Interfaith Engagement is More Than Tolerance

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus to the world through the season of Advent, it was such a powerful moment of unity and community that Our Holy Father chose to travel to Bangladesh to discuss how we, as part of the human family, should respect and engage all people of good will:

In Bangladesh, where the right to religious freedom is a founding principle, this commitment stands as a subtle yet firm rebuke to those who would seek to foment division, hatred and violence in the name of religion.

It is a particularly gratifying sign of our times that believers and all people of good will feel increasingly called to cooperate in shaping a culture of encounter, dialogue and cooperation in the service of our human family.  This entails more than mere tolerance.  It challenges us to reach out to others in mutual trust and understanding, and so to build a unity that sees diversity not as a threat, but as a potential source of enrichment and growth.  It challenges us to cultivate an openness of heart that views others as an avenue, not a barrier.

Allow me to explore with you briefly some essential features of this “openness of heart” that is the condition for a culture of encounter.

First, it is a door.  It is not an abstract theory but a lived experience.  It enables us to embark on a dialogue of life, not a mere exchange of ideas.  It calls for good will and acceptance, yet it is not to be confused with indifference or reticence in expressing our most deeply held convictions.  To engage fruitfully with another means sharing our distinct religious and cultural identity, but always with humility, honesty and respect.

Openness of heart is also like a ladder that reaches up to the Absolute.  By recalling this transcendent dimension of our activity, we realize the need for our hearts to be purified, so that we can see all things in their truest perspective.  As with each step our vision becomes clearer, we receive the strength to persevere in the effort to understand and value others and their point of view.  In this way, we will find the wisdom and strength needed to extend the hand of friendship to all.

Openness of heart is likewise a path that leads to the pursuit of goodness, justice and solidarity.  It leads to seeking the good of our neighbours.  In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Saint Paul urged his hearers: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).  This is a sentiment that all of us can echo.  Religious concern for the welfare of our neighbour, streaming from an open heart, flows outward like a vast river, to quench the dry and parched wastelands of hatred, corruption, poverty and violence that so damage human lives, tear families apart, and disfigure the gift of creation…

A spirit of openness, acceptance and cooperation between believers does not simply contribute to a culture of harmony and peace; it is its beating heart.  How much our world needs this heart to beat strongly, to counter the virus of political corruption, destructive religious ideologies, and the temptation to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor, refugees, persecuted minorities, and those who are most vulnerable.  How much, too, is such openness needed in order to reach out to the many people in our world, especially the young, who at times feel alone and bewildered as they search for meaning in life!

Dear friends, I thank you for your efforts to promote the culture of encounter, and I pray that, by demonstrating the common commitment of believers to discerning the good and putting it into practice, they will help all believers to grow in wisdom and holiness, and to cooperate in building an ever more humane, united and peaceful world.

– Pope Francis 12/1/17 (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2017/december/documents/papa-francesco_20171201_viaggioapostolico-bangladesh-pace.html )

This is why our Parish Family focuses so much effort on interfaith engagement, like the Catholic-Jewish Dialog, the Theological Center of Naples, and other connections with Faith Based Organizations.  If there is one thing the Christmas star should be pointing us all towards, it is each other, cherishing each moment together, and encountering anyone who is hurting with our Catholic love, mercy, and healing. 

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