Pope earns praise for promoting respect among religions

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 13, 2013

“The dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world . . . The shared responsibility for justice and peace must become the guiding principle.”
Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI announced this week that he will step down on Feb. 28 as head of the Roman Catholic Church. With this column I’d like to honour him for his bridge-building work among the world’s religions.

His contribution to interfaith dialogue has special meaning for me personally, since I’m a member of two associations the Catholic Church was a partner in founding: the Calgary Council of Christians and Jews, and Abraham’s Tent, a dialogue among Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Baha’i leaders.

Pope Benedict has built his commitment to interfaith respect around Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of his church to non-Christian religions, one of the most important documents to come out of the pace-setting Second Vatican Council that just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

That document held in especially high esteem the followers of Islam, which, like Christianity, traces its roots back to Abraham; and the Jewish people, also of Abraham’s stock, with whom Christians are spiritually tied by “Ancient Covenant.”

Pope Benedict’s commitment to those principles was evident in a speech he made last December to the Roman Curia.

In our current struggle for humanity, he said, “the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world . . . This dialogue of religions . . . is about the concrete problems of coexistence and shared responsibility for society, for the state, for humanity. In the process, it is necessary to learn to accept the other in his otherness and the otherness of his thinking. To this end, the shared responsibility for justice and peace must become the guiding principle of the conversation.”

He has spoken in both Muslim and Jewish gatherings, winning the respect of many.

For example, upon hearing of the Pope’s resignation announcement, Rabbi Yona Metzger, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, praised him “for promoting relations between Judaism, Christianity and Islam throughout the world.”

And Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar, Israel’s other chief rabbi, recognized Pope Benedict for his war against anti-Semitism and for referring to Jews as Christianity’s “older brothers.”

A Muslim response was sent me by Calgary author David Liepert, co-chair with me of Abraham’s Tent:

“We very much appreciated him continuing the precedents that began with Vatican II and his predecessors, most notably his hosting an Interfaith Dialogue in 2007 in Assisi, home of St. Francis of Assisi, . . . considered a saint by Muslim and Christian alike.”

In my own experience, I see some implications of Pope Benedict’s example of interfaith dialogue for helping us understand our own religious traditions better – not unlike what Robert Burns expressed in his Scot language poem, “To a Louse”:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

In the spirit of seeing ourselves as others see us, then, and of Pope Benedict XVI’s contribution to interfaith understanding, I’d like to draw our readers’ attention to an important event just over a month away.

The Calgary Council of Christians and Jews, in cooperation with Calgary’s Beth Tzedec Congregation and St. Mary’s University College, is hosting a weekend with Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, March 15–17, on the topic “Jews & Christians Studying Sacred Texts Together.”

Dr. Levine, a Jewish scholar, is Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, and co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament.

The free public lectures will address differences in Jewish and Christian readings of the Gospels, in particular, and what people of both faiths can learn from these differences. The March 15 presentation will be held at Calgary’s St. Mary’s University College; the March 16 and 17 presentations will take place at Beth Tzedec Synagogue.

For further information, contact me by email.

Father Bill Corcoran, pastor of St. Mary’s Church, Cochrane, has the final word for this week:

“Pope Benedict's rare resignation announced for 8 pm on February 28 is both responsible and humble. Responsible for, as he himself announced, his health will not permit him to continue, and humble for it has been over 700 years since the same. Such courage is a great gift to the Church and world as we anticipate a new Pope for Easter Sunday (March 31). In gratitude we earnestly pray for his successor.”


© 2013 Warren Harbeck

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