The ironic thing is that the main purpose of the trip originally was to try to reinvigorate the fence mending process between the Catholics and the Orthodox, and of course now it’s become all about the conflict between Islam and the West, with the Pope representing the latter.
It’s interesting because it puts faith really in a precarious position from the publicity perspective (which is, of course, critical for the Vatican’s spin doctors). Regardless of what the Pope and the Vatican have said in the past few months to mollify the infamous “Muslim street”, I can absolutely guarantee you that north of 75% of Catholics think that Islam is not divinely inspired, that it is evil and wrong, that its followers would be better off as Christians and the like. In other words, they are “atheist” when it comes to Islam, and the fact that Muslims tend to throw a violent protest at the drop of a hat only serves to exacerbate that. It puts the Pope in the odd position of balancing (1) the Pope’s war in the West with secularism (and the realisation that he is on the same side as Islam is with respect to that) with (2) the reality that most of his own flock are atheistic about Islam and are getting pretty tired of Islamic anger.
It’s kind of the perfect storm, because all faiths do less well in the eyes of the doubtful and fence sitters when they are in conflict with each other. In other words, interfaith conflict brings out the worst aspects of religion and highlights the stupidity and myopia of religious belief more starkly ... so it’s an uncomfortable place for the Pope to be. Certainly more uncomfortable than a breezy photo op with the Ecumenical Patriarch talking about peace, love and understanding whilst singing Kumbaya.