A very special ‘touring’ exhibition is on view in the western Polish city of Poznan. The city’s trams are displaying images of ‘modern martyrs’ who, it is claimed, have died at the hands of Muslims or in Muslim nations. Is this a good idea in the light of the ‘cartoon controversy’ that has swept the world this month?
Among those depicted on the posters are the Italian priest Andre Santoro who was killed by a young Muslim fanatic in Turkey four weeks ago and a Polish nun who was mortally injured three years ago in a church in the Congo capital of Kinshasa. The captions on the posters describe their ‘road to Calvary’ and invite the residents of Poznan to take part in the Stations of the Cross service this coming Friday. Piotr Pilarczyk of the Saint Benedict Foundation.
“The posters show martyrs of our time, Christians who died in the last three years in Pakistan, Egypt, the Congo, Indonesia and Turkey. The Stations of the Cross are dedicated to Christians who suffered for their faith. We want to express solidarity with them and want to pray for the martyrs of the 21st century.”
Representatives of Poland’s small Muslim community, which numbers around 30 thousand people, called the exhibition a ‘provocation’. Their view is shared by professor Janusz Danecki of Warsaw University, a prominent expert on the Islamic world.
“This is a sort of provocation which can cause a reaction from Muslims. I’m not certain if Polish Muslims will react in a vehement way but I’m sure that some groups outside Poland might react. This would be the beginning of a new phase of conflict of opinion. There’s always a danger that it would change into a real open conflict.”
Professor Danecki argues that what makes the poster display in Poznan so controversial is first and foremost its timing, soon after a massive wave of protest following the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
This is not to say, he adds, that we should not talk about the Christian martyrs of our time.
“It should not be presented now. We know about these facts and we remember about the tragedy of a Catholic priest who was killed in Algeria a few years ago. There was a lot of discussion also in Poland. This is a subject to be discussed, not to be presented in public without the participation of the Muslims. Why don’t we present our grievances to the Muslims and ask them to explain why it all happened, because they have their own views. In this way, they are asked to react in a similar way which is absolutely unacceptable.”
The organizers of the exhibition say their initiative has nothing to do with the recent events. They condemn the publication of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Piotr Pilarczyk again.
“We don’t show those who are guilty of persecution but focus on martyrs. There are many political regimes and groups all over the world which persecute Christians. We don’t refer directly to any of these groups. We show the truth, real people who suffered for their faith so I don’t think it can offend anyone.”
And besides it is just a coincidence that this happened in Islamic countries. Though I wonder what was the last time you heard of a Catholic youth shooting an inman in the back and walking away shouting “Hail Mary” or “John 3:16?”