Archive for the ‘interreligious’ tag
By Leo D. Lefebure, Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
This essay will be published in Interfaith Spirituality: The Power of Confluence. Ed. Ambrogio Bongiovanni, Leonardo Fernando, Gaetano Sabetta, and Victor Edwin. Delhi, India: SPCK, forthcoming 2015. © all rights reserved.
To download the full chapter please click here.
About Dr. Leo D. Lefebure
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, includingRevelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Sharing an update with the Parliament about his work in Liberia during the recent Ebola crisis, Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Victor Garpulee, gives us hope that in times of humanitarian emergency, commitment to the Interfaith movement is building support between neighbors. Here is his pictorial essay:
Victor’s Parliament of the World’s Religions group in Liberia demonstrates will and commitment to work with students, as well as religious, social, and other institutions to promote the Parliament’s Faiths Against Hate initiative, and eliminate violence and discrimination.
“The banner above is a working material of Parliament Liberia as we go in communities and institutions where there are people of difference faith to sensitize them about respecting people of other faiths.”
An awareness of the Ebola epidemic that is taking away the lives of the people of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The below letter shows how Parliament Liberia is demonstrating will to work with various institutions across the country.
The Sikhs erected what was a place of worship and education. It was beautifully done in a huge tent-like structure. They offered food to everyone for a noonday meal. Upon entering the structure, we removed our shoes. I discovered that after the meal the shoes had been cleaned! What a wonderful loving gesture.
We were then directed to the floor that served as the dining hall. Long rolls of paper on the floor served as our dining table. Most of us sat on the floor to eat. A few tables were scattered about for those who needed to sit on chairs. But most of us opted to sit on the floor. On the floor were Americans in American-casual attire. Some Catholic nuns were wearing their tradition habits. Some men were in business suits; others wore blue jeans and t-shirts. There were men and women from the East in colorful robes. All were served scrumptious meals and water – as much as anyone wanted. The servers were pleasant, kind and courteous. People of different cultures, faiths and clothing came together in love, with open minds, receptive hearts and smiling faces. It was truly what the culture of the 1960s might call “A Love In.” Peace, love and food – that was the experience (not to mention clean shoes!).
This is the impression that stayed with me: One could talk about peace, diversity and understanding. There were fantastic speakers, programs and performances, but in the communal meal, lovingly served without being for a donation, we experienced what was the best of interfaith. Hungry people were fed. Diversity was honored. People were happy and were filled with love and nutritious food.
What remains with me is the conversations I had with attendees at the end of the Parliament. Yes, we loved the venue on the coast of Spain. We loved the city of Barcelona. We loved the gatherings. And what I heard most from the fellow-attendees was the langar. People prepared and served the food. Participants ate, met, mingled with others and were filled. It was a palpable example of peace and loving service in action. Five years before the Barcelona Parliament, I had gone to Cape Town by myself. I came home aglow with love and appreciation for all faiths. I really wanted my wife to have a similar experience. I went to my denomination’s headquarters to plead with them to have a large presence in Barcelona. They did and I was proud of them. It is one thing to talk a good talk, but the Sikhs walked their talk.
Someone has said, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” What I saw was people serving one another and loving one another. I was honored to participate. I am grateful to have the opportunity to share my reminiscences. Diverse cultures and religions, good food and humble servant leadership — what could be better? I can’t think of one thing!
Reverend John Strickland attended seminary at Unity School of Christianity, Unity Village, MO. In 1999, Rev. Strickland’s representation at Unity’s delegate to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa marked a strong interfaith commitment. By 2003, Rev. John received the Light of God Expressing Award, the highest honor within Unity, at the Annual Minister’s Conference in Kansas City. During December of 2009, he led a contingent of Unity members to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. At present, Rev. Strickland resides and serves in the Atlanta, GA region.
Global Interfaith Movement Acts for Kansas on Holy Weekend
We, the global interfaith community, cherish the principle of shared humanity and champion the Golden Rule as the guiding principle of each of the world’s great spiritual and religious communities. We unite as neighbors in our call for harmony, compassion, and peaceful relationships everywhere.
Sunday’s tragic hate shootings in the Kansas City area urgently signal why interfaith cooperation must become stronger to ensure all people are exposed to the beautiful lessons we learn from each other in diverse communities.
We invite all people to join with the United Religions Initiative (URI) and the Parliament of the World’s Religions in coming together to amplify action for peace:
“The hearts and prayers of our interfaith and inter-cultural family go out to those affected by this terrible tragedy,” said the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., Executive Director of URI. “Around the world, we affirm our promise to cultivate peace in the midst of difference, to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, and to show love in the face of hate. May peace and healing find those shaken by this loss.”
Dr. Mary Nelson, Executive Director of the Parliament concurs, “in the face of violence and hate, we people of spirit and faith are challenged to proactively reach out in love and reconciliation. Now is the time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
From Thursday April 17 through Sunday, April 20, we call for #LoveAlert messages to spread the goodness of interfaith cooperation around the world.
Please post photos and messages of solidarity for Kansas City, and for all communities enduring hate.
On Sunday April 20, join us in supporting the Greater Kansas City area by participating in the GLOBAL PRAYER FOR COMMUNITY PEACE.
Ways to observe your solidarity include: Fasting, lighting candles, and inviting your neighbors to your interfaith community events.
Use our tools to overcome hate! The Parliament’s Faiths Against Hate webinars train interfaith advocates and URI’s Talking Back to Hate campaign’s toolbox is full of effective best practices in a variety of materials.
Interfaith cooperation is happening; we as partners in the movement for peace affirm that deep interfaith relationships bring everyone closer together to overcome fear and embrace others as neighbors.
By bravely speaking out and acting together, we at the Parliament and URI invite all to work with us to correct injustice and make peace possible for all.
by Imam Abdullah T. Antepli
I’m one of only 11 full-time Muslim chaplains on a U.S. university campus, serving at Duke University. It’s the only place I know where it’s kosher and halal to pray for “the Devils.” If one looks for an overarching identity where political, sectarian and religious differences disappear, look toward college basketball. Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are a piece of cake. But the Duke-UNC rivalry, there is no hope.
Unfortunately, the future of Judaism and Islam on American college campuses is not a sports rivalry where it’s trophies that are at stake. I see urgency around Jewish-Muslim relations in general, and in particular on college campuses in the United States.
I have great admiration for leaders like Pope John Paul II and John XXIII – these men moved mountains in repairing Christian-Jewish relations. Christian anti-Semitism took its theological strength from core teachings of Christianity. Unlike Christian anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in the Muslim world isn’t rooted in Islamic theology and was never fed through core Islamic teachings.
But as anti-Semitism grows in the Muslim world, fueled by political problems in the Middle East, Muslim anti-Semitism is taking root as people turn to Muslim theology to try to find scripture and history that provides religious legitimacy for despicable hate messages.
I know, because I am one of the victims of that anti-Semitism. I’m often asked, “Why are you so obsessed with Jews? Why are you so tirelessly trying to improve Jewish-Muslim relations?” Growing up in Turkey, the first book that I read about Jews and Judaism was at the age of 12 or 13 — a children’s version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was very sophisticated propaganda that put modern pictures of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities atop verses from the Torah and other Jewish teachings, in an attempt to prove the inherent evil of Judaism.. Not every single Muslim is born and raised as an anti-Semite. But it’s not uncommon.
I spent a number of years believing that something is innately, irredeemably wrong about Jews and Judaism. But believing in a God of love and God of mercy and compassion, I was able to go through a life journey that removed that poison from my system. I still consider myself a recovering anti-Semite because old habits die hard and modern challenges keep scratching the old wounds.
Rising bigotry is not unique nor is it one-way. Islamaphobia among the Jewish community is increasing, too, poisoning many Jewish hearts and minds and taking deep root here in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.
As Muslims and Jews, we have every reason to be worried about the future of our religions. Vis-à-vis Jewish-Muslim relations, we have every reason to do all that we can to build bridges between our communities. As Jews and Muslims it is in our self-interest.
I see the 20th century as the time when world Jewry came to terms and reconciled with Christianity. I see the 21st century as the time Jews and Judaism can come to terms and reconcile with the global Muslim community.
That brings a moral imperative to America’s shores. Yes, anti-Semitism may be poisoning Muslims around the world and it’s changing us for the worse. But it is American Muslims and American Jews who must model what the 21st century will look like. We live in a country with influence and civil liberties; on college campuses in particular, Jews and Muslims have the room to exemplify a fruitful Jewish-Muslim engagement for the rest of the U.S., world Jewry, and the Ummah, the Muslim world.
An important place to start is to diversify our sources of information about each other. I invite you to consider, when does Islam as a religion and Muslims as people come to your attention? Or when do Jews, Judaism and Israel come to Muslim attention?
When it comes to information on college campuses, we have to stop inviting fringe speakers who only serve to firm up extremist images of the other. There also needs to be bilateral Jewish-Muslim conversation. Interreligious sharing is wonderful, but Jews and Muslims share similarities, a common history, as well as similar theological and judicial foundations. Bi-lateral discussions, especially on U.S. college campuses, are a must if we are to be an urgently needed light for the world.
A Voice from Sinai is calling on American Jews and American Muslims, “If there’s going to be any reconciliation, any coming to terms, it will be you. You will exemplify this to the rest of the world.”
Imam Abdullah T. Antepli is this year’s Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue honorary lecturer; this commentary is distilled from that lecture. The JP II Center is located at The Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City hosted this year’s lecture. Educated in his native Turkey, Imam Antepli is an international leader in Muslim-Jewish dialogue.
By Kathe Schaaf and Kay Lindahl for The Interfaith Observer
We can’t help but notice that the world seems to have suddenly ‘discovered’ the value of women. After thousands of years living in the shadow of the masculine, after being pushed into the margins of power and leadership, after being silenced in every cultural institution – including most of the major world religions – the media today is full of messages that it is time to listen to women’s wisdom.
Women’s leadership styles are being acknowledged widely in diverse segments of the global media:
- Research articles from the field of neuroscience suggest that women’s brains do indeed work differently than men’s, giving us more capacity for the kind of functions required to address the complex issues facing our planet: multi-tasking, integration, cooperation, and contextual thinking.
- A headline during the recent budget impasse in the U.S. Congress declared “Women Lead While Men Bicker.”
- Micro-lending programs in Africa and Asia frequently identify women as key to their success; not only are women more marginalized in poor countries but they are also more likely to make decisions that will benefit both family and community.
- Even the world of religion has begun to acknowledge the importance of women’s voices and leadership. Pope Francis recently called for a “more incisive female presence” and a broader application of “feminine genius” in the life of the Church.
- Sojourners recently launched a Campaign for Women and Girls that supports the equality of women in ways that are both practical and theological. The cover of their January 2014 Sojourners magazine boldly states, “Twisted Theology: Churches that still treat women as inferior are distorting the image of God.”
The Divine Feminine Rising
While all of this sudden attention on women, leadership, and feminine spirituality is exciting, it is important to pause a moment and listen deeply for the heartbeat of the Divine Feminine guiding, informing, and inspiring this complex global movement. The Divine Feminine is indeed rising, despite all the jagged history which repressed Her and despite the reality that women have been offered little legitimate space in which to practice feminine ways of being and doing. She rises in individual women and in the thousands of organizations they have created around the world. She rises as women struggle to bring a different style of leadership – and a new matrix of assumptions and values – to the institutions, initiatives, and corporations which shape our culture. And many believe She rises now on behalf of this troubled planet.
Kathe Schaaf is a Trustee Emeritus of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women of Spirit and Faith. Kay Lindahl is on the Ambassador Advisory Committee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and Co-Founder of Women and Spirit and Faith
The following is a synopsis of the Greeley lecture on peace and justice given by Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana at the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard University on February 3, 2014. This lecture is a precursor to SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry (June 23-26, DePaul University, Chicago) which will address the theme: Together, Building a Just Economy. Rev. Dr. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) , and a Board Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
The unimaginable level of income inequality has become a serious public conversation and scholarly inquiry. President Obama has addressed it several times over the past couple of months, including in the recent State of the Union speech. The week before that, when some 2,500 participants from business, government, academia and civil society convened in Davos, they considered the Global Risks 2014 report which points out that this massive income gap is the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage to the global economy in the coming decade.
Immediately prior to the Davos meeting, Oxfam, the international organization that addresses issues of hunger, poverty and economic justice around the world, in its report said that the world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, over 3.5 billion people. In other words, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million people. These are incredible numbers. In his message, Pope Francis urged those who gathered at Davos to promote inclusive prosperity. “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said.
Last November Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel, where he connects evangelization with a strong critique of consumerism. In a section entitled “No to the new idolatry of money,” he points to its causality: one cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, he says, “we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The worship of the ancient golden calf,” he goes on, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Human beings are reduced to one of their needs alone, he says, and that is “consumption.”
The rise of plutocracy, where the super-rich increasingly control the political and economic processes that leave everyone else out is already a serious global problem. My concern is that in the United States we may be reaching a tipping point where laws such as Citizens United and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, both driven by big corporate interests, will tilt the playing field in favor of the super-rich for a long time to come. I believe that this is caused by greed, which – in both its individual and structural manifestations — is a spiritual problem.
This position was affirmed by an advisory body of the World Council of Churches, the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) when it met in March 2009, in Matanzas, Cuba, about six months after the global financial crisis hit. Its working group on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation made three important affirmations.
First, they identified the cause of the crisis as unbridled greed, and declared it as a form of violence. “[T]he accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which, on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us.”
In offering the provocative comment “greed is a form of violence,” the CCIA is connecting a word—violence— which it knows evokes a sense of strong condemnation, with a word that it believes is equally condemnable –greed, and advocating as robust a reflection on greed as the churches have had on violence. Indeed, churches, like other institutions caught up in systems of structural greed, find its reflection on greed muted, and its advocacy on behalf of economic justice compromised. A “greed is good” doctrine, popularized by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, and daily and forcefully asserted by some Fox News and CNBC commentators, as well as proponents of prosperity theologies, therefore goes largely unchallenged.
While many religions address greed, it is important to recognize that today’s structural greed is almost unprecedented. A new robust and self-critical reflection that pertains to today’s realities, by all religious authorities, I suggest, is therefore urgent.
The WCC has engaged such a process over the past several years. Its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has engaged economists and theologians in dialogues that have now resulted in a proposal for a new financial architecture released in Sao Paulo, in October 2012. One interesting feature of this is the inclusion of a “Greed Line.” If there’s a poverty line below which a person can be said to be in poverty, there must be greed line, above which a person can be said to be greedy!
Second, they recognized greed as a spiritual problem requiring spiritual interventions. Christianity alone does not have the resources to address this problem, they said, and affirmed that religions over centuries have deeply reflected on the question of greed and have significant wisdom to offer. They specifically identified Buddhism as having a sophisticated reflection on greed and its disastrous consequences, about the value of simplicity for the lay community of disciples, and renunciation and voluntary poverty for the monastic community.
Affirming the value of having its internal reflections lead to interreligious engagement, the WCC together with the Lutheran World Federation convened a Buddhist-Christian consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2010. Buddhists from several countries and a variety of traditions engaged with Christians from a variety of traditions in a consultation entitled “Buddhists and Christians engaging structural greed.” The resulting statement, “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed” has helped to move Christian and Buddhist communities to deeper common reflection and action.
Third, it identifies the need to listen to the voices of the poor. “We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us.” We who gather around theological tables, religious leaders and scholars, because of our social standing as educated, middle class elite, do not have access to the conversations that are going on among those who are poor in our communities.
This is a difficult but critical question. Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, in a 1980 Christian Century article entitled “Theology: What Is It? Who Does It? How Is It Done?” addressed this question. The elitism is understandable, says Cox, given that the minimal conditions for doing theology include the ability to read and write, familiarity with the received tradition of concepts and categories, sufficient leisure to reflect on these, and the power to get one’s ideas published or otherwise heard. Are theologians prepared to take the next step, he asks, beyond the self-critical awareness we now have, for example, of how the rhetorical conventions and cultural symbols of any period shape even its most original theology, to a recognition of how the pervasive ideology of the dominant class influences the theology it produces?
So, how do you dialogue with those who are poor? One of my mentors, Aloysius Pieris, offers us an insight from his Sri Lankan context. In Asian Theology of Liberation  he insists that an authentic Sri Lankan theology must undergo a double baptism, in the Jordan of its religious diversity, and the cross of its grinding poverty. These two axes of religious diversity and poverty are basic facts of the Sri Lankan context. Dialogue, he says, is more than an academic exercise done in religious seminars organized and financed by western agencies, by people who do not have their feet on the ground. It is not an abstract concern, but a daily existential experience; never merely an intellectual exercise, it is a moral commitment. Pieris’ analysis suggests that if we want to engage in dialogue we need to incarnate ourselves in the context. Not only does it require a double baptism of immersion, it requires us to engage core-to-core with the other religious partners.
The question, however, is even more complex. There is plenty of dialogue that goes on in poor communities. Poor Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions often live in the same communities, share each other’s concerns and needs, and reflect with each other about their fortunes and misfortunes and the ultimate meanings of day to day events. The difficulty for us middle class theologians and dialogicians is that we have no access to that conversation. Many difficulties, including those of communication and building trust become serious obstacles when we try to listen to that dialogue.
So, is there any hope for theology or interreligious dialogue? According to Pieris, there is no alternative but to engage in voluntary poverty, which for religious people, he reminds us, is a positive value. We must struggle against forced poverty, but voluntary poverty is a spiritual calling we must embrace. Some of the greatest saints and revered gurus in religious traditions, he reminds us, were people who renounced worldly comforts and pleasures. Some entered the monastic life, others such as Gandhi, became engaged in issues of social justice.
For those of us in religious leadership or theological academia, who assumed that theology can be done in the comfort of the seminary and its library, this is a problem. Indeed, for most of us, whose perceptions are colored by the dominant economic ethos, and where the desire to reach higher in the economic ladder is the positive value, voluntary poverty does not make sense. Therefore, Pieris asserts that it is simply not possible for people with such a middle class mindset to really understand and appreciate those who are poor, and recommends that those who engage in the disciplines of theology and of interreligious dialogue undergo a conversion, and undertake the baptism of voluntary poverty themselves.
This is what SCUPE does. We put our students into the streets of the city, to its local communities, to areas of concentrated poverty, where we teach our students to listen to the questions, struggles and stories of pain and laughter. We bring those questions together, subject them to deeper analysis, and then ask what scripture and tradition have to say about these questions. Indeed, in the margins our students have seen dialogue burst into argument, controversy and creativity. There, it never stays a mere dialogue, but moves quickly to action. At the margins people are conscientized, they strategize, organize and move in to light a fire under their leaders. Indeed, when religious or political leaders do not have the courage to do the right thing, it is the organized people at the grassroots who are able to hold them accountable.
A useful hermeneutical key to this conundrum was offered in November 2013, at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued a new statement on mission entitled Together Towards Life, which turned all previous understandings of mission on its head. “Mission from the margins invites the church to reimagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where fullness of life is available to all,” it declared. In other words, mission is not to those who are a poor as we always thought, rather, mission is from those who are poor and marginalized to those at the
This is a profound statement. Those of us at the privileged center, the theologians, the religious leaders, the pastors and teachers, the middle class elite, are the very ones that need to be missionized. It says to us powerfully that those who are hungry today have something important to teach us about economic justice, about life and its meaning, and about the importance of sharing and community. Those who are working two or three jobs at minimum wage and have kids to take care of at home also have something important to teach us about faith, because at the end of the day they still have strength left to say their evening prayers with the kids. Those who are suffering climate catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines have something important to teach us about climate justice and about life’s fragility and resilience. When we are able to deeply comprehend that, we will discover that our questions are different, our answers are different, and more than anything else, our attitude towards life and our lifestyle will be different.
What happened in 2008 was a result of unbridled structural greed. It was violence that was perpetrated against massive numbers of people around the world. But the religious communities’ voice was muted. We were conflicted because we too participate in that structural greed. Given today’s context it is critical that the religious communities’ voices be powerful and resilient. But in order for that to be so, we must allow those in the margins to teach us, missionize us, and indeed, convert us.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
 Martin Sinaga (ed.) A Common Word: Buddhists and Christians Engage Structural Greed (Lutheran University Press, 2012)
 Aloysius Pieris, Asian Theology of Liberation (T&T Clark, 1988, 86)
Suzanne Morgan, Ambassador of Sacred Spaces of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions invites you to share with the Downtown Chicago faith communities of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Sharing Sacred Spaces project as they present an interreligious community building program entitled “Sharing Sacred Text: Messages of Peace and Non-Violence.” The gathering will be held on February 16 at the Buchanan Chapel of Fourth Presbyterian Church. 126 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago.
This synopsis of the Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis was composed by Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Leo D. Lefebure. Part 1 emphasizes the mission of the Catholic Church in the world, and Lefebure explores Pope Francis’ stance on Interreligious Relations in part 2.
This week, Time Magazine announced its selection of Pope Francis as the Man of the Year for 2013, commenting: “Rarely has a new player on the world stage captured so much attention so quickly—young and old, faithful and cynical—as has Pope Francis.
In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” (Read more: The Choice: Nancy Gibbs on Why Pope Francis Is TIME’s Person of the Year 2013 | TIME.com)
Earlier, on Nov. 24, 2013, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, the first of his Pontificate, and the first major statement of his program. The great theme of Pope Francis is expressed in the title: Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. For Francis, this is the central Christian response to God’s coming into our lives. In the Catholic tradition, popes regularly promulgate an Apostolic Exhortation in the wake of a particular Synod of Bishops; but rarely if ever has an Apostolic Exhortation aroused the type of interest, both positive and negative, that The Joy of the Gospel has evoked.
I. The Mission of the Church in the World
Despite the overarching tone of joy, Pope Francis has grave concerns about the world today. At the beginning of the Apostolic Exhortation, he sets forth a stark warning:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades (#2).
Francis laments that too often Christians do not witness to the joy and beauty of the Gospel. He calls for Christians to witness to the Gospel not by proselytization but rather by attraction through living lives of joy and beauty (#15). He endorses the “way of beauty” (#167). Francis warns: “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (#6). While he is aware of the difficult times in all lives, he trusts: “Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” (#6). The ancient prophet Zephanaiah promised that God will rejoice over us as at a festival, and so Pope Francis tells us evangelizers should not look like they are coming from a funeral!
The basis of the mission is the love of God that comes to Christians a sheer gift and offers us friendship with God, who brings us beyond ourselves, frees us from our narrowness and self-absorption. Francis invokes the ancient principle: “Goodness tends to spread” (9). He quotes from the document issued by the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, which he had a major role in drafting: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others” (#10).
Francis calls Christians to reach out to everyone without exclusion, stressing what is beautiful, grand, appealing, and most necessary (#35). He recalls that Thomas Aquinas taught that mercy is the greatest of all virtues and should be at the center of the presentation of the Gospel (#37). Francis calls Christians to be like the Prodigal Father in the parable (#46). He tells us that “the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is room for everyone, with all their problems” (#47).
Francis affirms that the Church has a mission to all, especially to the poor. Francis repeats to all of us what he used to tell the priests and people of Buenos Aires: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (#49). He notes that the call of Jesus echoes through the centuries to us:
“Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37; #49).
Francis also reflects on the economic structures that perpetuate poverty. He questions why we worry more about the stock market going down by a few points than about the poor who die on the streets. He recalls the commandment not to kill as a call to safeguard the value of all human life. Francis applies this commandment against an economy of exclusion and inequality, stating: “Such an economy kills” (#53). He questions: “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown out while people are starving?” (#53) He warns against the globalization of indifference and the idolatry of money as a new golden calf (##54, 55). Francis sets forth the basic principle: “Money must serve, not rule!” (#58)
Despite the stern warnings against these and other dangers, Francis rejects pessimism, recalling the words of Pope John XXIII in opening the Second Vatican Council in October 1962, looking beyond the predictions of gloom to the hope: “In our times, divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations” (#84). It is this hopeful note of confidence in God’s grace that shapes Francis’s message.
Francis reflects on the implications of the Incarnation: “The Son of God, by becoming flesh, summoned us to the revolution of tenderness” (#88). Francis stresses the dignity of baptism as the foundation of Christian identity and the mission of lay people in transforming the world (##102-104). He calls on all Christians to “listen to young people and the elderly. Both represent a source of hope for every people. The elderly bring with them memory and the wisdom of experience, which warns us not to foolishly repeat our past mistakes. Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new direction for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today’s world” (#108).
II. Interreligious Relations
Pope Francis situates the mission of the Church in the context of fostering respectful and friendly relations with other religious traditions. He affirms the special bond between Christians and the Jewish people because of our common heritage: “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’” (Rom. 11:29; #247). He deplores the past hostility in this relationship: “The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians” (#248).
Pope Francis strongly supports interreligious initiatives in the context of seeking peace and the flourishing of life for all: “An attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterize the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions. . . . Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities” (250). Francis endorses the interreligious attitude commended by the Catholic bishops of India of “being open to them, sharing their joys and sorrows” (#250). Francis explains the hoped-for result of such an attitude of openness: “In this way we learn to accept others and their different ways of living, thinking and speaking. We can then join one another in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation” (#250).
Francis stresses the importance and the transformative power of listening: “Efforts made in dealing with a specific theme can become a process in which, by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched. These efforts, therefore, can also express love for truth” (#250). Francis is aware of the important differences among various religious traditions and does not wish to ignore or minimize them: “A facile syncretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters. True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being ‘open to understanding those of the other party’ and ‘knowing that dialogue can enrich each side’” (#250; quoting Pope John Paul II). Regarding how to handle the disagreements among different religious traditions, Francis stresses honesty, mutual respect, and trust.
Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of good relationships between Christians and Muslims: “We Christians should embrace with affection and respect Muslim immigrants to our countries in the same way that we hope and ask to be received and respected in countries of Islamic tradition” (#253). Francis acknowledges the difficulties in relations in many settings and advises: “Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalizations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (#253).
According to Pope Francis, the grace of God that Christians experience in Jesus Christ can nurture and shape the lives of followers of other religious paths as well. Christians do not have a monopoly on grace and can learn from other traditions: “The same Spirit everywhere brings forth various forms of practical wisdom which help people to bear suffering and to live in greater peace and harmony. As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (#254).
Francis also reaches out to those who do not belong to any particular religious tradition: “As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we “believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation” (#257). Francis trusts that reflection on ethics, art, and science and about the human search for transcendence can serve as “a path to peace in our troubled world” (257).
Despite all the difficulties facing the global community, Francis encourages us:
“Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment” (#109).
He closes the Apostolic Exhortation with a prayer to Mary:
“Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
That the gift of unfading beauty
May reach every man and woman” (#288).
About Author Dr. Leo D. Lefebure:
Leo D. Lefebure is the Matteo Ricci, S.J., Professor of Theology at Georgetown University and a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He is the author of four books, including Revelation, the Religions, and Violence and The Buddha and the Christ. His next book will be Following the Path of Wisdom: a Christian Commentary on the Dhammapada, which is co-authored with Peter Feldmeier. He is an honorary research fellow of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
As Mayor and on behalf of the City of Chicago, I am pleased to welcome all of those gathered for both the 120th & 20th anniversary celebrations for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
It is truly exciting to know what an important role Chicago has played in the 120 years since the inaugural Parliament of the World’s Religions was held here, and then 20 years ago in the second – the 1993 Parliament. The 1893 Chicago Parliament opened the door for the interreligious movement and that event brought together thousands of people from all over the world. It marked a pivotal moment for many different religions and spiritual communities from the east and west coming together around a common commitment to justice and peace.
In 1993, the second Parliament introduced a Global Ethics Initiative that maintains a vision of people living peacefully together and sharing responsibility for the care of the earth while identifying the common commitments that come out of different belief traditions. In Chicago, we know there’s a need for this important work. When religious and spiritual communities combine their strengths and commitments, a more just, peaceful and sustainable world is the result.
These special anniversary celebrations and benefits represent an ongoing commitment to thoughtful, enduring work. The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions not only unites people of spirit and faith to engage with the issues of our time, but also mobilizes efforts to combat bias and hate. I offer heartfelt congratulations on this auspicious occasion and recognize all of those
I am confident that Chicago will continue to be a central meeting place for the Council for a
Parliament of the World’s Religions. Best wishes for much continued success.