Why Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu Leaders Have High Hopes for Pope Francis

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The Yes! Magazine interviewed me, and part of the interview is published in the article below, and the rest of the interview follows the article.  This particular blog is exclusively my writings  however when others write about me, it is included here.

URL –http://theghousediary.blogspot.com/2013/04/why-jewish-muslim-and-hindu-leaders.html

Mike Ghouse
 Why Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu Leaders Have High Hopes for Pope Francis
Leaders from many faiths are expecting better relations with the Vatican under Pope Francis. Here YES! speaks to some of them about why that is.
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As the Catholic Church enters a new era of leadership under Pope Francis I, religious organizations around the world have congratulated and welcomed the new pope, hoping for a new era of interfaith cooperation. Several were willing to offer advice to both Pope Francis and the Catholic faithful that, if followed, could let Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and others better work together for a more peaceful world.

Pope Francis follows one of the most conservative and contentious popes in recent memory in respect to interfaith relations, and he may have his work cut out for him restoring the trust and mutual respect compromised by Pope Benedict XVI’s lack of tact toward Judaism, Islam, and Native American religions.

In 2006, Benedict gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor, saying, “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Benedict later explained the quote was for the purposes of the lecture and not his personal opinion. In 2007, Benedict lifted restrictions on the Tridentine Mass—a Latin liturgy banned by the Second Vatican Council that calls in part for the conversion of Jews to Christianity and an end to what it calls Jewish spiritual “blindness.” Also in 2007, Benedict claimed in an address to the Brazilian people that the Native Americans “silently longed” for Christianity, causing another storm of indignation and disappointment.

Pope Francis follows one of the most conservative and contentious popes in recent memory.

“Pope Francis can certainly repair the damage,” said Mike Ghouse, a spokesperson for the World Muslim Congress in Dallas, Texas. By distancing the modern church from the destructive closed-mindedness of the past and admitting wrongs “in the humility of Jesus,” Francis can help restore the relationship between Christians and Muslims, according to Ghouse.

Already, Pope Francis has displayed such humility. Last Thursday, he visited a jail in Rome where he washed the feet of prisoners, including a female Muslim convict. This marks a notable break with tradition, as Muslims are not typically included in clerical foot-washing ceremonies.

As far as Ghouse is concerned, both Christianity and Islam “focus on serving mankind, [and] treating others as you want to be treated” regardless of theological differences, and any violent conflict between the two is “politics” as a “byproduct of fear and insecurity.”

Ghouse, also president of the Foundation for Pluralism, believes the pope has the power to bring faiths together in order to achieve practical goals as well.

“Pope Francis can call on Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, and others to jointly serve,” Ghouse said. “Eventually the feeling of doing good things will minimize the conflicts to the back burner, and people will learn to respect the otherness of others without having to agree.”

Pope Francis might be especially suited to changing education and practice, thanks to his career with the Jesuit clerical order

The Hindu American Foundation represents an inherently pluralistic faith and hopes that Pope Francis will reaffirm the church’s past commitments to respecting varieties of doctrine and celebrating similar values.

“Foundation leaders expressed hope that the Catholic Church, under Pope Francis I, as he will be called, will respect and privilege pluralism and interfaith relations, based on earlier efforts with Nostra Aetate,” the foundation said in a press release.

The Nostra Aetate is a proclamation, made by Pope Paul VI in 1965, that defines the Catholic Church’s relationship with non-Catholic religions. “[The church] considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship,” the Nostra Aetate says. It continues:

    The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [non-Catholic 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.

Despite this official recognition of truth in other faiths, the Hindu American Foundation is concerned the Nostra Aetate doesn’t go far enough. According to Padma Kupta, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, Catholicism as a whole needs to better understand religious pluralism and the effect evangelism has on pluralistic faiths if Catholics are to mend damaged relationships.

“Whenever a faith has a mission of conversion, that’s something that needs to be examined,” Kupta said, referring to what she called “predatory proselytizing”—everything from social pressure to conform to forceful conversions throughout Western history—on the part of Catholics. Kupta encouraged the church and its leaders to be conscious of the impact these practices had and have on non-Catholics throughout the world.

“People will learn to respect the otherness of others without having to agree.”

The American Jewish Committee, an organization devoted to global Jewish advocacy, is confident in Pope Francis’ ability to strengthen interfaith dialogue and collaboration, especially with the Jewish faith and community. “There has never been a pope who has had so much personal experience, engagement, and involvement with a contemporary Jewish community as Pope Francis,” said Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Interreligious Affairs for the committee and one of few non-Catholics to be awarded the title of Papal Knight.
Considering the new pope’s immediate gestures of goodwill to Jewish and other faith communities, including letters and invitations to inaugural ceremonies, Rosen finds it easy to be confident in strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations.

When it comes to any “unfinished business” between the faiths, Rosen said, “The major challenge is an educational challenge.” Despite a massive shift in church culture over the past several decades, from discriminating against Jews to embracing Judaism as the theological root of Christianity, “there are many places in the world where…Jews do not appear on the Catholic ‘radar screen’ and places where even bishops don’t know the content of the Nostra Aetate,” Rosen said. Pope Francis’ decades working with Jewish communities could provide a greater shift toward universal Catholic understanding of Judaism.

Pope Francis might be especially suited to changing education and practice within the wide variety of Catholic faithful, thanks to his career with the Jesuit clerical order, a catholic order known for their 16th to 18th century evangelism in Asia and the Americas. “The Jesuits had some issues with the Vatican over questions of local adaptation of Catholic rites,” said Dr. Jose Bento da Silva, a professor at Warwick University and author of the upcoming book The Government of the Society of Jesus.

“Pope Francis I is not only a former member of an organization that knows several practices need to be adapted; he himself is quite a multinational figure.” Francis was born to Italian parents in Argentina, where he was raised and served as Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio before being elected pope.

Regardless of past insensitivities, tensions, and ignorance between the Catholic Church and other faiths, all agree that “what’s done is done,” Kupta said. “What we need to do is focus on the future.”

URL – http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/why-jewish-muslim-hindu-leaders-have-high-hopes-pope-francis

Chris Francis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Chris is a recent graduate from Illinois Wesleyan University where he studied English literature and religion while working as managing editor and editor-in-chief of IWU’s student newspaper, The Argus.


 My full interview was as follows:

1.    Given the long history of conflict between Christians and Muslims and the current world in which Western Christian culture tends to be especially fearful of Islam, what sort of actions or gestures can the new pope make that would be most effective at encouraging reconciliation between Christians and Muslims?

The foundation for the conflict between Muslims and Christians is genuine and is irreconcilable, but not out of the realm of solutions. The crux of the problem is God himself and how he is viewed in both traditions. The issue is the Holy Trinity V Tauheed (monotheism).

Politics is a byproduct of fear and insecurity. When Muslims outnumbered Christians through conversions in the 10th century Syria, the Christians legitimately feared the possibility of Muslim fanatics making their life difficult, although that was not the case at that time. However, to keep the Christians within the fold, a pastor in 957 AD declared that “Quran was a false book written by a false prophet” – those words continue to reverberate in halls of Christian corridors even today. 
Muslims’ strongly believe in Quran; 112:3 
لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ    (Asad) “He (God) begets not, and neither is He begotten;” and the unforgivable sin for a Muslim is to associate any one with God as his deputy, assistant or a partner. The idea is articulated in many verses including  is 31:13 (Asad) And, lo, Luqman spoke thus unto his son, admonishing him: “O my dear son! Do not ascribe divine powers to aught beside God: for, behold, such [a false] ascribing of divinity is indeed an awesome wrong!”

The above completely goes against the doctrine of trinity, Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who exists together as a communion of three persons.  Muslims just cannot fathom that, and Christians can’t grasp a God who is not a being and not a thing.

Many of us, including me, who is active in interfaith dialogue has understood Christian belief in Christ as a son of God, or God in flesh and what it means to Christians, and respecting the Christian belief without agreeing with it. Unfortunately, most Muslims do not have that opportunity and are hung up with the idea that God can have a son; likewise, many Christians do understand Muslim belief in Christ as a prophet, but those who do not interact take it as an offense that Muslims reduce God to a mere mortal prophet. 

Christianity and Islam are based on diagonally opposite idea of God, however both still believe in one Supreme God, there is a room  for understanding there.

There is a greater call from God than reconciliation; to coexist. In one of the verses of Quran God acknowledges the diversity of his creation, and guides us that conflicts are a part of the diversity and advises, the best one among you is the most righteous one among you. The righteous one is one who treats others as he would want to be treated. 

That brings me to the topic of Pluralism. Pluralism is not about appeasing each other; pluralism is not about converging or meshing our beliefs; and Pluralism is not about faking civility, but rather, genuinely  respecting the otherness of others and accepting each other’s path as equally divine. It is indeed truly respecting the creator for creating us to be unique, respecting you with all my heart and mind is respecting the one who created you. If we can learn to accept each other’s uniqueness, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

 49:13 (Y.Ali) “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

Quran further guides;  you believe what works for you and I believe what works for me, as long as we do not mess with each other’s space, sustenance and nurturance. Both will go to Janna (paradise) if we care about God’s creation.

It is all there, what is needed is genuine leadership who can urge Muslims and Christians to accept the otherness of the other without the temptation to correct the other.  

2.    How can the new pope repair the damaged caused by the previous Pope Benedict’s statements against Islam?

Pope Francis can certainly repair the damage caused by the previous Pope Benedict’s statement. If he has the power, he can make a proclamation that the reference made to the unsavory remark made by the Byzantine emperor will not be a part of future Church reference or a statement. Following Jesus, in humility he can seek forgiveness from Muslims in attending his highness’s place made up of different denominations, to complete the transaction and put this behind. If it is not political he can forgive Pope Benedict as well to release him from the anguish.  

3.    And how can the pope use his influence to bring both Catholics and members of other faiths together to create a more just and tolerant society?

Pope Francis has all what it takes. I pray and hope that his strong background of living a austere life, and focused on poverty elimination, Pope Francis can call on Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Atheists and others  to jointly serve in poverty reduction programs, health care, Aid elimination, potable water and basic common education.  Let each unit be represented by all faiths to work together. Eventually the feeling of doing good things will minimize the conflicts to the back burner and people will learn to respect the otherness of others without having to agree.

4.    In your blog, you say that Islam is a pluralistic faith. In what ways is Islam compatible with Christianity and Catholicism?

Islam is certainly compatible with Christianity in all aspects of life except the God issue of Trinity/Tauheed.

Both the traditions are fully compatible in terms of birth control, pre-marital and extra marital sexual relations, taking care of the elderly, poor, the hungry, sharing, caring, charity and raising kids with sound religious values. If it is not news, any Muslim who can afford to send his or her child will invariably send his child to a Catholic Convent over other schools.

They focus on serving the mankind, treating others as you wanted to be treated. The Catholic Charities are admired by the whole humanity, Mother Teresa’s compassion is legendary, indeed, and she is one of my mentors as Jesus is. Then there is Abdul Sattar Edhi, a Muslim in Pakistan who serves mankind without distinction. 
5.    How can Christians and Muslims come together for worship and theological study?
Prophet Muhammad had established a beautiful tradition 1400 years ago; as a matter of fact he is the first religious figure to have initiated interfaith dialogue. He used to invite Christians, Jews and others to have religious discussion in his Mosque;  Masjid-e-Nabawi in Medina. One of the famous stories is when Christians from Najran (Yemen) were having a dialogue with him in the Mosque, the time for Christians to pray came up, as the guests sought permission to be excused, the Prophet offered them to pray at the Mosque, as it was not the time for Muslims prayer at that time.  Of course, the Christians went out and prayed, but the incident established one of the most fundamentals of a civil dialogue; to respect the otherness of others.  Prophet knew well that they would invoke Jesus as son of the God, which was against his own preaching.

If Muslims and Christians can come together and continue the dialogue on the basis of pluralism, that is respecting the otherness of others, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge.

6     In a broader sense, how is Islam compatible with all faiths?
Although theologians of all faiths have tightly wrapped religion in divinity leaving little room for critical analysis, the bottom line essence of all religions is to bring solace to an individual so he can function coherently within, and with others around him. 

The 2nd bottom line of Islam and all faiths is- to build a cohesive society where no one has to be afraid of the other. The religions stand on accountability of one’s action, truthfulness and justice which builds trust in the society, so each member of the society feels secure. 

The incompatibility comes when we talk about God; no God, One God or many Gods and each one of us is hung up and probably God is laughing at us.

Some of my work on Catholic tradition in the last thirty days:

Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, peace, Islam, Israel,India, interfaith, and cohesion at work place. He is committed to building a Cohesive Americaand offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day at www.TheGhousediary.com. He believes in Standing up for others and has done that throughout his life as an activist. Mike has a presence on national and local TV, Radio and Print Media. He is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he contributes weekly to the Texas Faith Column at Dallas Morning News; fortnightly at Huffington post; and several other periodicals across the world. His personal site www.MikeGhouse.net indexes his work through many links.

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