home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page

September 16, 2012

Pope on necessity of Middle East interreligious respect -
Papal perspective on Arab Spring -
Religious fundamentalism and violence -
A spirituality for times of personal transition or loss

In this edition:
1. Interreligious violence, interreligious respect.
2. The pope travels to Lebanon.
3. Freedom and the Arab Spring.
4. A necessary interreligious coexistence.
5. Religious liberty, an essential right.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Ecumenical steps in the Mideast.
b) Ecumenism and sacraments.
c) Authentic ecumenical witness.
7. Spirituality for times of change, loss.
8. Church of Philadelphia: grave problems.
9. Philadelphia sells home of archbishops.

1. Interreligious Violence, Interreligious Respect

The path to follow if world religions are to coexist peacefully is one of "dialogue and respect for all believers of different religions," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, said in a Sept. 12 statement.

Father Lombardi spoke after a Sept. 11 mob protest at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that ended in violence and resulted in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three staff members.

Protesters in Libya were angered by an amateur film available online that was made in the U.S. and mocked the prophet Mohammed. Protesters said they were defending Islam.

However, various public officials and commentators quickly came to believe that certain radical Islamic groups bent on violence against U.S. interests took advantage of the film or exploited it to launch armed attacks.

Father Lombardi added in a Sept. 13 statement that the attack on the Benghazi consulate and the resultant deaths "calls for the firmest possible condemnation on the part of the Holy See." He said, "Nothing, in fact, can justify the activity of terrorist organizations and homicidal violence."

The violence at U.S. diplomatic posts began to unfold with protests at the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt. Demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. embassy there; some breached the compound's walls Sept. 11 and destroyed a flag found inside.

There then were the protests and attack in Libya. Later, protests citing the film's depiction of Mohammed would spread to other nations.

All these events came on the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's Sept. 14-16 visit to Lebanon. As things turned out, his long-planned release in Lebanon of an apostolic exhortation on the church in the Middle East coincided with current events the document addresses directly: violence, religious liberty and the urgency of interreligious dialogue.

Father Lombardi's Sept. 12 statement, evidently with the film mocking Mohammed in mind, said that "profound respect for the beliefs, texts, outstanding figures and symbols of the various religions is an essential precondition for the peaceful coexistence of peoples."

He warned that "serious consequences" and "unacceptable violence" can follow upon "unjustified offense and provocations against the sensibilities of Muslim believers."

In lamenting the deaths in Benghazi, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, the Vatican's representative in Libya, urged greater interreligious respect. Again, apparently with the offending film in mind, he commented:

"What has happened is terrible, but we need to avoid offending the people's religious sensibility." He said, "The Arab countries are already in the throes of momentous upheaval; pouring gasoline on religious outrage is really dangerous."

2. The Pope Visits Lebanon

Some wondered as violence erupted in Egypt, Libya and other nations if Pope Benedict XVI might cancel his planned Sept. 14-16 visit to Lebanon. He did not. During a press conference aboard his flight to Lebanon, he explained why he proceeded as planned.

It was known that in Lebanon he would sign his apostolic exhortation based on recommendations of the October 2010 Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. Among other things, the new document explores the urgency of some of the very issues placed before the world by the violence that erupted in the larger region.

The pope's document, for example, underscores the importance of interreligious dialogue involving the region's Christians, Muslims and Jews, along with the rationale for mutual respect by the members of one religion for members of the others.

Pope Benedict's in-flight press conference seemed particularly noteworthy, as these things go. Asked if he had been "tempted to cancel" the visit "for security reasons" or whether anyone suggested canceling the visit, he replied:

"No one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so because I know that as the situation [in the region] becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems."

Two questions asked of Pope Benedict during his flight to Lebanon drew responses that seemed especially important in the context of the attacks and protests at U.S. diplomatic posts. One question inquired about the role of religious fundamentalism in violence against Christians; another asked the pope's views on the Arab Spring.

3. . . . Freedom and the Arab Spring

Here is the question about religious fundamentalism that was asked of Pope Benedict during his Sept. 14 flight to Lebanon:

"Many Catholics are expressing concern about increasing forms of fundamentalism in various parts of the world and about attacks that claim large numbers of Christians as victims. In this difficult and often violent context, how can the church respond to the imperative of dialogue with Islam on which you have often insisted?"

Pope Benedict responded that "fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God's peace throughout the world."

Thus, the pope said, "the task of the church and of religions is to undertake a purification. A lofty purification of religion from such temptations is always necessary."

The task at hand, he continued, is "to illumine and purify consciences, and to make it clear that every person is an image of God. We must respect in the other not only his otherness, but also, within that otherness, the essence we truly have in common as the image of God, and we must treat the other as an image of God."

In this light, Pope Benedict said that "the essential message of religion must be against violence -- which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism -- and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace."

The next question for the pope invited him to comment on the Arab Spring, described in the question as "the surging clamor for democracy that has begun to spread in many countries of the Middle East." The question continued:

"In view of the social conditions in most of these countries, where Christians are a minority, is there not a risk of an inevitable tension between the dominant majority and the survival of Christianity?"

In reply, Pope Benedict expressed his view "that in itself the Arab spring is a positive thing: It is a desire for greater democracy, greater freedom, greater cooperation and a revived Arab identity."

Still, he said, we know from the history of revolutions that tolerance is always at risk in such contexts. An "important and positive cry for freedom is always in danger of overlooking one aspect -- one fundamental dimension of freedom -- namely tolerance of the other, the fact that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living side by side according to certain rules."

This means that everything possible must be done in the case of the Arab Spring to "ensure that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom, goes in the right direction and does not overlook tolerance, the overall social fabric and reconciliation, which are essential elements of freedom."

Pope Benedict explained that "the renewed Arab identity seems to [him] to imply also a renewal of the centuries-old, millennia-old coexistence of Christians and Arabs, who side by side, in mutual tolerance of majority and minority, built these lands and cannot do other than live side by side."

He said he considers it "important to recognize the positive elements in these movements and to do all we can to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to growth in dialogue rather than domination of one group over others."

4. . . . Necessary Interreligious Coexistence

A nearly 1,900-word section of Pope Benedict XVI's new apostolic exhortation, "The Church in the Middle East," is devoted to the relationships of the region's Christians, Jews and Muslims, and to the need for dialogue and respect among them.

"The attention of the whole world is fixed on the Middle East as it seeks its path. May this region demonstrate that coexistence is not a utopia, and that distrust and prejudice are not a foregone conclusion," the pope states in the document.

Pope Benedict signed the apostolic exhortation, based on the recommendations of the October 2010 world Synod of Bishops held in Rome, during a ceremony at the Melkite Catholic Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa, Lebanon, Sept. 14.

"The church's universal nature and vocation require that she engage in dialogue with the members of other religions. In the Middle East this dialogue is based on the spiritual and historical bonds uniting Christians to Jews and Muslims," the apostolic exhortation says.

The pope notes that the members of these three religions live in close proximity in the Middle East and thus have experienced a sort of dialogue of everyday life. Moreover, these believers all share faith in the one God.

With such shared faith in mind, Pope Benedict expresses hope that Jews, Christians and Muslims will view each other as "brothers and sisters to be respected and loved."

Instead of exploiting the one God "in endless conflicts which are unjustifiable for authentic believers," the pope encourages recognition that "the acknowledgment of one God . . . can make a powerful contribution to peace in the region and to respectful coexistence on the part of its peoples."

Pope Benedict writes that "the bonds uniting Christians and Jews are many, and they run deep." The "close bonds" of Christians and Jews "are a unique treasure of which Christians are proud and for which they are indebted to the Chosen People," he says.

In remarks focusing on Islam, Pope Benedict says that "the Catholic Church, in fidelity to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, looks with esteem to Muslims, who worship God above all by prayer, almsgiving and fasting, revere Jesus as a prophet while not acknowledging his divinity, and honor Mary, his Virgin Mother."

However, the pope says, it is known "that the encounter of Islam and Christianity has often taken the form of doctrinal controversy. Sadly, both sides have used doctrinal differences as a pretext for justifying, in the name of religion, acts of intolerance, discrimination, marginalization and even of persecution."

Yet, says the pope, Christians in the Middle East "have developed over the centuries a type of relationship with their surroundings which can prove instructive. They have let themselves be challenged by Muslim devotion and piety, and have continued, in accordance with their means and to the extent possible, to live by and to promote the values of the Gospel in the surrounding culture."

It is right "to acknowledge the contribution made by Jews, Christians and Muslims in the formation of a rich culture proper to the Middle East," Pope Benedict comments.

None of which is to suggest that he avoids mentioning the need for religious freedom or recognition of the rights that accompany it. After all, he frequently expresses concern for the religious freedom of Christians in regions of the world where they are a minority.

5. . . . Religious Liberty, Essential Right

Religious freedom, the new apostolic exhortation stresses, is a right possessed by all believers, including Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is the right of all believers, as well, to participate in society and contribute to it.

'The Catholics of the Middle East, the majority of whom are native citizens of their countries, have the duty and right to participate fully in national life, working to build up their country. They should enjoy full citizenship and not be treated as second-class citizens or believers," Pope Benedict's document insists.

"Religious freedom is the pinnacle of all other freedoms," the pope comments. He describes it as "a sacred and inalienable right" that includes on the individual and collective levels the freedom to follow one's conscience in religious matters and, at the same time, freedom of worship."

Religious freedom "includes the freedom to choose the religion which one judges to be true and to manifest one's beliefs in public," the pope writes.

Christians are concerned in a particular way about "the fundamental rights of the human person," Pope Benedict points out. "It is wrong," he says, "to claim that these rights are only 'Christian' human rights. They are nothing less than the rights demanded by the dignity of each human person and each citizen, whatever his or her origins, religious convictions and political preferences."

What is needed today within Middle East nations is to move beyond mere tolerance of others to an affirmation of their right to religious freedom, Pope Benedict proposes. He holds that "taking this step does not open the door to relativism, as some would maintain. It does not compromise belief."

Instead, the pope continues, it "calls for a reconsideration of the relationship between man, religion and God. It is not an attack on the 'foundational truths' of belief, since, despite human and religious divergences, a ray of truth shines on all men and women."

The truth of faith "can only be known and experienced in freedom," the pope explains. He says that "for this reason we cannot impose truth on others" and that "truth is disclosed only in an encounter of love."

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

Ecumenical Steps Among Middle East Christians: "I am sure that with God's help agreement can be found for a common translation of the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father, in the local languages of the region, wherever necessary. By praying together in the same words, Christians will acknowledge their common roots in the one apostolic faith which is the basis of our pursuit of full communion." (From Pope Benedict XVI's new apostolic exhortation, "The Church in the Middle East," No. 17)

Ecumenism and Sacraments: "The 'close bonds' which exist between the Catholic Church and the churches of the East not in full communion with her are an urgent summons to dialogue and unity. In a number of cases, Catholics are linked to the churches of the East not in full communion by reason of common religious origins. For a renewed ecumenical pastoral outreach in view of common witness, it is helpful to have a clear understanding of the council's openness to a certain 'communicatio in sacris' for the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick; this is not only possible but even to be commended in some situations, in accordance with specific norms and with the approval of the ecclesiastical authorities." (From Pope Benedict XVI's new apostolic exhortation, "The Church in the Middle East," No. 16)

Authentic Ecumenical Witness: "On the basis of the indications set forth in the 'Ecumenical Directory,' the Catholic faithful can promote spiritual ecumenism in parishes, monasteries and convents, in schools and universities, and in seminaries. Pastors should ensure that the faithful come to see themselves as witnesses of communion in all areas of their lives. Communion in this sense is certainly not confusion. Authentic witness calls for acknowledgment and respect for others, a willingness to dialogue in truth, patience as an expression of love, the simplicity and humility proper to those who realize that they are sinners in the sight of God and their neighbor, a capacity for forgiveness, reconciliation and purification of memory at both the personal and communal levels." (From Pope Benedict XVI's new apostolic exhortation, "The Church in the Middle East," No. 12)

7. Spirituality for Times of Change, Loss

The type of spirituality needed to cope with difficult "times of change, transition and tension" - a spirituality that allows people to "be open to transformation" - was discussed in an early-September pastoral letter by Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y.

Bishop Clark celebrated his 75th birthday in July and, as is required of bishops, submitted his resignation at that time to the pope. The moment of change and transition he faces in his own life is, in part, what prompted this pastoral letter's reflection on a "paschal spirituality." (His pastoral letter appears in the Sept. 20 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

"I know how difficult it can be to encounter change of any kind," the bishop wrote. "Whether it is change in our personal lives, times of transition in our communities or transformation in our church, change can be difficult." That, he said, is why he chose this topic, "especially as I enter into a new moment in my own life journey with my upcoming retirement."

What is a paschal spirituality? Bishop Clark presented this spirituality in down-to-earth terms reflecting realities of life as most people experience it. He explained that this is a spirituality "open to the surprise of the kingdom led by God, not by humanity, but which can only come about through our own participation in its creation."

Bishop Clark observed, "We often have our own ideas about how life should unfold or how situations should be resolved." He asked, "How often do we ourselves encounter moments of change with grief and sadness?"

Like the disciples who encountered the risen Lord without recognizing him on the way to Emmaus, Bishop Clark said that "this sadness can overcome our ability to see what is possible or even to see our Lord with us on the road."

Bishop Clark described the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as "so overwhelmed by their sadness and grief" at the loss of Jesus on the cross "that they could not see Christ before them. Their apparent loss blinded them."

What these disciples needed "in order to experience the true good news" was "to die to their own expectations about what they thought the good news would be," Bishop Clark said. "They had to die to the future they had created in their own minds about the kingdom of God."

The bishop added, "They had to die to their preconceptions, to their prejudices and to themselves to create space to experience the resurrection."

Bishop Clark explained that "dying to their preconceptions was necessary for [these disciples] to live in a way they never imagined was possible." But, he continued, "the disciples did say yes. They allowed Christ to open their eyes and their hearts to being recreated as the disciples that God wanted them to become."

People pursue a paschal spirituality of this kind -- as individuals, in relationships and as communities - when they "ask during times of change, 'To what must I die today so that I may rise with Christ?'"

This "may mean letting go of something we thought we needed or being open to someone we thought we knew," Bishop Clark wrote. Or, he said, it may mean "loosening our grip on our own plans and expectations, and considering that other possibilities exist."

What "it certainly means," he said, is acknowledging that "we do not know all there is to know about the world, other people or even ourselves. In entering into that truth during times of change, we find the source of our security and hope: our Lord."

8. Church of Philadelphia Confronts Problems

One year after taking up duties as archbishop of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a Sept. 7 letter to Philadelphia's Catholics that the problems facing the archdiocese "remain grave."

He wrote: "Along with continuing legal challenges, we have serious budget deficit and liquidity issues. Many of our parishes continue to struggle financially. Many of those parishes simply can't be sustained."

When Archbishop Chaput arrived, the Philadelphia Archdiocese was contending with the continued large fallout on the local level of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Archbishop Chaput's letter said that the archdiocese has "greatly strengthened" its procedures for preventing "the sexual abuse of minors." Moreover, "we remain strongly committed to helping victims of abuse to heal," he wrote.

"Events of the past decade have wounded the whole church" and "placed an undeserved burden on all of you as believers," said Archbishop Chaput. "I cannot undo mistakes and evil actions in the past," he added, "but I do apologize for them with all my heart."

The archbishop said many in the archdiocese have written to him over the past year to express "encouragement and support." But he also heard "very clearly the confusion and anger of many of our people," feelings he said he accepts gratefully "because they're honest, and they're warranted."

Everyone in the archdiocese "in different ways," bears "responsibility for the church and her mission," the archbishop said. In light of that, he explained, "we need to hold ourselves and each other accountable for living the faith with clean hearts and genuine zeal. The mark of mature Christian discipleship is honesty tempered with love."

The various problems facing the archdiocese "can and will" be remedied, Archbishop Chaput wrote. But he said, "The task of renewal will require deep changes in the thinking, behaviors, structures, procedures and organizational life of the diocese. We can no longer allow ourselves the complacency of the past."

He commented, "'The way things have always been' needs to become 'the way things need to be' if we have any hope of preaching Jesus Christ to the world around us."

It will be necessary in the years ahead "to speak the truth to each other with charity and respect, but also candidly and without fear," Archbishop Chaput wrote. That, he said, "is the spirit that should animate every level of our church life, including every pastoral council and finance council in every one of our parishes."

9. . . . Philadelphia Sells Home of Archbishops

The mansion where Philadelphia's archbishops long have lived will be sold to Jesuit-run St. Joseph's University for $10 million, the university announced Sept. 7. The university said it signed a letter of intent with the archdiocese to acquire the 8.9-acre property adjacent to the St. Joseph's campus.

It said the archdiocese "put the property up for sale earlier this year as part of its reorganization." The archdiocese and the university are expected to sign the actual purchase agreement within several weeks, the university said.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke about the home's sale in an early-September interview with Matthew Gambino, director and general manager of CatholicPhilly.com, the Philadelphia Archdiocese's news website.

"One of the things people need to understand is that when I arrived in the archdiocese we had nearly run out of money," the archbishop said.

He noted that the archdiocese is selling property to generate cash to meet obligations. Those properties include a vacation home for retired priests in Ventnor, N.J.; an office building and parking lot adjacent to the archdiocese's pastoral center and the archbishop's residence.

"I'm selling (the) house actually to get us through the winter because we are in a position where the cash flow issue is huge for us every month," Archbishop Chaput said in the interview. "Each month is a struggle, and we're anticipating a $5 million to $6 million deficit for this current fiscal year."