Bishop defends Pope Francis in the dialogue between religions

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The Archbishop of Vasai supports the ‘Document on Human Fraternity’ signed in Abu Dhabi. Asserting the importance of dialogue between religions “does not mean renouncing one’s own identity”. Pope Francis “is not changing any Catholic doctrine”. At the same time, “The encounter with the religious other is an undeniable reality and it is important to insist on listening to the experience of the other.”


Vasai (AsiaNews) – “I support 100% Pope Francis,” says Mgr Felix Machado, Archbishop of Vasai, speaking about the controversy sparked by the ‘Document on Human Brotherhood’ the pontiff and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Muhammad al-Tayyeb, signed in Abu Dhabi. The reference is to the idea that “pluralism and diversity of religions are willed by God.”

For the archbishop, this is fully part of the “Catholic context of dialogue”. Pope Francis, notes Mgr Machado, maintains that “dialogue does not mean renouncing one’s own identity ” or compromising on “Christian faith and morals”. His reflection follows.

I am 100% behind Pope Francis and support wholeheartedly this peace declaration on ‘Human Fraternity’, signed by Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam, in February this year.

The point is that we cannot simply take a statement out of context and judge the whole document. The whole document is written by two partners of two fundamentally different religions. There is no attempt to bring the two religions together in any way. The goal is getting together, transcending the differences and commit to action to better the violent, terror-filled and destructive elements in society and the world at large.

This is urgent. We enter into dialogue jumping from the launching pad of our respective beliefs. But we have to meet, talk, listen, become determined to commit together (each rooted in his own belief) and undertake action to change the situation. This is a challenge and the Pope leads everyone to face this challenge. He remains who he is – the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman Church.

Firstly, this path-breaking document was signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Mosque, and is a document on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations. The Church receives its mandate to engage in dialogue with Muslims from the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate.

The statement that pluralism and diversity of religions are willed by God in his wisdom must understood in the Catholic context of dialogue.

On the flight back to Rome, the Holy Father said, “I want to restate this clearly: from the Catholic point of view, the document does not deviate one millimetre from Vatican II.”

The document is a process of dialogue as the Church has taught us to dialogue. Pope Francis in his address to the PCID said that “dialogue does not mean renouncing one’s own identity” nor accepting compromises on “Christian faith and morals.”

As Chairperson of the Asian Bishop’s Interreligious commission, I whole-heartedly support Pope Francis and also reassert our robust commitment to interreligious dialogue.

To encourage every Catholic to engage in dialogue the Church has identified four forms of dialogue: dialogue of life, dialogue of deeds/action/collaboration, dialogue of discussion/reflection/clarification about one another’s core teachings and dialogue of religious experience of the partners involved in dialogue.

The document on “Human Fraternity”, which the Pope signed, could be said to cover all these four forms.

The statement which disturbs some should be read within this context. The Pope is one of the two signatories; the other is a Muslim Leader. The two partners who are engaged in dialogue are still pursuing dialogue and many points in the documents will be clarified as the process goes on.

Nostra Aetate, the council document on the Church’s relationship with other religions, affirmed: “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.”

Proclaiming the Church’s “esteem” for Muslims, the council noted that “they adore the one God” and strive to submit to his will. “Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion.”

I am very happy that the Pope is courageous in engaging himself in the process of dialogue and wants to achieve the aim of all our dialogue: respect and building up of peace in our society and in the world. The Pope is not changing any Catholic doctrine. He must respect his partner in dialogue and allow him to also state his respective belief. As we proceed our Christian faith will be affirmed. But, respecting the dynamics of dialogue, we should allow our partner to state what he/she believes. This is how mutual trust is built up.

Here is an example of what the Pope wants to achieve: “It is important to remember that without the liberty of expression, the world is in danger; it is imperative to oppose all hatred and all form of violence which destroys human life, violates the dignity of persons, radically undermines the fundamental good of peaceful coexistence among persons and peoples, across differences of nationality, religion and culture. Those responsible of religious traditions are called to always promote a culture of peace and hope, capable of overcoming the fear of building bridges between people. Interreligious dialogue remains the only way to forge ahead in order to dissipate prejudices” (Pope Francis to Muslims on the occasion of the sad Charlie Hebdo incident in Paris).

It is true that the above-mentioned statement which disturbs some is not the doctrine of the Catholic Church. And the Pope is certainly aware of this. The statement, which is signed by the partners of two religions, must also be about dialogue, i.e. to speak and listen to each other. The Muslims do quote the Qu ‘ran stating that if Allah wanted, he could have created only one religion, but …

I do believe that we should never compromise on the fundamental teaching of one’s own religion. However, the dynamics of dialogue have to be pursued.

The Second Vatican Council had already declared: “We cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people in other than brotherly fashion, for all men (and women) are created in God’s image” (Nostra Aetate, n. 5).

In our own Indian situation, where Christians are a miniscule minority, and we live in a multi religious pluralistic society, similar issues arise with we enter in dialogue with our Hindu partners. The religious dimension of human life intersects with political, economic, and environmental concerns. This calls us to pay increased attention to religious difference, to evaluate its positive impacts and potential as well as the challenges and possible threats it presents to many people. The encounter with the religious other is an undeniable reality and it is important to insist on listening to the experience of the other. Importantly, the “dialogue of experience” is now being understood to include not only specifically spiritual experience, but other facets of human existence too, especially about the experience of the marginalised and powerless.

The Document on Human fraternity is not a doctrine, and in the dialogue of experts, specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spirituality. However, just quoting doctrines does not solve problems. We must share these with our partners and explain what we believe. But all this is to be done in dynamics of dialogue where respect for the other and peace in society is important.

Peace becomes rooted and peace spreads when people of different religions commit themselves to – on their own and/or working together, if possible – the elderly, the emigrants, disadvantaged, the poor, the homeless et al.

The Pope is doing this courageously because he is concerned about the violent situation of the world. The Church has made an irreversible option for dialogue. The Pope is putting that into practice.

*Archbishop of Vasai

 

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Signing of the ‘Document on Human Brotherhood’ by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Muhammad al-Tayyeb, signed in Abu Dhabi.

 

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