Posts Tagged ‘respect’

Bishop of Solwezi on Priorities for His Church

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The 41-year-old bishop of Solwezi in Zambia is entrusted with a diocese stretching some 34,000 square miles (88,300 square kilometers). Scattered over the territory are about 80,000 Catholics. In this rural, poor setting, Bishop Charles Kasonde says his priority is evangelization.

Marie Pauline Meyer of Where God Weeps for Aid to the Church in Need spoke with the bishop, who is the fourth prelate to be charged with the task of overseeing Solwezi since it was declared a diocese in 1976.

Q: You have recently been appointed bishop (March 23, 2010). It this new task difficult?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes and no. It is difficult in knowing that it is a task that I have to perform and it requires a lot of experience. And it is measured by a lot of experience, of which I don’t have a lot. Once you are ordained a priest you remain open to the prompting of the Spirit in your life and also what the Church wants you to do. So we as priests, we have the missionary spirit ready to be sent anywhere and to be given any task; for us it is not a promotion, it is an appointment and we graciously say “yes” to that and we move on. So with that I rely on the grace of God to help me to carry out my activities with the support of the Christians, my brother priests, deacons, bishops and all the fraternity within the Church.

Q: What do you see as your most urgent project at the moment?

Bishop Kasonde: I think this is reflected through my motto, which is “Evangelization of the people of God.” Therefore I’m drawn much more to start projects that concern evangelization of the people, disclosing the love of Christ to the people; let the people encounter Christ. I’m not going to a new diocese; I’m going to a diocese that was founded in 1976. I’m going to a people who have already come into contact with Christ. I’m going there to add to what the people already know. I’m also going to a diocese that is largely rural and quite poor. So infrastructure will be needed. Many churches have been built out of mud and we need concrete churches that stand the test of time. So this is one more reason why I need also to go in that area, so that the people of God can worship the Lord in a house that is beautiful — and they are looking forward to going back to “their home,” the home of God. This is also my preoccupation.

Q: I’ve heard that there are many sects coming to Zambia. Is this something you have encountered?

Bishop Kasonde: My diocese is peculiar in a sense that out of the 10 dioceses it is the only diocese, by and large, which was occupied by the Protestants. Here our brothers and sisters shared greatly in proclaiming the Word of God. Catholicism is a little bit foreign, but slowly it is sinking in and people are getting to know about it and already we have our churches built, though some are very bad structures. Almost in the entire Northwestern province, which covers my canonical area, the population for the province is about 900,000 and the Catholic presence is just about 90,000 — 10% of the entire population. In other places the Catholic population goes, to some extent, even about 70% to 80%, so I have a long way to go.

Q: You say that your diocese is mostly rural and very poor. Are the poor attracted to other churches because they are given food and other needs of daily life?

Bishop Kasonde: Yes. The poor do it not intentionally but because they lack the very basic necessities. When you talk about poverty, it is overwhelming.

Q: Can you describe the poverty?

Bishop Kasonde: Poverty is making less than a dollar a day. They make 50 cents a day — that is all. Some even don’t make that much. So our people struggle a lot and they depend on farm produce. They also depend on the rain because we do not have irrigation systems; only a privileged few have this but the majority depends on the rain. Without the rain there is drought, which means they are unable to purchase their daily needs for their homes as well as tuition money for their children’s school fees. It is a very bad situation but by the grace of God we are surviving and we are happy even in the midst of that poverty.

Q: What do your people expect of you? 

Bishop Kasonde: They expect me to bring Christ to them; to be one who identifies and lives with them and one who brings them the Good News of the Risen Lord. You look at the people: They are very poor, yet very happy. We share the Word of God together. We pray together. We break bread together through the Eucharistic meal and that is what they want.

Q: When one consults the Internet about Zambia, most often the information one reads is about AIDS and poverty-related problems. Is this how you see it as well?

Bishop Kasonde: I see that but this is not all that is Zambia. Zambia is a peaceful and beautiful country. The media perhaps wants to portray Zambia as such but Zambia is not just poverty, AIDS or corruption. Of course we have these problems but when you walk around you see Zambians who are wealthy, Zambians who are poor. They are cheerful and well versed in what they do. Zambians are moderate and so it is a great mixture.

Q: Yet AIDS is a problem? 

Bishop Kasonde: AIDS is certainly a big problem in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa and Zambia is part of this region. There is no cure so when one is infected, it spreads. We have seen especially the middle-aged people, the bread winners, the family providers dying from AIDS and the retired, the old, and the feeble — the grandmothers and grandfathers — taking over the role of parenthood again for their orphaned grandchildren, because their children are dying or are dead.

Q: Do you have a solution?

Bishop Kasonde: I think one of the solutions could be investing in education. There was a time when the Catholic Church provided education facilities and then the government took over and “Zambianized” everything, which was a good thing but they became overwhelmed and they couldn’t provide the quality service in education. Now they want to dump this back on the Church, now that the schools are not in good condition and are dilapidated. So the Church is a little bit hesitant but we know that education is a priority. If we want to help our people it is through education because an educated person will suffer less than an illiterate one. Education is the key and empowerment especially for the generation that is growing up; if those are educated they will go and find their own means of sustenance and survival. So this is one area I want to look at — to get back the schools. If we have the money and we invest in them, we could renovate them and attract the teachers who could educate our children.

Q: What is the hope for your country?

Bishop Kasonde: Zambia is very rich in minerals and natural resources. All we need is a leader who is able to interpret the signs of the times; a leader who is able to die a little for his people, a leader who is sincere and honest. We can’t be as poor as we are because everywhere you go you find minerals and we live in a rainy belt. Every season we have the rain, which is why people have not even invested in irrigation because we have enough rain for a season in which to grow crops. The poverty in Zambia is exaggerated. All Zambia needs is a leadership that could command respect and put things in order and we’ll be home and dry.

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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

By Tony Assaf

ROME, MARCH 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are looking forward to sharing the Feast of the Annunciation as a national holiday, says the secretary general of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue.

Mohammad Al-Sammak said this in an interview with ZENIT while he was in Rome for a Feb. 22 conference on the theme, “The Future Is Living Together: Christians and Muslims in the Middle East in Dialogue.”

It was organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, an international Catholic organization that focuses on prayer, spreading the Gospel, ecumenism, and dialogue with other religions and non-believers.

Al-Sammak, who also serves as a political counselor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, became the first Muslim to participate as an active member in a Synod of Bishops in 1995 when John Paul II convoked a special assembly of the prelates of Lebanon.

Al-Sammak is also one of the 138 Muslim leaders who signed the open letter “A Common Word Between Us and You,” addressed to Benedict XVI and various heads of other Christian churches and confessions.

He worked for three years on a project with the Lebanese government to make the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, a holiday for both Christians and Muslims. Last week the authorities issued a decree making that day a national feast day.

In this interview with ZENIT, Al-Sammak spoke about the past, future, and other elements shared by Christians and Muslims in the Middle East.

ZENIT: What do you think of the crisis in Islamic and Christian relations in the Middle East and the fact that after 14 centuries of living together we are once again participating in a conference on dialogue?

Al-Sammak: Basically, the Muslims and Christians in the Middle East are condemned to decide to live together.

There is no third way: either they choose to live together or they are forced to live together.

Let us say that the coexistence between Christians and Muslims is not something premeditated but it is a choice. And since we have built a common life on the basis of a choice, we must be aware that there are differences between us and create a culture founded on respect for these differences and acceptance and living with them.

Neither of us can abolish nor impose our own way of life on others.

The diversity and plurality of our Arab societies — Christian and Muslim — are a vital and fundamental component and even an historical component. At the same time, they are also a formula for the future if there is a future for this region.

ZENIT: What could the future of the Middle East be if the Christians disappeared?

Al-Sammak: There is no future for the Arab region if the Muslims and Christians do not live together.

What is happening now in that region in regard to the diminishment of the number and role of Christians is a disaster not only for Christians but also for Muslims, and will lead to the disintegration of that society and the loss of the wealth of diversity and the scientific, economic, intellectual and cultural expertise of the Christians who emigrate.

Emigration is not so much a loss for the Christians as it is for the Muslims and at the same time it is a defeat for Islam-Christian coexistence.

ZENIT: To what extent are Muslims aware of the danger of a disappearance of Christians from the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I must admit that the Christian preoccupation for the future is greater than the awareness that Islam has of this danger.

It must be our duty to broaden the circle of Islamic consciousness about the emigration of Christians and the gravity of the exodus of Christians for Islam in that region and the rest of the world.

The Christian exodus brings an indirect message to the world: that Islam does not accept the other and cannot live with others.

At this point the other world, or the Western world in general, following this logic, would have the right to say: If Muslims do not accept the presence of Christians among them, in reality an authentic and historical presence, why must we accept [Muslims] in our societies?

This reflects negatively on the Islamic presence in the world and so it is in the interests of Muslims, for the image of Islam in the world and for the interests of Muslims in different parts of the world, to maintain the presence of Christians in the Arab world and to protect this presence with all its might not only out of love for Christians but because this is their right as citizens and inhabitants of the region, who were there before Muslims.

ZENIT: Speaking of Muslims in the world, especially in the Western world, one often hears talk of Islamophobia. What, according to you, are the causes and solutions to this phenomenon?

Al-Sammak: Some of these causes stem from historical circumstances inherited from Western culture, which has a negative vision of Muslims that has its roots in literature and is reflected day after day in the media in one way or another.

But what feeds this phenomenon is the behavior of some Islamic extremists in the Western societies and when I speak of unacceptable behavior, I am not necessarily talking about terrorism, which is in itself dangerous, negative and catastrophic, but I am also talking about the confusion between religion and tradition.

Tradition is not religion and some of these persons of whom I am speaking unfortunately come from Muslim societies [that have] local customs and traditions that they say are part of the religion even if they are not, and perhaps they are contrary to the religion itself.

They live in Western societies clinging to those traditions because through them they think that they are expressing their independent personalities. And so they come to these Western societies that do not accept them, and they understand themselves to be different in culture, in language, in religion, in food in “halal” and in “haram,” etc. and begin to feel themselves marginalized from social life; and to develop their own personality they cling to the traditions that they practiced in their countries and sanctify them, that is, they elevate them to the level of the holiness of religion in such a way as to give the impression to Westerners that if this is Islam, one cannot live with it.

But this is not Islam, these local traditions that come from African countries, from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, from India, etc.; the confusion between what is really religious and what is a social tradition to which a religious identity is given, leads to an increase in Islamophobia, understood as hatred of Islam based on ignorance.

Because ignorance about Islam derives from two things: The first is an erroneous interpretation of Islam by some Muslims and the second is the lack of understanding of Islam by some non-Muslims.

The basis of this social behavior practiced by some Muslims who come from underdeveloped or poor or primitive societies is not only in the fact that they ignore the social traditions of the West in the societies where they go to live, but that they also and above all ignore a large part of the constants of their faith and they negatively project this in such a way as to cause this situation of Islamophobia.

ZENIT: There is a growth in the currents of Islamic extremism. What is the impact of this growth on the Christians of the Middle East?

Al-Sammak: I think that these movements have already gone beyond the growth phase and that perhaps today we are witnessing the beginning of the phase of their decline.

This growth reached its height a short time ago but the drop in numbers has begun.

These movements do not only have an impact on Christians in the Middle East but above all they have an effect on Muslims.

Extremism is an attempt to monopolize the truth and an attempt to monopolize God and to monopolize the sacred; it is also an attempt to interpret religion according to the interests and concepts of certain movements and so the way of relating to Muslims is determined by these interpretations that are a threat to Islam, for Muslims and for Christians.

Thus we need a process of correction of these concepts through cultural and educational projects, and I can say that Arab countries are already conscious of this aspect after having paid a high price for the spread of the extremism that has begun to fade due to the courageous steps taken by different countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria and others.

All of these countries have begun a new and courageous reflection to revive the practice of the true faith in a correct and positive way.

ZENIT: What do the Muslims of the Middle East expect from the next Synod of Bishops? Will you participate?

Al-Sammak: I participated in the previous Synod and I am grateful to His Holiness John Paul II not only for inviting Muslims to a Synod but also for having insisted on us participating as active members and not just as observers.

I, personally, was a member of working commissions and this was a fact without precedent in the history of synods in general and in the history of Muslims at Christian meetings.

In reality, the next Synod is very important because it will discuss the topic of Christians in the East; and this is not an issue that only regards Christians but an issue that is also of interest to Muslims because they have the same fate in the East.

What affects Christians in the Middle East also affects Muslims.

Therefore we are very interested in what will happen and what will be decided in the next Synod. So far we have not received any invitation to participate but I hope that this will happen and I hope too that the Islamic participation will bring about something similar to what it did in the Synod on Lebanon.

Also because if we Muslims participate, we will assume the responsibility for implementing what will be decided at the Synod in view of a common Christian-Muslim responsibility.

We have said this many times because we are responsible for implementing what was established by the post-synodal declaration, at least for what regards Lebanon. A similar declaration will also be issued by this Synod and so the Muslims could have a responsibility for implementing it.

ZENIT: In your opinion, is there a continuity between the path taken by John Paul II and that of Benedict XVI?

Al-Sammak: I think that in restoring the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which was once annexed to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Pope Benedict XVI wanted to return to dialogue with the other religions, including the Muslims.

In fact, we have all seen how the Pope welcomed the Islamic initiative “A Common Word Between You and Us,” which regards love in Islam and Christianity. I had the honor of being among the first signatories of this document.

The Pope’s visit to Palestine and Jordan and his conversations with Muslim leaders opened new and broad perspectives to reactivate the dialogue launched by John Paul II in Assisi in 1986.

We have followed this work and we consider it among the most important missions that the Vatican is undertaking in relation to the Muslim world. We cannot however not take account of what is happening in some Muslim countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There are some pathological aspects of Islamic-Christian relations that can only be dealt with through a culture of dialogue and a culture of respect for differences.

The role that the Vatican can play is clear in the process of openness toward the Islamic world to encourage and promote this culture and establish it in Islamic societies.

ZENIT: The Lebanese government decreed the Feast of the Annunciation as a common feast for Christians and Muslims. In what measure can such initiatives, especially when they are promoted by the state, promote coexistence?

Al-Sammak: This is one of the achievements that we are proud of and that we have been working on for the past three years.

For three years we have been organizing on March 25 a Muslim-Christian gathering centered on Mary, reciting verses from the Gospel and from the Qur’an that regard Mary, seeking to show what is common to Islam and Christianity.

Last year from the podium of the former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, I personally declared his agreement and his approval of the declaration of March 25 as a Muslim and Christian feast day. The idea was that on this day everyone must continue to work, because the former prime minister said: “I want the Lebanese to work one day more not one day less.”

My brothers and I of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue (of which I am the secretary general) accepted the decision, because we wanted in any case to dedicate this day to Muslims and Christians.

Last week we met with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and we again proposed this idea to him, and he immediately supported it. And 48 hours later a decree was issued that declared March 25 a national holiday and a day of celebration: a day of [interreligious] work for both Muslims and Christians.

“What the World Needs Now … Is Faith”

CARDIFF, Wales, JUNE 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- 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”

Vice-Chancellor,
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!

Faith-based Media Earning Respect

By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, JUNE 11, 2007 (Zenit.org).- In spite of hostility to religion from a part of the media, faith-based material is flourishing in a number of sectors. The enthusiasm for films with a religious message shows no sign of flagging, especially with the recent announcement of a Christian entertainment company that it plans to build a $150 million studio to produce what they call “spiritainment.”

The year-old Good News Holdings hopes to make Massachusetts the home for the multimedia studio, the Boston Globe reported June 6. The company is young, but has already developed a number of products.

One of the first was FaithMobile, which delivers Bible verses through text messages. Another is LightsTogether.com, an Internet community for churches that offers tools for organizing prayer groups and Christian dating.

With regard to films, work is under way on “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt,” the story of Jesus at 7 years old. It is scheduled to start shooting in Israel this fall, with an aimed release in 2008.

One of the co-founders of this group is David Kirkpatrick, a former president of Paramount Pictures. “Our focus is on values-based entertainment across all platforms,” he told the Boston Globe. He described the company as “people who want to make a difference in the culture.”

The Web page of the company describes itself as wanting to be “the world leader in spiritainment.” Spiritainment, the page explains, “is content that challenges the mind, captures the heart and refreshes the spirit.”

According to Good News Holdings, the market for Christian, faith-based entertainment and content is substantial. In addition to movies such as “The Passion of the Christ” — $2 billion in worldwide ticket sales — and “Narnia” — $750 million — Christian music had $720 million in sales in 2004.

Doing well

Not all religious-oriented films do well, but a report cited by an article published March 13 by the Christian Post Web page revealed that they do better than movies that include explicit sex and extreme bad language.

A study carried out by Ted Baehr, publisher of MovieGuide, a publication that rates movies from a Christian point of view, looked at the top movies from 1998 through 2006. The report shows that films with a strong Christian worldview make anywhere from two to seven times more in ticket sales than those with explicit sex and nudity.

These findings, noted the Christian Post, are in marked contrast to the “sex sells” long popular in American advertising circles. “Hollywood pundits and advertisers on Madison Avenue like to tell the press that sex, nudity and obscenity sells best,” said Baehr in the report, “but nothing could be further from the truth.”

Christian books are also selling well, reported the San Francisco Chronicle on April 23. HarperSanFrancisco, which up until now has concentrated on nonfiction religious books, recently launched a line of Christian fiction for women, called Avon Inspire.

According to the article, from 2002 to 2005, religious book sales jumped from $588 million to $876 million. Sales figures for February 2006 to February this year show that religious book sales increased 33% in just one year.

The San Francisco Chronicle noted that the increased sales have motivated some of the largest publishing houses, such as Random House and Simon & Schuster, to acquire Christian publishers based outside of New York.

Bible boom

Sales of the Bible are also going well, reported the Chicago Tribune on June 4. In the United States around 25 million copies of the Bible are sold annually.

One of the most successful publishers is Thomas Nelson Inc., a Christian publishing house, which has a 36% share in Bible sales. “People still have tremendous interest in this book, and they want to make it their own,” said Wayne Hastings, who runs Nelson’s Bible group.

In addition to the Bible, Nelson has also sold nearly 50 million copies of a series of devotional books by Texas minister Max Lucado. Books on leadership by another clergyman, John Maxwell, have sold some 13 million copies.

The article cited data from the Book Industry Study Group Inc., a publishing trade association, according to which in 2006, religious books accounted for 6.4% of all book sales. This adds up to approximately $2.4 billion on Bibles and other religious books. This figure was up 5.6% in 2006, the biggest percentage increase of any book category.

One spur to sales is the production of new forms of the Bible. Bardin and Marsee, a small publisher in Birmingham, Alabama, produces “The Outdoor Bible,” a New Testament printed on folded plastic sheets, also obtainable in a camouflage bag for soldiers.

Nelson also publishes texts from the Bible in the form of magazines designed to appeal to adolescents, termed Biblezines. One of these, “Revolve,” is oriented to teenage girls. Another, “Refuel,” targets boys.

Radio is another field where religion is enjoying a boom, reported the weekly National Catholic Register on June 3. The article focused on Catholic stations, noting that while they lag behind the Protestant radio stations, their numbers are slowly growing.

Come October, Catholics will have an unprecedented opportunity to double the number of FM terrestrial stations operating across the country. That’s when the Federal Communications Commission is opening the application window for new FM noncommercial educational (NCE) stations.

Steve Gajdosik, president of the Charleston, South Carolina-based Catholic Radio Association, told the Register that there are currently approximately 150 operating Catholic broadcast facilities in the United States. Last year 21 new stations opened.

This could increase sharply in the near future, once the Federal Communications Commission opens up applications for new FM noncommercial educational radio stations.

These new stations need content and Catholic Radio International, founded by Jeff Gardner and Tom Szyszkiewicz, was established for this purpose. Catholic Radio International launched three programs in early May, available on the Internet for stations to download. “We’re trying to raise the quality of Catholic radio programming,” said Szyszkiewicz.

The Internet, commented Gardner, has opened up many possibilities. “It’s a great social leveler and presents an opportunity to communicate with an audience at an economy never before seen,” he said.

Christ’s light

On March 9, Benedict XVI urged the participants of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications to pay close attention to the role of media in shaping culture. “Undoubtedly much of great benefit to civilization is contributed by the various components of the mass media,” the Pontiff commented. “Such contributions to the common good are to be applauded and encouraged.”

It is also evident, the Pope continued, that a large part of what is transmitted into the homes of many millions of families is destructive. One answer to this problem is to direct the light of Christ’s truth upon these realities.

“Let us strengthen our efforts to encourage all to place the lit lamp on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the home, the school and society,” he exhorted. A task being taken up by growing numbers of Christians active in the media.