Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 20, 2002
Pope points the way to peace
This week, Pope John Paul travels briefly to Azerbaijan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country with only a handful of Catholics. By any human way of reckoning, this is a bizarre action - an 81-year-old pope in poor health uses his limited energy to visit an obscure country with virtually no Catholics.
What is he doing?
Since Sept. 11, a great deal of credence has been given to Samuel Huntington's 1996 book, The Clash of Civilization. Huntington argues that world religions have irreconcilable values that make conflicts between those religions inevitable. And insofar as civilizations are built upon differing religions then those civilizations will find themselves in conflict.
Hijacked airplanes ploughing into large buildings, killing thousands of people. America fighting back with all its military might to crush the threat to its society.
But the Catholic point of view is different and Pope John Paul is going to Azerbaijan to prove it. The Second Vatican Council enunciated the Catholic belief that the world's great religions do not have irreconcilable values. Their values, although obviously different in important ways, share much in common. What is needed is not a clash, but dialogue.
The pope has been campaigning with some persistence for this point of view throughout his episcopal life, but especially since Sept. 11. He brought world religious leaders to Assisi, Italy, in January to pray for peace. It was a visible sign that true religion brings not clashes, but dialogue and cooperation.
A year ago in a mosque in Damascus, the pope praised the piety of Muslims. He went on to say, "It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders will present our great religious communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict."
In a speech on Jan. 1, the pope reminded Catholics that they should work for justice and peace. But that is not enough. Justice and peace must be rooted in forgiveness. "The shattered order cannot be fully restored except by a response that combines justice with forgiveness."
Forgiveness is the only thing that makes it possible to leave pain and bitterness behind and go on to build a better tomorrow. Without forgiveness, we would be doomed to blow each other to smithereens. And without dialogue, there could be no forgiveness.
As the pope has so well demonstrated, forgiveness is not a one-way street. We must not only grant forgiveness, but also seek it. We must repent of the evil deeds we have done.
In a speech to Canada's Church press on May 8, Senator Douglas Roche said all people have a right to peace and that right is a fundamental human right.
In today's world, one could go further and say the right to peace often outstrips the right to self-defence. One may defend oneself, but not at the expense of the lives of the innocent who often are coolly brushed aside as "collateral damage."
Religious faith is the real hope for humanity, not its enemy. Religions need to be leading the way to forgiveness, peace and dialogue. Too often, demagogues have used religion to stir up hatreds.
The pope is leading us in a different direction, away from the myth of inevitable clashes. By his example, he is challenging us again and again to find oneness with people of different religions.
We live in dangerous times. The way out of them is through the hard work of mutual forgiveness and mutual understanding.
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