Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Religion’s Role in International Society

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 ( Amid the clatter of popular books attacking religion, one of the more frequent accusations made is that faith is guilty of fomenting political conflict. Clearly, it can’t be denied that religion is sometimes a factor in provoking dissension. On the other hand, it can also be powerful force for good both in national and international politics. 

A study published in July by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), provides an interesting overview of the interplay between faith-related factors and the foreign policy of the United States. 

The report is titled, “Mixed Blessings: U.S. Government Engagement With Religion in Conflict-Prone Settings.” It starts by observing that faith-based groups have played a major role in determining U.S. foreign policy in countries such as Sudan and China. In addition, religiously motivated terrorists have threatened security, and the United States is also involved in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where religion is a critical factor. 

In spite of religion’s importance, in general there has been a failure to understand its role — a failing that has hampered U.S. policy, the CSIS comments — even to the point of harming the country’s national security. 

These inadequacies stem from a variety of causes, according to the report. 

— Government officials are often reluctant to address the issue of religion. Many in the government see religion as a dangerous or divisive issue best left out of analysis. 

— Official frameworks for approaching religion are narrow, often approaching religions as problematic or monolithic forces, overemphasizing a terrorism-focused analysis of Islam and sometimes marginalizing religion as a peripheral humanitarian or cultural issue. 

— Institutional capacity to understand and approach religion is limited due to legal limitations, lack of religious expertise or training, and a lack of structures able to deal with religious groups and leaders. 

Peace and conflict 

The bulk of the report is dedicated to analyzing how the U.S. government deals with religion in its foreign relations. Nevertheless, it also deals with questions related to religion as a source of, or a solution to, strife. 

Religion, the report points out, can be an aggravating factor in conflicts in a number of ways. These include provoking strife between different faith communities, repressing minority religious groups, and conflict between the government and religious groups over control of the state. 

On the positive side, the CSIS argues that religious groups and leaders can often be effective diplomats due to their credibility with local communities. This can give them what the report terms a “unique leverage for promoting reconciliation among conflicting parties.” A case in point cited by the study is the faith-based Community of Sant’Egidio, which played an effective part in resolving conflict in Mozambique. 

In addition, religion can help to heal persons and communities after conflicts are over and provide a place where both grievances and discussions on how to achieve greater tolerance can be held. 

Another way in which religion contributes to communities is through helping the poor. The charitable works carried out by many faith communities often play a vital role in developing nations. The report noted, for example that more than half of the hospitals operating in Africa are run by faith-based organizations. 

In some countries U.S. government agencies provide aid in partnership with religious groups. A further example of working together comes from Burundi, where a U.S. agency worked with Catholic Relief Services to encourage the establishment of a peace and reconciliation commission comprising members of various ethnic and religious orientations. 

So far almost all the government aid has been channeled through Christian groups. Of the $1.7 billion identified going to faith-based organizations from 2001 to 2005, 98% went to Christian organizations. 

Spiritual perspective 

Another look at the relationship between religion and U.S. foreign policy came in an article published in the May 14 issue of the Weekly Standard magazine. John J. Dilulio Jr., who for a period in 2001 was the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, titled his essay “Spiritualpolitique.” 

From Brazil to Belize and Beirut to Boston, he commented, “religion in over a hundred forms and in a thousand different ways has outlived ‘modernity’ and ‘postmodernity.'” 

Dilulio explained that by the term “spiritualpolitique,” he means a view of religion that takes into account its significant power to shape politics within and among nations. It also means understanding religion not as something portrayed as being in conflict with modernity, but as something preached and practiced by many people. 

Even in stable democracies we need to realize, Dilulio commented, that religious differences play an important role. In countries where democracy and constitutional rule are still in the process of formation, religion can be a complicating factor in achieving national unity. 

Therefore, he recommended that government officials should wake up and pay a lot more attention to the role of religion and its impact on global politics. 

Religion in action 

A broader consideration of religion’s impact on conflicts came in a book published earlier this year titled: “Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution.” The book, a series of essays edited by David Little, is dedicated to a number of case studies of religious figures who have helped to promote peace. 

A useful concluding chapter by Little draws together some conclusions that can be deduced from the book’s profiles. He urges readers to avoid two oversimplifications. The first is that religion can best be seen as violence, or clashes of civilization. The second is that “good” religion always brings peace. 

A number of the testimonies in the book give eloquent testimony that contradicts the first oversimplification, Little points out. Moreover, religion is only one among a whole series of factors that are present in causing violent conflicts. 

The second affirmation is also unsustainable, Little adds. The experience in situations such as the warfare following the break-up of Yugoslavia demonstrate that religion, and even the clergy themselves, can inflame hostilities. 

Little then lists a series of lessons that can be drawn from the book’s case studies, some of which are: 

— Religion neither causes violence by itself, nor, by contrast, is it without influence, particularly in its extremist form, on the course and character of violence. 

— Religion is not just a source of violent conflict, but also a source of peace. 

— Proper religion exhibits a preference for pursuing peace by non-violent means and for combining the promotion of peace with the promotion of justice. 

— Religion dedicated to promoting justice and peace by peaceful means often prompts a hostile and violent response, at least in the short run. 

Faith and peace 

Looking at the religious figures presented in the book, Little comments that their beliefs provided an important foundation for the task they took on of promoting peace. They drew vision, motivation and perseverance from the theological traditions of their faith. 

Religion can also play a part in helping build institutions that will increase and sustain social harmony and civil unity. As well, nongovernmental groups and individuals can foment an environment conducive to peace and to negotiations for resolving conflicts. 

Benedict XVI addressed the relationship between religious belief and peace in his message for this year’s World Day of Peace, celebrated by the Church in Jan. 1. He termed as “unacceptable” those conceptions of God that encourage intolerance and violence (No. 10). War in God’s name is never acceptable, the Pontiff warned. 

“Let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights,” he urged in the conclusion of his message. An appeal that should find an answer in the hearts of all believers. 


Interview With the Prioress of Regina Laudis Abbey

BETHLEHEM, Connecticut, AUG. 30, 2007 ( Adherence to the Benedictine tradition of work and prayer is the key to the success of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, according to its prioress, Mother Dolores Hart.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis is the topic of the recently released book “Mother Benedict,” written by Antoinette Bosco and published by Ignatius Press.

Mother Benedict Duss founded the Benedictine monastery 60 years ago, after the Second World War. She died in 2005.

In this interview with ZENIT, Mother Dolores discusses the history of the monastery, her own personal journey from Hollywood film star to Benedictine nun, and the personality of the abbey’s founder.

Q: Mother Benedict, the founder of the first contemplative Benedictine Abbey for women, is described in the book as strong and determined, but also a gardener, both of flowers and of souls. What was she able to accomplish through this unique set of personality traits?

Mother Dolores: Mother Benedict loved to garden. She said her ideal monastic life was gardening and studying.

God had other ideas, however, and she was driven to establish a foundation because she could see that is was what God wanted.

Mother Benedict was also a very creative, intelligent woman who cultivated many friendships and who always had time for a crisis.

Q: Can you explain the connections between General George Patton and the Abbey of Regina Laudis at the end of World War II?

Mother Dolores: General George Patton, Sr., liberated France as the commanding general of the Third Army. His was the army that liberated Jouarre, the abbey where Mother Benedict was in hiding.

Years later his granddaughter, the daughter of General George Patton, Jr., Mother Margaret Georgina Patton, found her way to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, and that began the conscious connection between the liberator and Mother Benedict.

This connection continues through the whole Patton family to this day.

Q: Many convents, during the turbulent time after the Second Vatican Council, were forced to close for one reason or another. What do you think kept Regina Laudis not only stable, but flourishing during that time?

Mother Dolores: Regina Laudis suffered its own turmoil during those years. What kept Mother Benedict going was her adherence to Benedictine tradition in work and prayer and a dedicated program of renewal, engaged in by the whole community.

For Mother Benedict this did not mean throwing everything out, but taking on perennial values with a new dedication.

Q: Your own life could be a story, going from a movie star, in roles opposite Elvis Presley and George Hamilton, to a cloistered Benedictine nun. In what way were you drawn from your Hollywood lifestyle, to the quiet, contemplative life at Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: My life will soon become a story by the good grace of my long time friend and collaborator, Dick DeNeut, who headed Globe photos in Hollywood for many years.

My good fortune was to have him as a professional contact who made certain that my reputation in the press never went the way of becoming a “starlet.” I learned very early in my career that good complements held your life intact, and I was indeed graced.

Hal Wallis signed me to a seven-year contract when I was only 17. In those seven years to follow, I was the leading lady for Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Stephen Boyd, and I learned my trade from such greats as Karl Malden, Anthony Quinn and Cyril Richard.

To experience the fullness of my profession through the gifts of these artists and many more who came my way in the short years of my time in Hollywood was a gift from God that I never had dreamed possible. Yet it was one I had prayed for since I was a small girl, watching the films on Saturday afternoons in my grandfather’s movie projection booth.

I was watching for my Daddy who was an actor and had been whisked off to Hollywood by a talent scout because he looked like Clark Gable. I vowed that I would do this too.

But God had other plans for me. I had to acknowledge the vocation I had been trying to run from for years. I knew this the first time I came to Regina Laudis. I was finally home.

Q: In the preface of the book, you discuss Mother Benedict’s wisdom on living out one’s sexuality even under the vow of virginity. Can you describe her thoughts on this?

Mother Dolores: There is no contradiction between virginity and sexuality. To be truly virginal is to be fully oneself. To be fully a woman, one’s sexuality must be integrated and expressed in all that one does.

This integration should lead to the ability to collaborate with men or women, lay or religious, in creative movements within the community or with laity, according to one’s mission.

Sexuality is not limited to genital expression but pervades all we do. In a life dedicated to virginity the genital expression is sacrificed, but not the total giving of oneself to the mission.

Q: The book ends shortly after the death of Mother Benedict. Now, after nearly 60 years since the abbey’s founding, how do things look today at the Abbey of Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: Today, the Abbey of Regina Laudis is blessed in a number of ways.

On July 11, the feast of St. Benedict, we were privileged to receive the archbishop of Hartford, His Excellency Henry Mansell, for an unprecedented ceremony of monastic consecration in which the archbishop consecrated five members of our community who had been married before they entered religious life. This was an enormous blessing for all of us.

We are also planning for the November release of our new CD, “The Announcement of Christmas,” that celebrates our work in chant covering the season of Christmas from the beginning of Advent through the close of the season at Epiphany.

This will allow listeners to enjoy the musical treasures of the church’s liturgy that are often hidden from the ears of everyday churchgoers. These time-honored chant melodies for centuries have so beautifully expressed the glory of Christ’s continual coming through the ages in the Flesh of Humanity.

There is also our own birth, in August, as the community celebrates the ceremony of “clothing,” which welcomes the entrance of a postulant into the novitiate, reminding us that Our Lady’s gift of fecundity is ever-present in the growth of our own community.

And Regina Laudis remains hopeful for continuity as a new postulant has arrived to fill the new novice’s place in the ranks.

We are reminded in Romans 5 that it is through faith that we are in grace and so we pray for this gift continually, that we may be worthy of him to whom we have pledged our lives.

Interview With Chicago’s Cardinal George

CHICAGO, JUNE 27, 2007 ( Suffering, says Cardinal Francis George, has taught him to know that no one is saved alone.

On his 10th anniversary as archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George spoke to ZENIT about the lessons and demands of shepherding the third largest diocese in the United States.

Q: What have been the most significant trials and triumphs for you in leading 2.3 million Catholics as the archbishop of Chicago?

Cardinal George: The challenge in every generation of the Church’s history is to help God create saints, holy people formed by the Gospel, enlivened by the Church’s sacraments and encouraged and loved by pastors in apostolic succession.

All the Church’s institutions are secondary to her mission to make people holy so that they can transform the world here and live forever with the Lord as his saints.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has developed many institutions in her history, and it is a constant struggle to keep them alive and to decide when they should be allowed to die.

The population of the city and the two counties that form the archdiocese changes and moves, but the institutions are rooted in place and have to respond to the challenges of population shifts and changing economic constraints.

Extra efforts have had to be made to strengthen liturgical life and assure adequate catechesis. The reform of the clergy, overseeing the seminary and creating new formation programs for deacons and lay ministers are particular concerns. All of this is the constant administrative challenge.

Planning is part of governing, but one can’t see too far into the future. Planning is often overcome by events. The important thing is to keep the principles clear and then make decisions in light of them.

Two events of the last 10 years have impacted the Church’s life and ministry in this country and in the Chicago Archdiocese: the attack on our country in the name of God on Sept. 11, 2001, and the ongoing effects of the crisis of sexual abuse that occurred, for the most part, between 1973 and 1986, but which became a cause of national notoriety in 2002. These challenges to the Church’s mission continue here and elsewhere.

In partial response to some of these challenges, Chicago now has a new liturgical institute of some importance, a Chicago Scripture school for the laity, and reformed preparation programs in lay ministry and youth ministry.

Catholic Charities continues to strengthen its work with the poor. The cemetery system and the network of parishes and schools bring the mission home to practicing Catholics.

Unfortunately, only about 30% of Catholics go to Mass each Sunday, and many of these are immigrants, people trained to be Catholic elsewhere. The huge influx of Spanish- and Polish-speaking immigrants has been a life-giving challenge, and the archdiocese has responded in many imaginative ways.

Ideological conflict in the Church destroys the unity necessary for mission. We can’t live and act together if we are divided on essentials of faith and morals, or if some decide they don’t have to obey bishops unless they govern the Church according to their particular expectations.

Some groups operate as a kind of fifth column in the Church, convinced of their own righteousness and willing to weaken or destroy the Church if she doesn’t change to suit them, or if bishops don’t do exactly what they want when they want it.

This is also a major challenge today, but the response is what it has been for 2,000 years: conversion of mind and heart.

Q: You have written a pastoral letter on racism, and promoted workshops on the topic in the archdiocese. What has prompted you to focus on this issue so particularly?

Cardinal George: The archdiocese has an extensive program to train people to see the effects of racism, because racism is a terrible sin and one that is firmly embedded in the country’s history. It is the original sin of the English-speaking colonies of the Eastern seaboard and it affects all of us.

The pastoral letter “Dwell In My Love” addresses this sin by looking at many of the effects of racism as it influences our lives together.

Q: Your archdiocese, perhaps more than most, is known as home to large numbers of immigrants. From your experience in this area, what are the most pressing pastoral needs of immigrants?

Cardinal George: The first generation of immigrants needs to find the Church here a welcoming place, able to minister to them in their own language and culture. The children of immigrants present a different pastoral problem, for they are at home with their family in one culture and at school and work with their friends in another culture.

Priests have to be not only bilingual — or trilingual — but also bicultural, which is a bigger challenge. Culture tells us what is valuable and what not, and so does faith. Both are part of us, and the Church has to respect that dialogue between faith and cultures in the hearts of believers. It is a complicated situation, but a positive one.

The Church’s fundamental message is that we worship a God who is love, and we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for others. This means giving up things that are dear to us, sometimes even our first language, in order to be part of something bigger. This gives the context for both combating racism and welcoming immigrants.

Q: As a long-time colleague of Joseph Ratzinger, what has been your impression of Benedict XVI’s pontificate thus far?

Cardinal George: Benedict XVI is living up to his name: He is a blessing for the Church.

Q: You have encountered numerous health problems in the past several years, in addition to polio in your youth. What has your experience of suffering taught you? What message of hope does the Church offer to those who suffer?

Cardinal George: Suffering marks the human condition since the fall. Christ used something evil, suffering and death, to undo the effects of sin and to bring us the gift of eternal life.

In faith, suffering is to be embraced as a means to participate in Christ’s own passion and death. The temptation that hides the meaning of suffering is called self-pity or resentment: the “why me?” question.

What personal suffering has taught me over many years is that one cannot build a life, let alone a call to sanctity, on resentment or self-pity. These are cages that make suffering useless in the quest for holiness.

The response in faith to suffering also must go beyond stoicism, the “grin and bear it” reaction. This reaction continues the isolation that pain brings; it does not invite one to participation, which is how we are saved.

The faith community’s spontaneous response to the suffering of any of its members is to pray for him or her. This expresses the solidarity of the communion of saints. What suffering has taught me, among other truths, is that no one is saved alone; no one lives here or in the hereafter alone.

Learning how to accept help as well as learning how to reach out beyond one’s own limiting experiences are lessons that suffering can teach us. They make suffering an instrument for building communion.

New Studies Reveal Close Relationship

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 18, 2007 ( The fortunes of family life and religion may well be linked, say experts in recent studies. W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, is the author of a research brief published in May by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families.

“Churches are bulwarks of marriage in urban America,” he affirmed in the brief “Religion, Race, and Relationships in Urban America.” Wilcox started by observing that in spite of widespread concern over the breakdown of marriage and family life in contemporary society, so far little attention has been paid on religion’s influence for the family.

His attempt to remedy this omission is based on a reading of data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (FFCW), sponsored by Columbia and Princeton Universities.

The dramatic changes in family structures are graphically illustrated by Wilcox.

— From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of children born out of wedlock rose from 5% to 33%.

— The divorce rate more than doubled to almost 50%.

— The percentage of children living in single-parent families rose
from 9% to 27%.

Poor and minority families have suffered even more. In 1996, for example, 35% of African American children and 64% of Latino children were living in married households, compared to 77% of white children.

Wilcox argued that religion can influence family life in four ways.

— Religious institutions promote norms strengthening marriage, for example, the idea that sex and childbearing ought to be reserved for marriage, and broader moral norms that support happier, more stable marriages.

— Religious faith endows the marital relationship with a sense of transcendence.

— In many religious groups there are family-oriented social networks that offer emotional and social support, plus a measure of social control that reinforces commitment to the marital bond.

— Religious belief and practice provides support to cope with stresses such as unemployment or the death of a loved one. A greater psychological resilience, in turn, is linked to higher quality marriages.


Wilcox does, however, admit that religious participation is by no means an automatic guarantee of a happy family life. In fact, what he termed “one of the paradoxes of American religious life,” is the contradiction between the high level of religious practice among African Americans — the highest of any racial group — and the reality that they have the lowest rate of marriage of any racial or ethnic group.

Turning to an analysis of the data from the FFCW survey, Wilcox argued that it shows how religious attendance — particularly by fathers — is associated with higher rates of marriage among urban parents.

Moreover, churchgoing boosts the odds of marriage for African American parents in urban America in much the same way it boosts the odds of marriage for urban parents from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Paternal church attendance is particularly important for urban relationships, Wilcox maintains. If a father goes to church regularly, then he is more likely to enter into marriage and also to have a relationship of higher quality.

Benefits of belief

The arguments raised by Wilcox are similar to those put forward by Patrick Fagan in a paper published by the Heritage Foundation last December. In “Why Religion Matters Even More: The Impact of Religious Practice on Social Stability,” Fagan argued that “religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families and the community.”

“Regular attendance at religious services is linked to healthy, stable family life, strong marriages and well-behaved children,” he pointed out.

Numerous sociological studies, Fagan continued, show that valuing religion and regularly practicing it are associated with greater marital stability, higher levels of marital satisfaction and an increased likelihood that an individual will be inclined to marry.

Among other points, these studies reveal that:

— Women who are more religious are less likely to experience divorce or separation than their less religious peers.

— Marriages in which both spouses attend religious services frequently are 2.4 times less likely to end in divorce than marriages in which neither spouse worships.

— Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, confirming studies conducted as far back as 50 years ago.

— Couples who share the same faith are more likely to reunite if they separate than are couples who do not share the same religious affiliation.

Moreover, Fagan pointed out, religious practice is also related to a reduction in such negative behaviors as domestic abuse, crime, substance abuse and addiction.

Losing God

Mary Eberstadt looked at the other side of the coin in the relationship between family and religion in an article published in the June-July issue of the magazine Policy Review. In the article “How the West Really Lost God,” she reflected on the causes of secularization, a phenomenon particularly notable in Western Europe.

The thesis often put forward, Eberstadt observed, is that secularism came first and that this had a negative impact on family life in Western Europe. She argued, however: “At least some of the time, the record suggests, they also became secular because they stopped having children and families.”

In support of her case Eberstadt pointed out that European fertility in general dropped well before the dramatic demise of religious practice observed in recent decades. Within Europe she cited the example of France, which saw fertility decline much sooner than in many other European countries, and is also a nation where secularism is stronger.

Ireland, by contrast, withstood the winds of secularism until a short time ago, and it was also a country with strong families. The recent erosion of religion in Ireland was preceded by a collapse in Irish fertility, Eberstadt added.

Turning to the United States she commented that the higher level of religious practice could be due to the greater number of children.

Evangelicals and Mormons, who unlike Catholics are not prohibited from using contraceptives, also have larger families. Maybe, Eberstadt posited, there is something about the family that inclines people toward religiosity.

She then examined the dynamic that exists between family life and religion. The experience of birth leads parents to a moment of transcendence. As well, the practice of sacrificing oneself for the good of the family and children may lead people to go beyond selfish pleasure-seeking. In addition, the fear of death, in terms of losing a spouse or child is a powerful spur to faith.

As for the well-known fact that women tend to be more religious than men, maybe Eberstadt argued, this is due to their more intimate participation in the birth of their children compared to a man’s role.

While fertility rates in Europe and many other countries are now very low, this could change as the disadvantages of single motherhood and the social and economic consequences of shrinking populations weigh more heavily.

“There is nothing inevitable about the decline of the natural family and thus, by implication, religion too,” Eberstadt contended. While quick to admit that, “merely having families and children is no guarantee of religious belief,” a resurgence in family life could well strengthen religion.

The authors of the studies cited here would probably be the first to admit that the interaction between religion and the family is complicated and that many other factors play a part in the strengthening or weakening of both. No doubt more research is needed, but these initial efforts point to some interesting relationships.

The natural family, Ebserstadt concludes, “as a whole has been the human symphony through which God has historically been heard by many people.” A symphony unfortunately marred by many discordant notes today, but whose return to harmony would be of immense benefit.

“What the World Needs Now … Is Faith”

CARDIFF, Wales, JUNE 16, 2007 ( Here is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s talk to the Muslim Council of Wales on June 9 at the University of Cardiff.

* * *

“Christian and Muslim Perspectives on Interreligious Dialogue”

Secretary General,
Archbishop Smith,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is very good to be here with you today. It is a pleasure to come to Wales, a land whose history, language and landscape have inspired powerful music and striking poetry, from the tales of Taliesin and Owain Glyndwr long ago to the eloquent frustration of the Anglican priest-poet R.S. Thomas, who is typical of generations born here who felt alienated from their language and culture. The situation is quite different today; the Welsh language has a much higher profile and the Welsh Assembly looks after much of the country’s political business. I feel privileged to have been asked to come and address you on a theme that is close to my heart, that of dialogue between Christians and Muslims. I hope it will become clear that I am thoroughly committed to enhancing and maintaining this dialogue not only in Wales and the rest of Britain, but also throughout Europe and in the wider world.

Tiger Bay

The Muslim community in Cardiff is important for several reasons. When men from Yemen and Somalia came to work on the coal ships, many of them settled in the Tiger Bay area and married local women, so from the start it was an integrated group. The mosque they built in the 19th century was probably the first in the United Kingdom, and the replacement that was opened in 1947 was made to look like a Yemeni “mud mosque”. The fact that the mayor of Cardiff was at the opening ceremony shows that Muslims were already a well-established and respected religious community here, and what is more significant is that in those days religious groups seem to have lived happily alongside each other. The city of Cardiff looks quite different now, and the 1947 mosque was replaced in the Butetown redevelopment, but I hope the religions in Cardiff will always be aware of the humble but proud beginnings of the Muslim community here, and that everyone will work hard to maintain the tradition of peace and respect for each other that is a precious element in Cardiff’s civic heritage. That is also, of course, a model for any civilized community. Cardiff could easily be the beacon for the rest of Britain in terms of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

“What the world needs now …”

Religion is very much back on the agenda in international organizations like UNESCO and the United Nations, and in national governments throughout the world, while it was previously regarded, to be quite frank, either as a nuisance factor or as an enemy of enlightenment. What is on their agenda is not so much the content of religion, what we believe, but the effects religion is perceived to have on society. In the run up to the year 2000, police departments around the world were asking religious groups to help them identify sects that might be planning dangerous events to mark the beginning of the new millennium. This concerned Christian and Jewish groups first and foremost, and the atmosphere in and around Jerusalem was particularly tense for the security forces and police at that time. Since 2001 the spotlight has been locked on to Islam. This has obviously created an atmosphere where ordinary Muslims feel very uncomfortable and unfairly singled out by people who often seem not to understand them at all.

The positive side of current preoccupations with the social role of religion is that our various religions are all much more visible. We are often challenged to contribute in various ways to social cohesion, and thinkers and policy-makers have had to question earlier notions that religion might naturally fade away in our enlightened society. For reasons we may not like, they have to take us much more seriously than was the case ten years ago.

One person who realized a long time ago what was going on is Pope Benedict. Let me tell you why I say that. Early in the year 2004, the man still known to the world as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is a distinguished theologian in his own right, agreed to meet the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas for a public discussion in Munich. They met as representatives of two sides of a discussion that has been going on in Europe for some 200 years. Religion, represented here by a theologian, and reason, represented by a philosopher, are often seen as competing elements in western culture. Advocates of western secular rationality are very keen to point out the pathological elements of religion; while the cardinal recognized that religion does have this negative side, he also asked the philosopher to admit that reason has a similar weakness, particularly if it gives religion no room and tries to make it a totally private affair. According to the cardinal, if either side in the debate in Europe ignores the need to be open to learn from the other, the results can be catastrophic.

I think it is significant that Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say that we should not allow ourselves to focus exclusively on Europe. Seeing other cultures as inferior or insignificant would be an example of “western hybris, for which we would — and to some extent already do — have to pay dearly.” He also made the point on that occasion that every major culture has the same tensions as Europe; he referred explicitly to Islam, with its “broad rainbow” of adherents. He addressed the same theme in his talk in Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. His main point, of course, as we know, is that there can be no real identification between authentic religion and violence.

I agree with Pope Benedict XVI and want to take the point a little further. Many of you will remember a song that was popular when I was a lot younger. Burt Bacharach wrote the music and Hal David wrote these lyrics: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s much too little of.” Those words are true, but only up to a point. For me, love is not “the only thing that there’s much too little of”; I think the world needs belief or faith, too. If I did not believe my faith made a difference in this world, I could not stand here and speak to you. If the members of the Muslim Council of Wales were not convinced their religion can do enormous good in the world, they would not have organized this evening. We all believe not only that there is a God, but also that our religion commits us to working for good in the world, in a thousand different ways. There are still tendencies in some quarters to make sure religion has no public voice, but this takes no account of the fact that many of our contemporaries are searching for meaning and purpose; our culture is in search of its spiritual identity, some would even say its soul.

The space for dialogue between our religions and our culture has to be a public one. In other words, religious communities need to be able to operate with a certain degree of autonomy. If politicians at national or local level — or even academics, for that matter — think they know what is best for religions, they will not act in our best interests, and could well be tempted to try to manipulate the ways we contribute to society. Generally, I think they treat us with great respect, but this is a difficult time for many people involved in governing and policing our society, and nobody should be blind to the risk of basing decisions about religious groups on sociological or security-driven criteria. Times of perceived crisis are not the best times for making or changing laws.

Of course we should not presume that people anywhere will respect us. We have to earn their respect, and when we have it we need to work to keep it. The Christian Gospels tell us that, while the people welcomed Jesus with songs of celebration when he entered Jerusalem for the last time, he made that journey on a donkey, which I take as an eloquent sign of the humility with which we can best play our part in the life of our country.

Being similar and being different — telling the truth about each other

I first heard about Islam when I was studying to become a priest in Rome. It may surprise you that every Catholic priest is expected to study not only theology but also philosophy, in order to grasp the concepts with which the Church expresses herself in different situations. The leading light in Catholic thought has traditionally been St. Thomas Aquinas, and we learned very early on in our studies that he was deeply indebted to the works of several scholars from the Arabic-speaking world, many of whom were Muslims like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd, although we referred to them by the Latin versions of their names — Avicenna and Averroes. I mention that because it is proof that, in some periods of history, Christian and Muslim scholars did not hesitate to acknowledge their debt to each other, which is consoling in an age when people presume we eye each other with suspicion. This is simply not so.

As I have said, I am convinced religious communities have a role to play in British society, but that role can be played well only if the various religions are able to be open and honest about each other. One particular principle comes into play here, which is that I should never allow myself to be put into a position where I am telling other people what Muslims believe. I should automatically contact a Muslim friend and ask him or her to do that. Likewise, it is not good for Muslims to tell other people — or each other, for that matter — what Christians believe. It is always better to ask one of us. This is important if we are to avoid offering the world caricatures of each other, and it is necessary to avoid being tricked by prejudice into thinking we understand more than we do. Perhaps this is something that should happen as a matter of course in our schools, but here comes one of the major differences between us. In the case of the Church, it is obvious whom you should approach. Islam is organized in a quite different way, and it is never easy for even the most friendly outsider to know who is the best person to ask when an explanation of Muslim beliefs and traditions is needed. This obviously means we need to know each other personally, in order to build up the trust that is necessary for such delicate tasks to be done well.

The basic thing that unites us is not always obvious to people, but it is something Pope John Paul II stressed when he addressed a very large gathering of young Moroccans in a stadium in Casablanca in 1985: “Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. … We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.” He spoke movingly to these young Muslims about his faith: “It is of God himself that, above all, I wish to speak with you; of him, because it is in him that we believe, you Muslims and we Catholics …” and he reassured them of the reason for his visit: “It is as a believer that I come to you today. It is quite simply that I would like to give here today the witness of that which I believe, of that which I wish for the well-being of the people, my brothers, and of that which, from experience, I consider to be useful for all.”

I really like the fact that the address to young Muslims in Casablanca stressed what unites Christians and Muslims above all else, and that is that they believe in the one God and see God as their creator. But one has also to be open to differences, for example in the ways Christians and Muslims understand what is meant by believing in one God. For centuries Muslims have been puzzled by Christians who claim to believe in one God like them, but then start speaking about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Anyone involved in theological dialogue between Muslims and Christians has to accept that the Trinity can be a stumbling block.

What is vitally important in any dialogue between us is our respect for the truth, especially in the sense of being faithful to our identity. Dialogue becomes fruitful only when everyone involved feels able to say what he or she believes, or what identifies him or her as a Muslim or as a Christian. This obviously requires a capacity to listen without correcting the other person’s standpoint, a willingness to accept diversity together with a desire to learn from the other without ever feeling one’s own beliefs are being belittled or criticized. If I look back to my schooldays, I remember there was a strong tradition of debating, where a cardinal rule was to have total respect for the other speaker, while feeling free to put his ideas to the test. Perhaps that was good training for true dialogue, where respect is of paramount importance, and there can be open and honest discussion of what everyone says. A very important text for Christians on this point comes from the First Letter of St. Peter, which gives this advice: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

Tomorrow’s World?

What we do today will shape the world in which the children of tomorrow will live. What can we do together to ensure that tomorrow’s world will allow them to grow and develop fully as human beings and as believers? I have three simple suggestions to make.

1. My first suggestion is not really mine, but it is one I have taken to heart, and I think I know how we can develop it together. You may know that, from time to time, there are meetings for representatives of bishops from all over the world. These meetings are called synods. Pope John Paul II convoked special synods for each continent, as well. There were two European synods, and after the second one he issued a document called The Church in Europe, or Ecclesia in Europa. It contains an assessment of the current situation and some goals and objectives for the Church. “There is one need to which Europe must respond positively if it is to have a truly new face: ‘Europe cannot close in on itself. … On the contrary, it must remain fully aware of the fact that other countries, other continents, await its bold initiatives, in order to offer to poorer peoples the means for their growth and social organization, and to build a more just and fraternal world.’ To carry out this mission adequately will demand ‘rethinking international cooperation in terms of a new culture of solidarity. … Europe must moreover become an active partner in promoting and implementing a globalization ‘in’ solidarity. This must be accompanied … by a kind of globalization ‘of’ solidarity and of the related values of equity, justice and freedom.”

I think the idea of a globalization of solidarity is wonderful, and I am glad to say that CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, has set in train a project called Live Simply, designed to help people live in solidarity with the poor. It has often struck me that Islam asks of its followers a similar commitment to solidarity with the poor. This seems clear in the idea of having a banking system that works in accordance with the basic principles of Islam. My thought is not that I should open an Islamic bank account, but rather that it may be time for Christian and Muslim economists to put their heads together to see what we can learn from each other in the sphere of genuine commitment to solidarity with the poor. Looking at the newspapers or the television news sometimes makes me shudder at the fate of so many people in the world who live in such a shocking state. But I feel uncomfortable and guilty if I cannot react. I do what I can; I imagine we all do, but I have a feeling that, together, we could do so much more.

2. A second thing we could undertake together to improve the state of tomorrow’s world for our children is to work for genuine freedom of religion. I have already mentioned that many British Muslims feel misrepresented or at least misunderstood in our media and in public opinion. You are not the only ones, but unfortunately in the present moment much more is being said about Islam than about Christianity or other religions. More than this, there are times when we may all feel that we are not exactly muzzled or silenced, but we are most certainly not free to express our deeply held convictions, sometimes simply for reasons linked to so-called political correctness. I think there are ways we can work with those who form public opinion to solve many of these problems, and I am certain that we should do this together. At the Catholic Church’s most recent major council, the second Vatican Council, which took place in the 1960s, many observers were very surprised that the Council’s declaration on religious freedom was not a plea for religious freedom for Catholics, but for everybody. Religious freedom is seen as a natural right of every human being, to be respected by every government.

People often seem surprised to hear that this is Catholic teaching, and they delve into history to prove that the Catholic Church has not always given the best example of respect for people’s rights in the religious sphere. It would be foolish and churlish to claim there have not been shocking failures in this regard in the past, but here we are looking to the future and the world in which tomorrow’s children will grow up. It would be equally inaccurate to ignore the fact that there are places where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion openly, or at all. On June 21, 1995, John Paul II sent a greeting to those present at the opening of the beautiful mosque that now overlooks the city of Rome. This is what he said:

“A grand mosque is being inaugurated today. This event is an eloquent sign of the religious freedom recognized here for every believer. And it is significant that in Rome, the center of Christianity and the See of Peter’s successor, Muslims should have their own place to worship with full respect for their freedom of conscience. On a significant occasion like this, it is unfortunately necessary to point out that in some Islamic countries similar signs of the recognition of religious freedom are lacking. And yet the world, on the threshold of the third millennium, is waiting for these signs! Religious freedom has now become part of many international documents and is one of the pillars of contemporary society. While I am pleased that Muslims can gather in prayer in the new Roman mosque, I earnestly hope that the rights of Christians and of all believers freely to express their own faith will be recognized in every corner of the earth.”

We prove that we believe in religious freedom when we are prepared to speak up for other people’s right to exercise it, and not just our own. If we can learn to act together in favor of religious freedom for all, we shall certainly influence tomorrow’s world for the better.

3. If you have ever visited a Benedictine monastery you will have been greeted silently. In prominent places in every Benedictine house you see a short Latin word, Pax, or peace. The atmosphere of silence that marks the monks’ day is meant to create a peace you can almost touch, but that is only a sign of a much deeper, inner peace. Among Muslims, the first thing a visitor would say is as-salaamu aleykum, Arabic for peace be upon you. Both Muslims and Christians traditionally, instinctively want to be at peace and to bring peace wherever they go. I thank the God who made us all that, in recent years, the leaders of all Britain’s major religious communities have stood together in front of politicians, in front of the media, in front of our fellow-citizens, pleading for those who have influence to do all in their power to achieve peace, rather than the catastrophic and obscene waste of life that so many news bulletins bring into our living-rooms. That is not what God wants and it is not what we want. There is always a better way and, as various Popes have said, war is never a good solution and always an admission of defeat. We all know the children of tomorrow’s world deserve better, and we know the human race can do better. As long as we continue to say this together, we shall be building healthy foundations on which future generations can build.

I want to conclude my talk this evening with something John Paul II said in January 2001, when the new ambassador of the Republic of Iran to the Holy See presented his letters of credence to the Holy Father. I think it sums up much of what I have been saying:

“In the dialogue between cultures, men and women of good will realize that there are values that are common to all cultures because they are rooted in the very nature of the human person — values which express humanity’s most authentic and distinctive features: the value of solidarity and peace; the value of education; the value of forgiveness and reconciliation; the value of life itself.”

I believe those are values that bring us very close indeed. Thank you!