The Catholic Church has become increasingly troubled by the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East as evidenced from the violence in recent days perpetrated against Christians in Egypt, according to a leading Catholic source.
In an interview with Newsmax TV, Father James Mulford, publisher of Zenit News Agency, the largest Catholic news outlet in the world, said the violence has become "a major concern" for the church which has always tried to promote religious freedom and democratic values.
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"It's a major concern and Pope Francis and the Catholic Church always has been in favor of religious freedom," said Mulford, who is based in Rome and recently followed the Pope on his World Youth Day trip to Brazil.
He made a point of highlighting recent comments by Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, who said there were no real divisions between Christians and Muslims in Egypt, and summarized the position that the violence and destruction of churches is being carried out by "fanatical groups
" based on a perception that they represent the West.
At the same time, he said, the Church does not seek to support any particular political regime or crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the group widely seen as instigating the violence against Egyptian Christians.
"The Catholic Church and I would say the Christians in general, they're not behind a regime. They'll never come out and say, we're in favor. They're in favor of freedom, they're in favor of democracy, they're in favor of human rights. That's what the church and the Christians are always going to speak out of. Not condemning one particular group or not backing another," he said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Mulford also reflected on the style of Pope Francis' 5-month reign so far, and his approach to a number of social issues.
"The people in the Vatican that I know, my friends that work there, they're saying that he has an open ear . . . That's one of the reasons he doesn't live in the Apostolic Palace like many of the popes before him," he said. "He has breakfast, lunch and dinner with hundreds of people and literally anyone can come up to him and have his ear and say something to him. He's very open to that."
He added that Francis had also been quite clear during his speeches at World Youth Day about encouraging young people to "shake things up" in the Church, to get active and to put pressure on Catholic leaders to become more responsive instead of "naval gazing."
"[It] was very clear in Rio de Janeiro with the young people, and he knew that there was an international audience listening to him, that let's clean up our own house, the things that we need to change, whatever's needed to change, but especially let's not forget that we were called to be witnesses to the world of Jesus Christ."
Mulford also said that while the media has compared Francis to a rock star because of the magnitude of enthusiasm he receives at public appearances, the label is inaccurate because he is less concerned about promoting himself and more interested in being a man of the people.
"The big difference is when you have a rock star, that person, whether it be a man or a woman, they're the center of attention. It's more to promote themselves, it's a self-promotion, whereas the pope went to Brazil not to promote his image, not to stand out and to be the center of attention," Mulford said. "On the contrary, he went there to visit the Brazilians and he said in many of his talks, he said, I came to visit you."
He added, "He's not a rock star and he doesn't pretend to be one."
Mulford also reflected on comments the pope made last month about not judging gay clergy, which became the subject of controversy as people questioned whether he was shifting the Church's position on homosexuality.
"He said we should live and judge people with compassion. There's no change in Catholic doctrine in that sense. The Catholic Church has always had an outreach for every category of human existence that you could imagine and the pope continued that," he said. "[The pope] said [in Rio], let's not forget that Christ was also compassionate and that we should be compassionate with everyone."
Regarding the recent opposition of American Catholic bishops to the Obama administration's contraceptive coverage mandate in Obamacare, Mulford said it was not the policy of the pope to weigh in on individual policies.
"It has never been the role of the Catholic Church throughout history to weigh in on individual laws or mandates unless you're talking about something that would be to promote communism or Marxism or something that would be to eradicate the basic democratic principles," he said.
"There are lawmakers, there are members of the church, whether they be clergy, whether they be bishops, cardinals, and also laypeople who are fighting that fight. It's not something that Pope Francis is going to intervene directly and give his personal opinion."
He added, "If you are a Christian, if you are a Catholic, if you're someone who upholds liberty, then become active. That is the message of Pope Francis."
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