I would like to begin with some good news on the national front. Father John Crossin, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis De Sales and executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has been named by Pope Francis to serve as a new member of a group of consultants advising him on all things ecumenical and interreligious. He will sit on the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and add his rather expansive expertise.
Father Crossin holds a doctorate in moral theology and master’s degrees in psychology and theology from The Catholic University of America. He is a friend and mentor to many of us involved in the ecumenical ministry.
In the midst of all the terrible and painful news coming out of the Middle East, especially concerning the movements and barbaric violence of such groups as ISIS, the committee staffed by Father Crossin issued a statement on the all important need for dialogue with Muslims.
Muslims throughout the world are trying to distance themselves from the violent radical fringes that claim they represent the faith of Islam. Muslim leaders are condemning the atrocious acts of these groups and trying to educate the world that they are not true representatives of their faith.
In the midst of all this turmoil the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the USCCB reaffirmed their commitment to dialogue with Muslims. The committee is being chaired by Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, who said that the statement was put together to address the growing tension between persecuted Christians and their Muslim persecutors in some parts of the world.
“We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad,” the bishops wrote. “Along with many of our fellow Catholics and the many Muslims who themselves are targeted by radicals, we wish to voice our sadness, indeed our outrage, over the random and sometimes systematic acts of violence and harassment — acts that for both Christians and Muslims threaten to disrupt the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition and friendship.”
Because of the news coming out that Christians and other religious minorities are being persecuted, forced to convert or, worse, tortured and killed, many Christians, including some Catholics, are stereotyping all Muslims as being violent and anti-Christian.
The bishops wrote that they are dismayed by this “deliberate rejection” of any dialogue or attempts to reach out to moderate Muslims by some Christians. The document reminds Catholics in particular of the clarion call of Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non- Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) to engage with Muslims.
With respect to Islam, the council fathers say that “the church has also a high regard for the Muslims” and that despite centuries of animosity “the sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding” (NA, no. 3). This call has been reaffirmed by each successive pope since St. John XXIII. They also remind Catholics of the past 20 years of fruitful dialogue between their committee and several national Muslim organizations, resulting in various documents on education, marriage and revelation.
They wrote that, “Perhaps most importantly, our work together has forged true bonds of friendship that are supported by mutual esteem and ever-growing trust that enables us to speak candidly with one another in an atmosphere of respect. Through dialogue we have been able to work through and overcome much of our mutual ignorance, habitual distrust and debilitating fear.”
They also affirm Pope Francis’ view that “dialogue does not mean renouncing one’s identity” nor watering down one’s beliefs, but “like the pope, we are convinced that the encounter and dialogue with persons different than ourselves offers the best opportunity for fraternal growth, enrichment, witness, and ultimately peace.”
And peace is certainly what we all desire!
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.