12/3/2012 4:43:00 PM The church must evangelize, but it also must dialogue
Catholic News Service photo
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt walks next to Abdullah Al Turki, president of the Islamic League; U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal; Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger; Spanish Foreign Minist er Manuel Garcia-Margallo Marfil; and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, during the opening ceremony of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Center in Vienna Nov. 26. The new Saudi-backed interfaith center will provide an opportunity for the church to promote religious freedom for Christians and others around the world, said Cardinal Tauran.
We humans have always been a tribal people. Even today we all belong to at least one. It might be our race. Or ethnicity. Or a profession. It even could be a generation. I'm a white Irish-American senior citizen. And despite our veneer of civilization, elements of our tribal history leak through into everyday human interactions.
The most common? We're wary of other tribes, uncomfortable with those who are different from us. If you want to see how our tribal background continues to play out today, just think about the one-against-another nastiness rampant in the just-concluded U.S. presidential campaign.
Even our religion, what and how we believe, places us in a tribe. And, boy, are we ever wary about the people who believe differently than we do. During the political campaign, for instance, everyone had their turn in the bulls-eye: Catholics, Muslims, evangelical Christians, Mormons and more.
This same lack of acceptance of religious differences contributed to the Crusades, the Inquisition, the settlement of the American colonies, the anti-Catholicism of the mid-1800s, as well as today's Islamophobia.
Our increasingly faith-fractured world shouldn't keep us from strengthening our Catholic identity. Certainly, under Pope Benedict XVI, the robust new evangelization is welcome, as is an enhanced understanding of the truths of the Catholic faith.
Still, even as our tribal wariness grows, so too does the need to work together for a global good.
Increased dialogue with other religions -- Christian and non-Christian -- has been a hallmark of the church for several decades. And yet, those efforts have sometimes been faulted for providing acknowledgement and validation of other faiths rather than bringing erring religions into the fold of the "true church."
One important lesson from the presidential campaign is the renewed appreciation of the role religion can -- must -- play in American society. It's still not clear how the president's contraception/insurance mandate and abortion views will play out. But comments by U.S. bishops and leaders of other faiths make it clear that religious values continue to resonate in our culture, even beyond religious liberty and life issues.
Religions of all stripes have a role in creating and bringing order to society. True, sometimes the society religion builds isn't so great. Witness the violence of extreme Islam, the persecutions of some of our own Christian history and more. But those are aberrations.
Catholic social services, along with those of different faiths, continue to play a mighty role in providing for the human needs of millions of people regardless of their belief system. This is Gospel work in an ecumenical and interfaith realm: feeding the poor, clothing the naked, binding up the wounds of the hurting.
By all means, let's continue the new evangelization. And we certainly must find ways to renew the sense of our own Catholic identity. But despite stumbles in relations with Islam, Judaism and even some Christian denominations, the church must continue to strengthen ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
We don't need to believe the same things about God to believe in the need to work for a better here and now. There is much that we can do together.
Religion is tasked with bringing values, justice, morality, aid and comfort to all people, to all our tribes. Christians call it creating the kingdom of God on earth. We are in the season of Advent and Christmas, a celebration of the possibility of that kingdom. Jesus is savior of the world, not just of Catholics.
So, let's convert and evangelize. But let's learn to work and play well with others too. The kingdom depends on it.
The writer is a former editor of The Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago and a deacon ordained for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.