In his history of World War II, Winston Churchill tells the story of a pre-war meeting between French premier Laval and Josef Stalin. When Laval asked Stalin if he could not "do something to encourage religion and the Catholics in Russia," Stalin replied, "The Pope! How many divisions has he got?"
The joke was ultimately on Stalin. Fifty years later a Pope helped bring down communism without firing a single shot. Now another Pope is preparing to do the same to another intractable foe of the West.
At the most recent Easter Vigil, Pope Benedict XVI baptized Italian journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam. Throughout his career, Allam, who was born in Egypt, had been associated with "progressive" causes. He wrote for leftist newspapers, championed the rights of North African immigrants, and supported the Palestinian cause.
A leftist journalist asking to be baptized as an adult would be noteworthy enough, but the story does not end there. As you probably inferred from his last name and place of birth, Allam was a Muslim.
That, as they said in the Wizard of Oz, is a horse of a different color. Islam does not take kindly to Muslims, even non-practicing ones like Allam, converting to other religions, especially Christianity.
Then there is the historical context of Allam's conversion. Some European leaders advocate creating exceptions to their laws and customs to accommodate Europe's growing Muslim population.
Allam will have none of this. Even before his conversion, he concluded that the "moderate" Islam these leaders talk about, and which he supposedly represented, was a figment of their imagination. The "Islamic Reformation" they longed for could be found in convincing Muslims, Allam believed, to "cease being Muslims."
As if to prove his point, Allam lives "confined to a life under guard." His forthrightness and conversion have made him a marked man.
Yet, he accepts it because "the miracle of the Resurrection of Christ has reverberated through [his] soul," so he writes. And he has discovered "the true and only God, which is the God of Faith and Reason."
The Asia Times columnist "Spengler" has summarized Benedict's approach to the issues of our day as this: "I have a mustard seed, and I'm not afraid to use it." Benedict's willingness to proclaim the truth of the Gospel, regardless of how inconvenient it might be and whom it might offend, is the West's best defense against the threat of radical Islam.
Osama bin Laden certainly agrees. When he recently accused the Pope of playing a "large and lengthy role" in a "new crusade against Islam," he was acknowledging that Christian ideas and beliefs pose the biggest threat to his vision of Islam. The estimated six million Muslim converts to Christianity I recently told you about on "BreakPoint" should worry bin Laden and company far more than any Western army.
Benedict knows this, which is why he has insisted on the right of Christians in Islamic countries to practice their faith openly. As "Spengler" puts it, the "sandals on the ground" in the conflict with Islam will come from the ranks of converted Muslims— and that is the kind of yield Christians ought to expect from a mustard seed.
From BreakPoint®, April 9, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship