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Interview With Lebanese Artist and Historian Lina Murr Nehme

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2004 (Zenit) - An Orthodox artist and historian who published a new version of "The Bitter Passion of Christ" thinks charges of anti-Semitism against newly beatified Anna Katharina Emmerick are off the mark.

Lebanese Lina Murr Nehme has written numerous books on history, art and exegesis. Her new work, published by François-Xavier de Guibert and illustrated with beautiful iconography, has gone on sale in French bookstores.

Murr Nehme, who attended today's beatification Mass of the German mystic, spoke with us.

Q: What is the message Anna Katharina Emmerick for our times?

Murr Nehme: I believe her essential message is ecumenical and that those who accuse her of being sectarian do not know her. For her, men and women are not good or bad according to their religion or ideas, but on account of their actions.

For example, she describes Pilate and the chief Jewish priests with the same severity, but uses a very different tone when she speaks of Pilate's wife, or of the Jews, or of the compassionate Romans who showed merciful gestures toward this person who, for them, was neither God nor the Messiah, but a simple convict.

It is true that in "The Bitter Passion" she writes accusations especially against the Jews, but it is because she recounts a tragedy that took place in Jewish land. When she recounts tragedies that have taken place in pagan lands, she accuses the pagans. In fact, it's logical: The crowd, with some exceptions, in general persecutes, and the scene of the Passion demonstrates it forcefully.

Q: You are Orthodox. Why were you interested in Anna Katharina Emmerick?

Murr Nehme: In heaven there is no Orthodox schism. Either Anna Katharina Emmerick lived the Gospel and is in heaven and so belongs to us all, or she did not live it and then we are not interested in her.

To be Orthodox or Catholic does not change the attitude of one Church toward the saints of the other, as we think alike on the important problems of the faith. I don't understand why I should deprive myself of half the saints.

Union is an enrichment, and in fact I have written on the biblical arguments that have convinced me of the legitimacy of the Pope in an appendix of my book "1453: Mahomet II Impose le Schisme Orthodoxe" [1453: Mohammed II Imposes the Orthodox Schism], although it is a very long question which we do not have time to speak about now.

Q: Has Emmerick influenced your way of seeing the Pope and other elements of the faith?

Murr Nehme: Yes. The moment I realized she recounted things, which in the main were logical, I felt obliged, out of honesty, to admit my very mistaken view of the papacy, the Old Testament, Moses, the prophets and the Jews of ancient times.

I did research in the Bible, and I felt obliged to acknowledge that what it said about the Jews and their prophets was right from the evangelical point of view. This rethinking has been one of the most painful experiences of my life, and certainly the most painful for my pride.

I think it is ridiculous to accuse Anna Katharina Emmerick of anti-Semitism, when she obliges the readers most hostile to the Jews to rehabilitate them in what they have that is most sacred and to love them.

Q: How did you get to know about Anna Katharina Emmerick?

Murr Nehme: French priests spoke to me about her when I was young. They lent me the book on the Passion. I opened it, and closed it immediately: "It's a hoax," I thought.

But 10 years later, when I wanted to write a book on Christ, I realized that, apart from the Bible and Flavius Josephus, there were practically no other writings of that time that spoke of that society. The majority, unfortunately, have disappeared.

And as I was told that Anna Katharina offered historical and archaeological information, which was later proved to be correct, I bought her books to be able to have avenues that I could later verify or reject through my research. I never quote Anna Katharina in my scientific works, but I owe what I write to the research I have done to verify what she said.

Q: How do you describe Anna Katharina the nun?

Murr Nehme: I think that, first of all, she must be situated in her order, that of the Augustinians, which was also the order of Martin Luther and Erasmus.

It is a curious coincidence, as Anna Katharina is their antithesis, especially the antithesis of Erasmus.

Anna Katharina, as Erasmus, had a decisive influence on the Europe of her times with her writings. However, Erasmus was dedicated to criticizing; Anna Katharina did the opposite.

In fact, she was the victim of the spirit of ridicule and hostility that he sowed. If she had lived one or two centuries before him, it would not have taken so long to canonize her because of her visions, as proved by the example of St. Catherine of Siena, whose texts are even less "easy" than Anna Katharina Emmerick's.

But, why do we only criticize the saints? What could we say of Erasmus?

Q: What can be said about Anna Katharina as a woman?

Murr Nehme: We wonder why a woman, Anna Katharina, received this science which so many men would have liked to have had. Perhaps because, as St. Paul said, God's strength is manifested in weakness.

Science had become a goddess for men, and the popes, the most Christian kings, allowed, with their own money, artists to honor on the doors of their palaces, and sometimes in their churches, gods and goddesses whose statues were broken by the first Christians.

If the rich abandon him, God will call the poor. If men abandon him, God will choose women to teach them lessons, as he did after the Passion, when he sent women to announce the Resurrection to the disciples.

And Anna Katharina was that which men in high places, lovers of the new pagan art, considered most contemptible: an illiterate peasant, a nun expelled from her convent, a sick woman. In this way we realize how the equality that feminists have led us to claim is fictitious.

What equality could Anna Katharina claim, if she didn't even have the strength to move the basket of wet clothes that they put on her bed because no one liked her? And yet, Clemens Brentano, one of the literary luminaries of her time, regarded her as infinitely superior to himself. Today we feel the need to kneel before her, and not before her persecutors.

Q: What does Anna Katharina Emmerick's beatification mean for you?

Murr Nehme: I think we must recognize the courage of John Paul II and of his Church, who have recognized the holiness of Anna Katharina Emmerick, at a time when it is enough to say that one does not reject her to be rejected.

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Keywords

Emmerick, Saint, Pope, Rome, Passion, Christ

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