By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published September 1, 2016 | En Español
When Pope John Paul II invited members of the ecumenical and interreligious communities to join him in prayer at Assisi in October 1986, he encountered some strong objections from those who condemned his proposed action of praying with people other than Catholics! Certain people accused the Holy Father of participating in communicatio in sacris—praying with those who worship foreign gods—an act of sacrilege if not blasphemy itself.
That criticism did not deter him from this act of dialogue and community.
Pope Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis have both followed this tradition of praying with our brothers and sisters of other faiths—in begging God to bestow peace upon our world and to break down the barriers of hatred, misunderstanding, fear and violence that so often explode throughout our contemporary world, as they have too frequently done throughout the sad history of religious persecutions.
There are many important matters that distinguish the faiths and traditions of various religious communities. Many organized religions are as distrustful of Catholics as too many of us may be of them. Interfaith dialogue is a tedious and difficult journey. There are no simple solutions to healing the rifts in Christianity or bridging the many differences that separate the Christian faith from the faiths of non-Christian peoples.
However, if we focus merely on the difficulties, we will make no progress. And our broken world desperately needs progress to cure the ignorance that too often has led to violent confrontation. With humble hearts, we must all admit that our ignorance and lack of compassion has planted the seeds of hatred that have yielded such bloody consequences throughout history and even today.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, described the situation well when he recently wrote in reference to Catholic-Muslim discussions: “So often I realize that many problems are due to the ignorance on both sides. And ignorance generates fear. In order to live together it is essential to look at those who are different from us with esteem, benevolent curiosity and the desire to walk together.”
The delegates from a wide variety of religious faiths in the Atlanta area gathered at Marist School last Monday, Aug. 29, to pray for peace and to remember those who had lost their lives as a result of violence against them as people of faith. We walked together in sorrow but also in the hope that religious intolerance and hatred would be lessened by our witness, even as our faith has been strengthened through the deaths of members of our religious communities. The political ideologies that claim to be a reflection of religious belief and yet inflict brutality upon the innocent betray the faith that they claim to defend because of the violence that runs counter to every true religion.
During that gathering at Marist, several hundred people quietly prayed for the gifts of reconciliation and peace. We listened to several ministers speak of their religious convictions and aspirations to live together in mutual respect and harmony.
There is much more that we all must do to advance the reconciliation and trust that our faiths long for within the human family. Those whose lives have been taken by acts of violence deserve nothing less than our sincere efforts to achieve peace and mutual respect in spite of our religious differences.