FaithWorld

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses Muslims’ argument to Muslims

pope-dome-outsideAt Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue. The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out. (Photo: Pope at Dome of the Rock, 12 May 2009/Israeli govt. handout)

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.” Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour. Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it. Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different. Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.” He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.” The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it. Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way). If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.

pope-dome-entersOn the plane flying to Amman, Benedict suggested the Vatican might expand its series of bilateral interreligious contacts to include a trilateral forum with Christians, Muslims and Jews. He hasn’t mentioned that since then, but it’s an interesting idea. Rabbis have attended some meetings between the Common Word Muslim scholars and Christian scholars. (Photo: Pope Benedict enters Dome of the Rock, 12 May 2009/Israeli govt. handout)

After noticing the echo of the Common Word appeal in Benedict’s address, I checked to see whether his Muslim hosts were signatories of the document. They weren’t. In fact, the only Palestinian I could find who has signed it is Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian territories. He’s the one who upset an otherwise harmonious interfaith meeting with the pope yesterday with a fiery denunciation of Israel that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi later called “a direct negation of what a dialogue should be.”

Mixed Israeli press reaction to Benedict’s Yad Vashem speech

pope-yad-smallPope Benedict was never going to please his critics in Israel, so it’s not surprising that today’s headlines were almost all negative about his speech at Yad Vashem yesterday. Reading the English-language press this morning, I was interested in seeing the nuances in the different reactions. Here are a few examples of what I found:

In Haaretz, the main headline read “Survivors angered by Benedict’s ‘lukewarm’ speech.’” That story focused on the reaction from Yad Vashem officials as we reported yesterday. You can see a PDF of its front page here. The two commentaries were more nuanced than the main story. (Photo: Pope Benedict at Yad Vashem, 11 May 2009/Yannis Behrakis)

Tom Segev’s front-page analysis “Someone in Rome chose ‘killed’” focused on the way Benedict described the Holocaust victims’ fate: “He inexplicably said Jews “were killed,” as if it had been an unfortunate accident. On the surface, this may seem unimportant: Israelis often use the same term, and they do not need the pope to tell them about the Holocaust, which today is a universal code for absolute evil. But the word the pope used is significant because someone in the Holy See decided to write “were killed” instead of “murdered” or “destroyed.” The impression is that the cardinals argued among themselves over whether Israelis “deserve” for the pope to say “were murdered” and decided they only deserve “were killed.” It sounded petty.

Popes at Yad Vashem: comparing John Paul and Benedict

Pope Benedict’s speech at the Yad Vashem today took a different approach from the speech his predecessor Pope John Paul delivered at the Holocaust memorial on 23 March 2000. Polish-born John Paul mentioned the Nazis twice while Benedict, a German, did not. John Paul recalled the fate of his Jewish neighbours; Benedict offered no personal wartime memories. John Paul spoke in a broader perspective, mentioning godless ideology, anti-Semitism, the “just” Gentiles who saved Jews and the shared spiritual heritage of Christians and Jews. Benedict took a narrower approach, meditating on the significance of names and speaking only of the Catholic Church rather than Christians in general.

Here are a few quotations comparing and contrasting the two speeches:

INTRODUCTION:

yad-jp2-1POPE JOHN PAUL: “In this place of memories, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence. Silence in which to remember. Silence in which to try to make some sense of the memories which come flooding back. Silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Shoah. My own personal memories are of all that happened when the Nazis occupied Poland during the War. I remember my Jewish friends and neighbours, some of whom perished, while others survived. I have come to Yad Vashem to pay homage to the millions of Jewish people who, stripped of everything, especially of their human dignity, were murdered in the Holocaust. More than half a century has passed, but the memories remain. Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of so many. Men, women and children cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale. We wish to remember. But we wish to remember for a purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail, as it did for the millions of innocent victims of Nazism.”

POPE BENEDICT:“I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name … I will give them an  everlasting name which shall not be cut off” (Is 56:5). This passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah furnishes the two simple words which solemnly express the profound significance of this revered place: yad – “memorial”; shem – “name”. I have come to stand in silence before this monument, erected to honor the memory of the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah. They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names: these are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of Almighty God. One can rob a neighbor of possessions, opportunity or freedom. One can weave an insidious web of lies to convince others that certain groups are undeserving of respect. Yet, try as one might, one can never take away the name of a fellow human being.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Speak softly and carry a big staff

pope

As a long-time visitor and resident of the Middle East, I often feel a twinge of sympathy for visitors who might not be as inured as I have become to the rough-and-tumble of a region where religious, political and cultural sensitivites permeate every aspect of daily life, where arguments can blow up from the seemingly trivial and where, confusingly, remarkable levels of co-habitation and co-existence still show up against this explosive backdrop.

Pope Benedict, with his army of advisers and counsellors, is better prepared than many visitors for what the region might hold in store during his week here. But he must be acutely aware of the delicate nature of his trip - and that any gesture, word or act could become a major international issue

After the gentle warm-up of his visit to Jordan the main event started today when he landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

PAPA DIXIT: Pope Benedict’s quotes on plane, in Amman

pope-plane-romePope Benedict plans to speak publicly at least 29 times during his May 8-15 trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Apart from covering the main points in our news reports, we also plan to post excerpts from his speeches in a FathWorld series called “Papa dixit” (“the pope said”). (Photo: Pope Benedict leaves Rome for Amman, 8 May 2009/Max Rossi)

Following are comments from the first day, on the plane and in Amman. The pope spoke Italian on the plane but will deliver all his speeches here in English.

COMMENTS ON THE PLANE (Reuters translation from Italian):

MIDEAST PEACE: “Certainly I will try to make a contribution to peace, not as an individual but in the name of the Catholic Church , of the Holy See. We are not a political power but a spiritual force and this spiritual force is a reality which can contribute to progress in the peace process … As believers we are convinced that that prayer is a real force, it opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and can affect history and I think that if millions of believers pray it really is a force that has influence and can make a contribution to moving ahead with peace.”

GUESTVIEW: Finding and defining the religious pluralism within

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. Rev. Bud Heckman is Director for External Relations at Religions for Peace and editor of InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook (SkyLight, 2008).

By Matthew Weiner and Rev. Bud Heckman

Mary Rosenblatt grew up Jewish, she married a Catholic and her children are “exposed to both faiths.” In her adult life, she has become particularly drawn to meditation as practiced by a local Buddhist circle. If she participated in a survey about religious identity, how might she be portrayed?  And what about her kids?

pew-logoThe Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released a survey entitled “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.” that attempts to map changes in religious affiliation in the U.S.  It follows on the coattails of the important “U.S Religious Landscape Survey” conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007.  If read in cross-tension with the “American Religious Identification Survey 2008″ released by Trinity College in Hartford, one can begin to see a complex and diverse picture of faith affiliation for Americans, as well as some patterns of change.

An “Indian Bible” or a “Bible for India”?

flight-to-egyptAnnotated Bibles come in all shapes, sizes and standpoints. One of the most interesting recent examples is The New Community Bible in India. The novelty is not the text itself but the extensive footnotes comparing and contrasting Christian teachings with those of India’s main religions. Christians make up only 2.3% of India’s 1.1 billion population compared to 80% for Hindus and 13% for Muslims. The illustrations are also clearly Indian — in the drawing for the Flight to Egypt (at right), Mary wears a sari and a bindi on her forehead while Joseph sports a turban.

The New Community Bible (NCB) stirred up some controversy when it was published, with official Church approval, by a Roman Catholic group in Mumbai last summer. A Protestant pastor called it “a complete turn back from the real Bible.” Hindu natiotionalists denounced it as a bid to convert Hindus to Christianity. A blog named after Hindu guru (CORRECTED: see comment below) Sathya Sai Baba warned that Christian missionaries were “taking aim at India” with a “deceptive Bible and other questionable tactics.” . There was also criticism from Catholic laity, enough to prompt the bishops to order a study of the issue and have the publisher hold off with a second edition. That’s too bad because the first edition quickly sold out.

During my recent visit to India, I got a look at a friend’s copy of the NCB and found it fascinating. Following are a few points that stood out while I paged through it (and a few not very professional photos I took of its illustrations):

If swine flu isn’t kosher in Israel, is it halal in the Muslim world?

Our Jerusalem bureau had this interesting little story today about the swine flu outbreak:

Swine flu not kosher in Israel
JERUSALEM, April 27 (Reuters) – Swine flu? Not in the Jewish state.

“We will call it Mexico flu. We won’t call it swine flu,” Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a black-garbed Orthodox Jew, told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

Indonesian president woos Islamists, upsets minorities

jakarta-protestDriving home very late one night in Jakarta, I passed four men on motorbikes. The white tunics, trousers and skullcaps of the drivers and their pillion-riders, who carried furled green flags, stood out in the badly-lit street and marked them as vigilantes of the Islamic Defenders Front. The Front, or FPI, is a hardline Muslim group best known for smashing up bars and nightclubs. (Photo: Islamic Defenders Front motorcycle protest in Jakarta, 22 Aug 2004/Supri Supri)

The group is something of an oddity in an officially secular and predominantly Muslim country that is largely tolerant of other religions and ways of life. But a change in the political landscape could alter that.

Following a general election this month, Indonesia looks headed for a possible coalition between a centrist, secular party – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party – and a conservative Islamist party called the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS). Sunanda Creagh and I have written an analysis on how this prospect has worried Indonesia’s religious and ethnic minorities — click here to read it.

Berlin campaign for religion lessons unites faiths

Berliners on Sunday voted against introducing compulsory religion lessons in schools. Social Democrat Mayor Klaus Wowereit has welcomed the result as a victory for “togetherness” and common values for Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim or aetheist children.

Campaign posterFor details on the result, look at the Reuters story.

However, as Pro Reli leader Christoph Lehmann said, the campaign to boost the status of faith-based lessons in the German capital — a city with a long secular tradition — has put the subject firmly on the agenda and made it a talking point.

Celebrities and politicians, even conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel,have joined the call for religion lessons. Perhaps she was trying to make amends with members of her predominantly Catholic Christian Democrats (CDU) who were angry with her for criticising the Pope in the row over a Holocaust-denying bishop.