How can I explain to a non-Catholic that kissing the hand of the pope is not worship?

I don’t believe this but I know how it looks to non-Catholics. When someone meets the Pope you see them bow down a lot and kiss the hand of the Pope (Fisherman’s ring), To a non-Catholic this looks like worship, I know it’s not but how do I explain this to a non-Catholic who says this to me?

Perhaps you can explain it this way:

The act of bowing or bending the knee before the pope and kissing his ring is not an act of worship, but rather a sign of respect for his office as the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth. Catholics worship God alone.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2096 Adoration is the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge him as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists, as infinite and merciful Love. “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve,” says Jesus, citing Deuteronomy.13

2097 To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the “nothingness of the creature” who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name.14 The worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world.

2134 The first commandment summons man to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him above all else.

2135 “You shall worship the Lord your God” (Mt 4:10). Adoring God, praying to him, offering him the worship that belongs to him, fulfilling the promises and vows made to him are acts of the virtue of religion which fall under obedience to the first commandment.
“The word "worship”… comes from the Old English weorthscipe, which means the condition of being worthy of honor, respect, or dignity. To worship in the older, larger sense is to ascribe honor, worth, or excellence to someone, whether a sage, a magistrate, or God.

For many centuries, the term worship simply meant showing respect or honor, and an example of this usage survives in contemporary English. British subjects refer to their magistrates as “Your Worship,” although Americans would say “Your Honor.” This doesn’t mean that British subjects worship their magistrates as gods (in fact, they may even despise a particular magistrate they are addressing). It means they are giving them the honor appropriate to their office, not the honor appropriate to God.”
Full text is here.

To further illustrate this point, turn to 1 Chronicles 29:20-21:

“Then David said to the whole assembly, “Praise the Lord your God.” So they all praised the Lord, the God of their fathers; they bowed low and fell prostrate before the Lord and the king.”

Any non-Catholic reading this verse would be able to make the distinction between the act of worship to God and the act of giving honor to the king.

Answer continues below…

On the meaning of honor, St. Thomas Aquinas states:

“Honor denotes a witnessing to a person’s excellence…Now witness is borne either before God or before man. Before God, Who is the searcher of hearts, the witness of one’s conscience suffices. Wherefore honor, so far as God is concerned, may consist of the mere internal movement of the heart, for instance when a man acknowledges either God’s excellence or another man’s excellence before God. But, as regards men, one cannot bear witness, save by means of signs, either by words, as when one proclaims another’s excellence by word of mouth, or by deeds, for instance by bowing, saluting, and so forth, or by external things, as by offering gifts, erecting statues, and the like. Accordingly honor consists of signs, external and corporal.

Reverence is not the same as honor: but on the one hand it is the primary motive for showing honor, in so far as one man honors another out of the reverence he has for him; and on the other hand, it is the end of honor, in so far as a person is honored in order that he may be held in reverence by others.”
Full text is here.

St. Thomas goes on to say that “….honor is nothing but an acknowledgment of a person’s excelling goodness. Now a person’s excellence may be considered, not only in relation to those who honor him, in the point of his being more excellent than they, but also in itself, or in relation to other persons, and in this way honor is always due to a person, on account of some excellence or superiority."
Full text is here.

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