible opinions regarding Turkey’s entry into the European Union. Muslim intellectuals interpreted these statements as anti-Islamic; in fact, it would have been difficult not to.

“The Regensburg speech only reinforced the feeling in the Muslim world that Benedict would not follow the path laid out by John Paul. The Vatican isn’t given to taking risks, but in the case of the trip to Turkey, it doesn’t have many options. The trip is part of a strategic gamble to mend fences as well as to show that Benedict wants to follow the course laid out by his predecessor.”

Father Amar directs the programs in Arabic and Syriac at Notre Dame. A linguist who specializes in classical and Christian Arabic, Syriac literary culture, and early interactions between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, he recently published a translation of a 12th century Syriac document, “A Response to Muslims” by Syrian bishop Dionysius Bar Salibi of Baghdad, which revealed a remarkably friendly dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Father Amar is planning an international conference of scholars at Notre Dame next summer to explore the history of Christianity in the Middle East before the coming of Islam.

Contact: Rev. Joseph Amar at 574-631-6276 or

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on November 27, 2006.