FaithWorld

Catholic-atheist meetings end with Pope Benedict appeal to youth

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

(Catholic-atheist meeting in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris 25 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Pope Benedict urged French youths on Friday to help put God back into public debate, either as Christians sharing their faith or as non-believers seeking more justice and solidarity in a cold utilitarian world. In a video address from the Vatican to an evening rally outside Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris, the pope also urged them to “tear down the barriers of fear of the other, the foreigner, of those who are not like you” that mutual ignorance can create.

Benedict’s address, projected on a large screen in the square, came at the end of two days of a Vatican-sponsored dialogue between Roman Catholics and atheists, part of a drive to revive the faith in Europe that is a hallmark of his papacy.

“The question of God doesn’t endanger society, it doesn’t threaten human life!” he told the crowd during a break in its evening of modern and ancient Christian music. “The question of God must not be absent from the great questions of our time.”

He said religions had nothing to fear from secular society as long as it had “an open secularism that lets all live as they believe, in accordance with their conscience.”

Vatican launches public dialogue with atheists in Paris

(UNESCO headquarters in Paris)

(UNESCO headquarters in Paris, 7 Sept 2005/Matthias Ripp)

The Vatican has launched a series of public dialogues with non-believers, choosing leading intellectual institutions in Paris to present its belief that modern societies must speak more openly about God.

The decision to start the series in France, where strong secularism has pushed faith to the fringes of the public sphere, reflected Pope Benedict’s goal of bringing religious questions back into the mainstream of civic debates.

The dialogues, called “Courtyard of the Gentiles” after the part of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem where Jews and non-Jews met, will continue in at least 16 cities in Europe and North America over the next two years.

Catholics & Jews discuss their future dialogue, possible Muslim trialogue

bernardins

(Collège des Bernardins, site of the ILC meeting in Paris, 2 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders reviewing their dialogue over the past four decades expressed concern on Wednesday that younger generations had little idea of the historic reconciliation that has taken place between them. The two faiths must keep this awareness alive at a time when the last survivors of the Holocaust are dying and both the Catholic and Jewish worlds are changing in significant ways, they said at the end of a four-day interfaith conference.

The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) met in Paris to discuss the future of the dialogue begun after the Catholic Church renounced its anti-Semitism and declared its respect for Judaism at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Extend Catholic-Jewish amity to Islam, Jewish official tells dialogue meeting

coexist

(An art exhibition poster reading "coexist" using the Islamic crescent, Jewish David Star and Christian cross, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2001 /Reinhard Krause)

The historic reconciliation between Jews and Roman Catholics over the past 40 years should be extended to Muslims to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, a senior Jewish official has said. The regular dialogue the two faiths have maintained since the Catholic Church renounced anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council should be “a model for transformed relations with Islam,” Rabbi Richard Marker told the opening session of a meeting reviewing four decades of efforts to forge closer ties after 1,900 years of Christian anti-Semitism and to ask how the dialogue can progress in the future.

“Forty years in the histories of two great world religions is but a blink of an eye,” Marker, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, said on Sunday evening. “But 40 years of a relationship is a sign of its maturity.”

Timeline – Ups and downs in recent Catholic-Jewish relations

Senior officials from the Roman Catholic Church and international Jewish groups met on Monday in Paris to review relations after 40 years of sometimes difficult dialogue.

Following is a timeline of the ups and downs in Catholic-Jewish relations since the first papal visit to Israel.

1964 – Pope Paul VI is the first modern pope to visit the Holy Land. During the visit he avoids using the word Israel, which the Vatican did not recognise at the time.

Russian Orthodox Church’s Kirill on ecumenism, via Wikileaks

kirillSome interesting comments on Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, back in April 2008 when he was still Metropolitan Kirill, in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Moscow published by Wikileaks:

8. (C) Kirill seemed to be in good health was preoccupied as always with the, in his view, excessive emphasis on the individual in the West, and stressed the need to harmonize traditional human rights concerns with “morality and ethics.” Economic progress had been a two-edged sword for Russia, Kirill thought. With prosperity, Russians had “lost something” and Kirill, who is Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, pointed to less prosperous Smolensk as “better preserved” than Moscow or St. Petersburg.

9. (C) Kirill spoke highly of a UN-sponsored effort to bridge the gap between East and West by seeking an alliance of civilizations. Kirill was attempting to interest the UN in his efforts to sponsor ecumenical dialogue especially, he said, in the Middle East. As he has in past conversations, Kirill contrasted Roman Catholic Pope Benedict favourably with his predecessor John Paul II, and again held out the prospect of significant improvement in Russian Orthodox – Roman Catholic relations. Also on the ecumenical front, Kirill reported to the Ambassador efforts, via the Russian Orthodox Church of America and the National Council of Churches, to reach out to Protestant denominations in the U.S.

Why did the U.N. proclaim World Interfaith Harmony Week?

unga 1 (Photo: United Nations General Assembly hall, 23 Nov 2006/Jérôme Blum)

The United Nations General Assembly passes a stack of resolutions every year and many of them go all but unnoticed.  One such document just approved in New York established a new World Interfaith Harmony Week. High-minded resolutions put most news junkies to sleep, so it’s probably no surprise this one got such scant media coverage (see here and here). But there’s more to this one than meets the glazed-over eye.

muslims at synodThe resolution, accepted by consensus on Wednesday, urged all member states to designate the first week of February every year as the World Interfaith Harmony Week. It asked them to “support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week based on Love of God and Love of the Neighbour, or based on Love of the Good and Love of the Neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.” (Photo: Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, addresses Vatican synod of bishops, 14 )ct 2010/Osservatore Romano)

Amid the standard legal wording of U.N. resolutions, that phrase “Love of God and Love of the Neighbour” stands out both as a rare example of religious belief in an official document like this and an unmistakable hint at the authorship of this text. Readers of this blog will recognise it as a trademark phrase of the Common Word group, the Muslim scholars who have been pursuing better interfaith understanding through dialogue with Christian churches. They’ve held a number of conferences with different churches and two of the manifesto’s signatories last week became the first Muslims to address a Vatican synod of bishops. Now the group is pursuing its mission on the diplomatic stage with an appeal to governments to help foster interfaith contacts.

Excerpts from pope speech at London interfaith meeting

pope and rabbi (Photo: Pope Benedict and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, September 17, 2010/Toby Melville)

Pope Benedict met leaders of non-Christian faiths in London on Friday and stressed the need for dialogue among religions to foster peace. Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Khaled Azzam, director of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, also spoke.

Here are some excerpts from the pope’s speech:

“I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated. The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and I would like to begin my remarks by expressing the Catholic Church’s appreciation for the important witness that all of you bear as spiritual men and women living at a time when religious convictions are not always understood or appreciated. The presence of committed believers in various fields of social and economic life speaks eloquently of the fact that the spiritual dimension of our lives is fundamental to our identity as human beings, that man, in other words, does not live by bread alone. As followers of different religious traditions working together for the good of the community at large, we attach great importance to this “side by side” dimension of our cooperation, which complements the “face to face” aspect of our continuing dialogue…

“Your presence and witness in the world points towards the fundamental importance for human life of this spiritual quest in which we are engaged. Within their own spheres of competence, the human and natural sciences provide us with an invaluable understanding of aspects of our existence and they deepen our grasp of the workings of the physical universe, which can then be harnessed in order to bring great benefit to the human family. Yet these disciplines do not and cannot answer the fundamental question, because they operate on another level altogether. They cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart, they cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny, why and for what purpose we exist, nor indeed can they provide us with an exhaustive answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”

Russian Orthodox and Polish Catholic churches eye major reconciliation

krakowRussia’s Orthodox Church and Poland’s Roman Catholic Church have pledged to help their nations overcome a painful shared past and move towards reconciliation.  The two churches, very influential in their own countries, agreed at a rare meeting of senior clergy to draw up a joint document that will express their Christian vision of how the two Slavic neighbours can come together.

“The idea is to look at the history of our nations from our Churches’ point of view. During the history of our nations we
have experienced glorious moments but also very painful ones,”
Stanislaw Budzik, a Polish bishop, told a news conference on Thursday.   “As Christians we should reflect on the history of our nations and call for mutual love and cooperation,” said Budzik, general secretary of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. (Photo: Saint Mary’s Basilical in Krakow, 18 april 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

Conflicts between Russia and Poland stretch back centuries. Soviet Russia joined Nazi Germany in 1939 in carving up Poland and Josef Stalin ordered the murder of 20,000 Polish officers in 1940 in Katyn forest. After World War Two, Moscow imposed an atheistic communist regime in Poland that lasted until 1989.

Serbian church leader breaks with past, invites pope to Belgrade

irinej

Patriarch Irinej at a news conference in Belgrade, 28 Jan 2010/Ivan MIlutinovic

For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium.  But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.

It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.

On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his  recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.