National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 16, 2003

Church rejects anti-Islam take on beatification


Despite Vatican fears of rising Islamic-Christian tension related to the Iraq war, John Paul II on April 27 beatified a 17th-century Capuchin priest famed as a preacher of crusades against the Islamic armies of the Ottoman Turks.

Blessed Marco d'Aviano
-- CNS

Marco d’Aviano, known as a fiery orator, persuaded European Christian monarchs to lift the Ottoman siege in Vienna in 1683. A biography records that during the fighting, d’Aviano brandished a crucifix at the Turks, shouting, “Behold the cross of the Lord: Flee, enemy bands!”

Well known in the 17th century as a preacher of penance and a miracle worker, d’Aviano is thus something of a patron saint for European Christians alarmed over Muslim immigration and fundamentalism in Islamic states. Many Europeans believe that the Twin Towers attacks in the United States took place on Sept. 11 because it was the eve of the anniversary of the battle in Vienna on Sept. 12.

John Paul, however, proposed d’Aviano not as a model of resistance to Islam, but as an apostle of Europe’s Christian identity. The European Union is currently preparing a constitutional document, and the Vatican has insisted that the document must include a reference to the Christian roots of the continent.

D’Aviano, the pope said, reminds the European continent “that its unity will be more stable if it is based on its common Christian roots.”

To date there has been little negative reaction in the Islamic world, said Fr. Justus Lacunza, a Missionary of Africa who heads the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies. He predicted that the beatification would not cause serious problems in the Muslim-Christian relationship.

At the same time, Lacunza told NCR April 30, while d’Aviano may be exemplary for his fidelity, one can ask whether beatifying him now is an unnecessary mode of “adding fuel to the fire.”

Politicians associated with anti-immigration stances were quick to laud d’Aviano’s beatification.

“This will make Christianity wake up, posing de facto the basis for a second crusade, this one in defense against an Islamic assault, after the first that defeated communism,” said Italian parliamentarian Edouard Ballaman. He led a delegation from the far-right Italian political party, Northern League, known for its opposition to immigration, to the beatification ceremony.

Italian director Renzo Martinelli, who is making a film based on the life of Marco d’Aviano, asserted that “without him Italian women would today be wearing the burqa.”

Church leaders, however, attempted to head off an anti-Islamic interpretation.

D’Aviano “should not be instrumentalized for today’s political purposes,” said Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria. D’Aviano died in Vienna in 1699 as a personal friend of Emperor Leopold I, and his remains are in Vienna’s Capuchin church alongside those of the imperial family.

In a session with reporters, Schönborn granted that d’Aviano was a “child of his time,” but he also said the Capuchin was no bloodthirsty crusader. When the imperial armies defeated the Ottomans at Belgrade in 1688, for example, d’Aviano interceded to save the lives of the surrendering Muslim troops.

John Paul II has made a point of outreach to Muslims. The pope has met with Muslims more than 60 times, and he is the first pope in history to enter a mosque. The pope visited the Grand Mosque of Omayyaid in Damascus, Syria, on May 6, 2001.

The sensitivity to Islam has been especially pronounced in recent months, as Vatican diplomats have feared anti-Christian backlash in the Islamic world related to the war in Iraq.

Aside from his military and spiritual legacy, tradition holds that d’Aviano left one other trace in history. When the Viennese decided to use milk to lighten the thick coffee left behind by the Ottoman invaders, they named the resulting drink for d’Aviano’s religious order: cappucino.

The pope also beatified five other Italians in the April 27 ceremony, including Fr. James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family, which numbers nine religious orders, secular institutes and associations. Two of them, the Society of St. Paul (priests and brothers) and Daughters of St. Paul, today operate an international Catholic communications empire. Four women who founded religious communities in the 19th and 20th centuries were beatified in the same ceremony: Maria Cristina Brando, founder of the Victim Expiators of Jesus of the Sacrament; Eugenia Ravasco, founder of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary; Maria Domenica Mantovani, cofounder of the Little Sisters of the Holy Family; and Giulia Salzano, founder of the Catechist Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2003

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