Two significant interfaith gatherings took place these past few weeks involving Pope Francis. A rather interesting three day interreligious meeting took place at the Vatican. The “Humanum Colloquium,” organized by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was themed, “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” The gathering brought together some 300 leaders from the major world religions. The list of notables at the meeting included prominent U.S. evangelical pastors Rick Warren and Russell Moore, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sacks, as well as Anglican, Muslim, Pentecostal and Hindu leaders, and a leader of the Mormon faith, Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry and Bishop Gerald Causse of the Utah-based faith’s Presiding Bishopric accompanied Eyring to Rome. Eyring addressed the conference on the second day of the gathering.
Pope Francis addressed the gathering at the opening ceremony, saying, “The family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity.” He also lamented the “decline of marriage culture,” which, he said, “is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly.” This decline has produced “an ecological crisis,” that calls for “a new human ecology” that leads to a renewal of marriage between one man and one woman. The pope’s view of this renewal of marriage must include a “permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love” that “responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.”
This historic gathering was soon followed by the pope’s visit to Turkey. Besides the all important meeting and discussions that took place between Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, (which I will cover in greater detail in my next column), Pope Francis met with political and religious leaders of the predominantly Muslim country. He called for religious tolerance and dialogue as an antidote to the violent extremism unsettling the lives of so many in the Middle East and killing and driving out religious minorities. Upon his arrival, speaking in Ankara alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Pope challenged people of all faiths to show respect for human life, dignity and religious freedom. He said that Islamic militants, such as ISIS, were carrying out a “profoundly grave sin against God.”
Pope Francis said, “Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers.” The pope went on to lament the cruel and inhuman treatment of Christians and the Yazidi minorities in Iraq and Syria. He said, “Hundreds of thousands of persons have been forced to abandon their homes and countries in order to survive and remain faithful to their religious beliefs.” The Turkish president said that the pope’s visit in this time of unrest, is extremely significant and he hoped it would lead to an “auspicious era” of improved relations in the world.
At a meeting with Mehmet Gormes, the President of the Presidency of Religious Affairs and the highest level Islamic cleric in Turkey, responded to Pope Francis’ call for an end to the “barbaric violence,” by saying, “Those who veer away from the message of Islam, which is a call for peace and spread violence and savagery are in a state of rebellion against Allah no matter what they call themselves.” President Erdogan warned that the growing prejudice and Islamophobia against Muslims in the West were actually helping to fuel radical Islamic groups like ISIS in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Africa. “Those who feel defeated, wronged, oppressed and abandoned can become open to being exploited by terror organizations,” Erdogan said.
We hope the pope’s visit to Turkey and the ongoing efforts of Muslims, Jews and Christians throughout the world to foster peace and dialogue, will leave a better world to live in for future generations.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.