Monday, September 8, 2014

Listen to the Popes on the Value of Muslim-Catholic Dialogue

(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)
By Father John Crossin, OSFS

When the pope says an issue is vital to the stability of the human family, that carries a lot of weight. When the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs wrote their recent statement reaffirming the Church’s commitment to dialogue with Muslims, they found that not only one pope had stressed this idea, but three. In fact, there was such an abundance of verbiage affirming Muslim-Catholic dialogue, from the Second Vatican Council down to Pope Francis, that the bishops dedicated an entire section of their statement to Vatican and papal quotes.

These statements have a clarity that demands our attention. At a time when some encourage violence, the popes speak of friendship and peace. In their combined teaching, themes emerge. We can start with the importance of engagement and friendship, build into common concerns like human dignity and peace, and finally cast a hopeful eye to the future.

Let’s listen attentively for just a few moments…

“Christians and Muslims can work together, bearing witness before modern civilization to the divine presence and loving Providence which guide our steps. Together we can proclaim that he who has made us has called us to live in harmony and justice,” said John Paul II to a delegation of Muslims in 1990. In 2006, Benedict XVI expressed his wish “wish to continue establishing bridges of friendship with the adherents of all religions, showing particular appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians.”

In dialoguing and bearing witness together, we discover what we have in common. “I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them,” said John Paul II in 1985. And having this in common, he argued, would contribute to peace.

(CNS photo/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

“No matter how difficult, no matter how long, the process of seeking peace must continue,” John Paul II said on a visit to Jordan in 2000. “Building a future of peace requires an ever more mature understanding and ever more practical cooperation among the peoples who acknowledge the one true, indivisible God, the Creator of all that exists. The three historical monotheistic religions count peace, goodness and respect for the human person among the highest values.”

Pope Francis reaffirmed this a mere nine days after his election in 2013, stating, “It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God, while ignoring other people. Hence it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions.”

While these papal quotes are scattered across the Church’s recent history, it’s quickly apparent that the real focus is on the future and the people who will inhabit it.

“It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction,” John Paul II said, visiting the Umayyad Great Mosque in 2001.“I am convinced that the future of the world depends on the various cultures and on interreligious dialogue,” he said in Cairo the year before.

In 2005, in an address to Muslim communities in Cologne, Benedict XVI put everything in perspective, declaring, “Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”

Let’s meditate on these most important values — and seek to live them.

Father Crossin is executive director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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