Past Hurts Cloud Relations among Religions

By Allen, John L., Jr. | National Catholic Reporter, September 23, 2005 | Go to article overview

Past Hurts Cloud Relations among Religions


Allen, John L., Jr., National Catholic Reporter


Against a backdrop of fears about a "clash of civilizations," one might see 360 religious leaders representing 10 world faiths gathering here for dialogue, fellowship and prayer as a stirring sign of inter-religious progress. On the other hand, the fact that Jewish and Muslim leaders, to take but one example, still cannot sit at the same table without sparring over the Middle East might be discouraging proof that platitudes about good relationships go only so far.

Evidence for both positions surfaced in this Sept. 11-13 gathering, organized by the Sant'Egidio Community, a lay Catholic movement.

Again and again, leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and other backgrounds stressed that violence is an abuse of religion, and that the various religions share common yearnings for peace, justice, human rights, defense of the poor and understanding.

"The path of peace is dialogue," read the final appeal, issued Sept. 13 in the name of all the participants.

"Dialogue does not mean lowering our guard against the other, but it protects us; it transforms the stranger into a friend; it renders possible common efforts for struggling against poverty and every evil."

While there was relatively little new to veterans of inter-religious meetings, there were at least several concrete ideas floated to translate these ideas into reality.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, proposed that religious leaders around the world form "covenants" at the local level to come to one another's defense if one religion is the victim of either physical or verbal violence.

Rene-Samuel Sirat, the grand rabbi of France, suggested that prospective Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy undergo common seminary studies in the history of ideas, religious sociology and philosophy, while maintaining separate courses in theology and the study of sacred texts.

The chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, proposed a sort of "Hippocratic Oath" for clergy, a vow to foreswear any religious justification of violence. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top official for ecumenism, announced that this fall the international theological dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox will restart, following a four-year breakdown over disputes about proselytizing and the status of Eastern churches in communion with Rome.

Many at the Sant'Egidio gathering seemed optimistic.

"We Have now, as perhaps never before in my lifetime, the chance to build a spiritual humanism of peace in which all our religions can see the best of themselves reflected, yet which is acceptable to those of no faith who see tolerance and respect for diversity as fundamental," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of England.

Despite the positive tone, there were also reminders of how past hurts, perceived or real, continue to cloud cooperation.

During a Sept. 13 session, David Rosen, an Israel-based rabbi, recounted a story from an 11th-century Jewish text about a Jew who complained of persecution by Christians and Muslims. The other party responded that Jews might act the same way if they were in charge, which Rosen used as a lesson about power. …

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