Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 67 – July 2010

Pope Benedict will meet leaders of other religions in UK–Why?

Catholic teaching on other faiths was set down in the document Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council (1965). It says: The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

On his visit to Jordan in 2009, Pope Benedict entered the Al-Hussein Bin Talal mosque and said such places of worship "stand out like jewels across the earth's surface." Using language which is familiar to many Muslims, he referred to God as "the merciful and compassionate". He said: "From the ancient to the modern, the magnificent to the humble, they all point to the divine, to the Transcendent One, to the Almighty. Through the centuries these sanctuaries have drawn men and women into their sacred space to pause, to pray, to acknowledge the presence of the Almighty, and to recognize that we are all his creatures." But this respect is not achieved by regarding all faiths as "equally true", because that can easily mean they are all equally unimportant.

In 2010, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales published the document Meeting God in Friend and Stranger to encourage Catholics in good inter-faith relations and to avoid this sort of misunderstanding. They stated: "The challenge of difference, the task of meeting the followers of another religion in true dialogue, is the demanding one of combining genuine love and respect, and openness to unexpected truth and goodness, with a firm grasp of our own Christian faith and a readiness to be led by its light." This teaching document highlights two guiding principles at work in such dialogue. The first is the vision of all humanity belonging to a single "family", sharing an origin and destiny in the mystery of God. The second is the principle that the Holy Spirit of God is at work everywhere, free-flowing and creative. Since, in Christian understanding, the Holy Spirit is most fully present in Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made flesh, then an openness to the Spirit, wherever it is fruitful, is at the same time in Catholic eyes an acknowledgement of a relationship of that fruitfulness to Christ. This acknowledgement of the work of the Holy Spirit within the unity of the human family is the foundation for profound respect between all the faiths. But sincere respect is not the only element in these relationships.

Pope Benedict has described how central religious faiths are in the building up of civil society, in the interests of the common good. In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate he declared: "There is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of 'all of us', made up of individuals, families and intermediate groups who together constitute society... To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the polis, or 'city'."

Clearly the Catholic Church's concern for the welfare of other faith communities is directed also at the good of society as a whole. Others, too, can see this in the Church's mission. The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, Lord Sacks, welcomed the Catholic pre-election document Choosing the Common Good in a radio broadcast by saying that it reminded him of another better meaning of the word "politics". "There's an older sense in which it has to do with the polis, the city, or what today we'd call society. And that's less about competition than co-operation, less about power than about what holds us together through a sense of collective identity and shared fate. It's what unites us regardless of the way we vote. It's about the common good. "And that depends not just on governments but on us, all of us together. It lives in habits of the heart born in families, practiced in neighbourhoods, and renewed daily in unspectacular acts of kindness and help. If we lose these, no legislation in the world can put them back ."

The Chief Rabbi's warm words were all the more fitting, as nowhere has there been a greater change for the better than in relations between Catholics and Jews. The Church has repudiated and condemned anti-Semitism and the "teaching of contempt" towards Jews. The Second Vatican Council declared: "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues... the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and 'serve him shoulder to shoulder'."

It is in this spirit and as a service to the common good that Pope Benedict will greet leaders from the different British faith communities during his visit to Britain. The role of leaders, in every sector of society, is not to be underestimated. And the exercise of true leadership is enriched when the leader is a person of faith. Indeed in his recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict declared that "development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finely attuned to the requirements of the common good". This visit of Pope Benedict, and his meeting with the leaders of the different faith communities, will highlight the contribution which faith makes to the common good of all.

Extract from 'Heart speaks unto heart', by the Catholic Bishops' Conference on the Pope's State visit to England in September 2010.

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