Pope Benedict XVI (R) receives a sword from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah during their meeting at the Vatican November 6, 2007. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano (VATICAN)
Why a sword?
Reuters explains in a story about the meeting:
At the end of the meeting, the king gave the Pope a gold and silver sword studded with precious jewels, in keeping with a bedouin custom the Saudis also follow when foreign leaders visit their country.
An ironic gift, yes, in light of the furor in the Islamic world over the Pope’s remarks at Regensberg, but not one meant to be insulting. Indeed, it is, as Reuters tells us, a traditional gift. But it does reveal something about Abdullah’s self-image as the leader of an Islamic state — a state which, after all, has a sword on its flag, right underneath the Islamic profession of faith. To Abdullah, such a gift is clearly not inconsistent with his view of Islam or of himself as an Islamic leader.
But just imagine Pope Benedict XVI giving anyone a sword. He wouldn’t, because such a gift would be inconsistent with his own self-image as a Christian leader, and with his view of Christianity. He views Christianity as a religion of peace. At his meeting with Abdullah, the contrast between the two religions, so controverted and controversial elsewhere, was plain, and taken for granted.