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March 27, 2015

Feasibility of dialogue with Muslims today -
Transformative ministries: Pope Francis; Archbishop Romero -
Easter: Daring to live by hope in 2015

In this edition:
1. Good Friday's message.
2. Daring to hope this Easter.
3. Transformative Latin American pastors.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Archbishop Romero's witness.
b) The homeless visit Sistine Chapel.
c) Ending the death penalty.
5. Dialogue with Muslims today.
6. Interreligious conflict and harmony.

1. The Message of Good Friday

Good Friday "was the attack of darkness on the reality of a total love," Roman Catholic Archbishop Eamon Martin and Church of Ireland Archbishop Richard Clarke said in a joint statement March 26. The two Northern Ireland archbishops of Armagh stressed that Easter "is far more than a happy ending to the sad tale of Good Friday."

Instead, they stated, Easter celebrates "the ultimate victory of God over all that damages, terrifies and destroys us."

On the first Good Friday "it seemed that the worst that the world can do was victorious over the best that there can ever be," the archbishops remarked. And "all around us today we still see powerful signs of that same darkness."

This darkness, they said, is found in:

"The horrors of cruel and vicious inhumanity to those who are seen as other."

"The day-to-day debasement of the dignity of those who are unable to defend themselves."

"Physical violence, murder, war and persecution."

Moreover, this darkness "issues in the extreme selfishness of some individual lives that have fallen away catastrophically from any generosity and forgiveness."

A reminder is found on Good Friday "that God is to be found not among those who can destroy others most effectively but rather totally with those who are at the receiving end of the envy, spite and viciousness of others," the two archbishops insisted.

St. Paul, they noted, "describes the resurrection of Christ as the 'first fruits' -- the evidence that there will be a harvest of hope and a final victory of love over hatred, injustice and futility."

2. Daring to Hope on Easter 2015

The call of Easter "is actually a very daring invitation." In celebrating Easter we "call each other and the world to renew our hope." Yet, "so much of what we experience in the world points us in another direction -- most often to sad resignation," Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a message for Easter 2015.

Today, so much "suggests a dim future," he wrote. He cited "worldwide armed conflict, lethal gang violence in our neighborhoods, families trapped in poverty, immigrants uncertain about their future, young people robbed of a future because of drugs and poor education, and the most vulnerable among us -- the unborn, the chronically ill, the secretly abused, the elderly, the dying -- who have become in the words of Pope Francis 'disposable.'"

In light of all this, Archbishop Cupich asked, who are we "to proclaim hope? How do we dare to say that there is a reason for hope?"

The response to that question is simple, he said. "We have come to know Jesus in his word and in his sacraments. We have known him in each other, in the faces of those whom we love and in the faces of the poor and marginalized." Knowledge of him, moreover, has both "brought us before his cross, on which he destroyed sin and death" and "before him as the risen One, who breathes the new life of the Spirit into those who believe in him."

The reason for daring still to hope, he added, is that "the eternal Word of God dared to take our flesh and passed through death to new and glorious life. He opened the way for us to embrace eternal life." Thus, not only do "we dare to hope," but we "dare to share that hope with a wounded struggling world," said the archbishop.

3. Two Transformative Latin American Pastors

Authentic Catholic higher education "must educate and evangelize men and women into a disciplined sensitivity toward the suffering in the world, whoever and wherever they may be," Basilian Father Thomas Rosica said when he spoke March 21 at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Father Rosica heads the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation based in Toronto, Ontario.

His speech cautioned against a Catholic education that forms and graduates "people unaware of pain, suffering and the real cost of being Christian and being disciples."

In a speech titled "The Transformative Leadership of Two Latin American Pastors," Father Rosica focused on Pope Francis and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who will be beatified May 23 in El Salvador's capital city. Archbishop Romero's efforts on behalf of the poor were "untiring," he said.

"Oscar Romero modeled for us the opposite of what the world models," Father Rosica commented. "The world thrives on manipulative, exploitative, competitive power. Romero embodied nutritive and integrative power: power on behalf of the other and a power shared with others."

Archbishop Romero "through his life and ministry" taught "that thinking with the church meant to be rooted in God, loving and defending the poor and, out of fidelity, paying the price for doing so," said Father Rosica. He noted that the archbishop, now declared a martyr, was "murdered in cold blood by an assassin's bullet as he celebrated Mass in a hospital March 24, 1980."

In comments about the present pope, Father Rosica asked: "Where is Pope Francis leading the church? What does he want the bishops to do? What does he expect of us, ordained ministers? And what is he modeling for lay men and women?" Replying to those questions, he said:

"For Francis the church is first of all reconciler. In his address to the Brazilian bishops during World Youth Day 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Francis said that 'from the beginning God's message was one of restoring what was broken, reuniting what had been divided. . . . Walls, chasms, differences which still exist today are destined to disappear. The church cannot neglect this lesson. She is called to be a means of reconciliation.'"

When Pope Francis was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, he "developed and implemented a pastoral missionary plan based on communion and evangelization," Father Rosica explained. "He asked priests and lay people to work closely together in the work of evangelization and education of the people," and he insisted that "teachers of the faith need to get out of their cave" and the clergy "out of the sacristy."

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis "required parish priests to live with their people and in the same conditions as their people, even in radical simplicity and poverty," Father Rosica added. He recalled how, as archbishop, this pope "advised his priests to show mercy and apostolic courage, and to keep their doors open to everyone."

Moreover, a year before his election as pope he "wrote a pastoral letter in which he reprimanded his own priests for refusing the sacrament of baptism to the children of single mothers," Father Rosica said.

Pope Francis neither is "conservative nor liberal but a radical, who wants to bring about a revolution of mercy," Father Rosica said. He commented, referring to "The Joy of the Gospel," perhaps the pope's best-known document, that its "Christian realism . . . is beyond reactionary ideology and pie-in-the sky spirituality. A little compassion can move the world, Francis says."

Father Rosica views that as "the Christian revolution at the core of Francis' Petrine ministry, a conversion to the origin of the Gospel message as a way to the future, a revolution of mercy." He said: "There is nothing new here. It is only the Gospel message. It's been our mission, our mandate and our story for over 2,000 years."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Archbishop Romero, Witness to Human Dignity: "On May 23, in the city of San Salvador, Oscar Romero will be declared blessed, a martyr for the faith. . . . He died, the church proclaims, in holiness of life and for one reason: hatred of the faith, hatred of Jesus, hatred of the unfailing love of God, shown in Jesus, which has such a special, preferential place for the poor. This love, in which we place our trusting faith, is the source of the true dignity of every human being. . . . Those who wish to deny that dignity in their unjust and cruel treatment of others will sooner or later detest the faith and love that so uphold that dignity. The dead body of Jesus, on the cross, in his mother's arms, is the most powerful portrayal of the reality and the cost of that love and the opposition it evokes. Similarly, the dead body of Oscar Romero, crumpled at the foot of the altar, the altar on which that same death of Christ is made present every day, is a most powerful and compelling witness to that same overwhelming truth. God loves his people, bestowing on them an innate dignity, especially on those who are denied almost everything else. Today, in the name of this martyr, we resolve again to be upholders of this God-given dignity of every person." (From a March 21 homily by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England)

Homeless People Visit Sistine Chapel: "Welcome. This is the house of all; this is your house. The doors are always open to all. . . . Pray for me. I need the prayers of people like you. May the Lord protect you, accompany you on your life's path and make you feel the Father's tender love." (Pope Francis, speaking March 26 to 150 homeless people in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. They were invited to visit the Vatican museums. Afterward, dinner at the restaurant of the Vatican museums was served to them.)

On Ending the Death Penalty: "It is time for our country to put an end to the death penalty. . . . In recent years there have been highly publicized incidents where executions have been mishandled. In one instance a convicted murderer spent more than 40 minutes in agony after receiving a lethal injection that was supposed to kill him within minutes. There is also substantial evidence that the death penalty is imposed far more often on racial minorities and the poor. And, sadly, in some cases we have seen that, due to judicial error, some of those sent to death row did not actually commit the crimes they were convicted of. The Catholic Church has been calling for the abolition of the death penalty for more than 40 years. . . . The Catechism [of the Catholic Church] says that governments may impose the death penalty 'if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.' And that is precisely the moral issue we face in our times. Today, through advances in law enforcement and criminal justice, our society has many ways to punish violent offenders and to prevent them from committing further violence. . . . We do not need to kill criminals to defend our society. More than that, the continued acceptance of the death penalty contributes to a culture in which people too often think their problems can be 'solved' by violence and killing. . . . As a nation and as a society, our justice must be tempered with mercy or we risk losing something of our own humanity." (Excerpts from a March 17 column by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in The Tidings, the archdiocese's newspaper.)

5. Dialogue With Muslims Today

"Dialogue with Muslims has existed in the past, exists at the present time and should continue to exist in the future," British-born Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald said March 6 when he spoke at The Catholic University of America in Washington. Fitzgerald, a leading church expert on dialogue with Islam, examined not only the severe challenges to such dialogue posed by forces such as the Islamic State, but the potential for good that Christian-Muslim dialogue still holds.

"Christian-Muslim dialogue exists, and therefore it is possible," he stressed. But "obviously the situation is uneven." The archbishop pointed out that "there are places where there is very little or no interest at all in such dialogue," but also that in other places "relations with Muslim neighbors have become a normal concern for Christian communities. Meetings of religious leaders take place more frequently, and leaders are ready to make statements together and to act together when the occasion arises."

However, "parallel to this growing cooperation, mutual suspicion has also grown, and this renders progress in dialogue more difficult," the archbishop observed. He said, for example:

"It is true that in many parts of the world the social climate is not conducive to good relations between Christians and Muslims. The effects of 9-11 are still being felt, producing an attitude of suspicion toward Muslims in general. On the other hand, the invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the lack of resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to stoke the fires of resentment of Muslims, particularly in the Arab world, toward the West."

The archbishop mentioned those "who have proclaimed an Islamic State or who have declared their allegiance to this Islamic State where Shariah law will be observed under the guidance of a self-designated caliph." He concluded that these people "are not upholding Islamic tradition, whatever they may say." He feared that dialogue with them is not possible.

For, he said, they "are convinced that they hold the truth, and therefore they have no need of listening to others. They will not listen to fellow Muslims, many of whom they consider not to be true Muslims, and even less will they speak to non-Muslims except to invite them to embrace Islam."

Asking what interreligious dialogue can do in a world of conflict, Archbishop Fitzgerald said that "it may be well to state first what it cannot do." For example, "interreligious dialogue should not be expected to bring an immediate solution to a conflict situation. Dialogue is not a fire brigade that can be called on to put out a conflagration. When war is raging there is usually little possibility of conducting dialogue. The necessary conditions of equality, trust, openness are generally not present. People are not inclined to listen to one another."

Yes, it needs to be realized, he suggested, that the aim of interreligious dialogue "is to build up good relations among people of different religions, helping them to live in peace and harmony." He called this "no easy task," noting that "it entails increasing mutual knowledge, overcoming prejudices, creating trust. It means strengthening bonds of friendship and collaboration to such an extent that detrimental influences coming from outside can be resisted."

Archbishop Fitzgerald's speech appears in the March 26, 2015, edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.

6. Religious Conflict Is News, Harmony Is Not

The harmony that flows from dialogue "among people of different religious allegiances often goes unobserved," Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald said in his March address at The Catholic University of America. For, he said, "it is the conflict that makes the news, not the absence of conflict. And yet this absence of conflict is really the good news."

One difficulty for Christian-Muslim dialogue that he singled out involves "a lack of knowledge." Archbishop Fitzgerald said that "when one considers populations as a whole and not just the elite, one is struck by the reciprocal ignorance that obtains. There is indeed much ignorance in the West about Islam and much ignorance about Christianity in countries with a Muslim majority."

Therefore, there is "a constant need to educate people, conveying the true image of Islam, as many Muslims advocate, but also revealing the true nature of Christianity," he added.

It takes "serious effort" to come to understand another religion "as it presents itself," said Archbishop Fitzgerald. True understanding develops "when people, rooted in their own tradition, open themselves up to the riches of other traditions." He said that "such an attitude of appreciation and respect does not necessarily exclude all criticism, but this is better expressed in the form of questioning, combined with a readiness to allow questions to be asked of one's own tradition."

Interreligious dialogue ought to "lead to a common search for understanding, to a shared sympathy for those who are suffering and in need, to a thirst for justice for all, to forgiveness for wrong done, together with a readiness to acknowledge one's own wrongdoings, whether individual or collective," according to the archbishop.

He said, "True religion, relayed by interreligious dialogue, does not support conflict and war but provides the right atmosphere in which conflicts can be resolved and peace attained. This would seem to be the true way forward for Christian-Muslim dialogue."