Rabbi Skorka: What my friendship with Pope Francis taught me about interfaith dialogue

Pope Francis walks with Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, left, and Omar Abboud, a Muslim leader from Argentina, as he leaves after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in this May 26, 2014, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

This February, I will be a participant with my friend Pope Francis at a “Global Conference on Human Fraternity” hosted by the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. It seeks a common framework of cooperation among religious leaders to achieve peace and human solidarity.

Interreligious dialogue has always been a priority for me. I learned its importance from my mentor Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer, a protégé of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In preparation for the gathering in Abu Dhabi, I find myself asking why my dialogues with the future Pope Francis so powerfully affected both of us. How did they move beyond being superficial exchanges of information to become profound spiritual and personal experiences? How did they come to embody what he has described as “the journey of friendship” that Jews and Catholics have undertaken since the Second Vatican Council?

First, we consciously put God at the center of our exchanges. We talked about God and how to draw closer to God. We wanted to learn from each other’s experiences of God. This gave us both the certain awareness that God was accompanying us on our journey.

Keeping focused on our relationships with God kept us humble and more open to each other. As Francis put it in On Heaven and Earth, the book we co-authored, “To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defenses, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.” We understood that God has fashioned all of us in the divine image, enabling us to see God’s reflection in each other’s faces as we increasingly opened our hearts to each other.

Additionally, we never tried to persuade—or dissuade—each other of anything. As Pope Francis has recalled: “[T]here was a basis of total trust, and…neither of us negotiated our own identity. If we had, we would not have been able to talk. It would have been a sham…. And neither of us attempted to convert the other.” Because of our trust, “our dialogue was free-wheeling,” as Francis reminded me when I shared a draft of this essay with him. Respect for each other’s religious integrity, in fact, helped us learn together. “My religious life became richer with his explanations, so much richer,” my friend observed.

Finally, we treasured the differences within our commonalities. We have learned that it would be a blasphemy to God if we were to let even defining differences separate us as God’s children and as brothers. Dialogue is the imperative of our age. Francis once wrote to me that “the seed of peace, once sown, will not be destroyed. You have to wait for the birth of the time that will favor its growth by praying and following the commandment of love.”

Read the full article here.

Gov. Kelly interfaith service theme: “Unity”

Photo Credit: WIBW

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)– Laura Kelly spent time before taking her oath as governor attending an interfaith service.

Religious leaders from different faiths including Hindu, Islam, Baptist, and Lutheran. joined the governor to give their well wishes. Their remarks shared a common theme of unity among the people of Kansas.

The leaders called on Governor Kelly and Lieutenant Gov. Lynn Rodgers to keep aiming for progress for the state.

“Our goal as the text says is to repair the world to make it better today than it was yesterday,” said Rabbi Moti Rieber of Kansas Interfaith Action.

Each prayer and blessing urged the new Governor and Lt. Governor to show the difference unity can make, and provide them strength as they spend the next four years in office.

“We must collaborate in an effort to pioneer the best of ideas that will shape the Kansas of tomorrow,” Dr. T. La Mont Holder of Wichita’s Calvary Baptist Church said, “And leave our state in a better place for generations to come.”

Read the full article here.

Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

Dr. Ruhul Amin
Kelly Gorham/ Montana State University

A Muslim writing about religion in a newspaper with a predominantly Christian audience is a testament to the value of interfaith dialogue in our society. It is imperative in today’s ever-shrinking world that we do not use others’ faiths as a criterion to separate them from engaging in our civic arena. We cannot afford to claim ignorance towards other religions. We must not claim to be religious by stating that it is only us, and not others, who matter. We should appreciate that there is dignity in difference. Assimilation and respect for others who are different than us should be an integral part of our faith. These are the central tenets of interfaith dialogue. It is an exercise of learning about other faiths that are different than ours. It is about respectful coexistence with others whose faiths, customs, and worldviews are different than ours.

The key to a productive democracy is to encourage interfaith communication. It is important not to marginalize people of other faiths, including those who do not identify with a faith at all. The foundation for interfaith dialogue should be that all parties engage in the discussion without any hostility or preconceived notion. The objective of interfaith communication is not to resolve our faith-based differences but to appreciate others’ faiths. Despite having different beliefs, we should still be able to work together for the betterment of our society to address issues such as homelessness, hunger, or job opportunities for the marginalized. We know that bridges of understanding do not fall from the sky or rise from the ground. They are built by engaging in dialogue. A religiously diverse democracy can help create spaces, organize social events, and foster friendship among people of different faiths to share a common life together.

Read the full article here.

Camille Paglia on the Value of Interreligious Knowledge

In a recent interview with Spectator|USA, Professor Paglia is asked to comment on “multiculturalism.” She cites the following as distilling her argument from Provocations, her most recently published collection of essays:

What is true multiculturalism?

As I repeatedly argue in Provocations, comparative religion is the true multiculturalism and should be installed as the core curriculum in every undergraduate program. From my perspective as an atheist as well as a career college teacher, secular humanism has been a disastrous failure. Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.

The cover of Provocations, Camille Paglia’s new collection of essays

Interest in Hinduism and Buddhism was everywhere in the 1960s counterculture, but it gradually dissipated partly because those most drawn to ‘cosmic consciousness’ either disabled themselves by excess drug use or shunned the academic ladder of graduate school. I contend that every educated person should be conversant with the sacred texts, rituals, and symbol systems of the great world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judeo-Christianity, and Islam — and that true global understanding is impossible without such knowledge.

Read the entire interview here

Ring Bells and Shout! Exploring the Heritage, Culture & Faith of NYC’s Orthodox Christians

Special thanks to The Interfaith Center of New York

Don’t forget to wish “Happy Christmas” to Christians today – that is, to the hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians in the world who celebrate Christmas on January 7 (or in some cases, January 6).

Pictured above (clockwise from top left):

The Very Reverend Fr. Thomas Zain, Dean,
St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral

Rev. Fr. John Vlahos, Dean,
Holy Trinity Cathedral (Greek Orthodox)

The Right Reverend Archimandrite Father Christopher Calin,
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection (Orthodox Church in America)

Fr. Gregory Saroufeem,
St. Mary and St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church of Manhattan

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‘You belong’: Threatened Muslim child receives 500 interfaith letters of support

Letters received by CAIR-Massachusetts in support of a 10-year-old Muslim girl. Photo courtesy of CAIR

BOSTON (RNS) — When a 10-year-old Muslim girl looked in her classroom cubby one Friday morning last month, she found a note there with the words, “You’re a terrorist,” scribbled in childish, all-capital letters.

The next week, a message appeared, saying, “I will kill you.”

“She was visibly upset — she was crying,” her uncle Jamaal Siddiqui told CBS Boston. “Just the thought of that makes me feel sick to my stomach.”

Now, two weeks after receiving the threat, the fifth-grade student at Hemenway Elementary in Framingham, Mass., has stacks upon stacks of letters of support from all over the country, waiting to be read.

“Dear young sister, assalam ‘alaikum!” one letter with a colorful heart began. “May you have peace in your heart, a smile on your face, and every good thing in this life and the next.”

“Hi friend!” another read. “A Jewish family from Maryland is sending you love and support. You are wonderful.”

“People of all religions should be freinds [sic],” a 6-year-old child named Sophie wrote above a colorful illustration of a young girl in a red hijab holding hands with a blond-haired girl.

In all there are more than 500 letters from more than 20 states.

“No child deserves to feel afraid at school because of their faith,” said Sumaiya Zama, director of community advocacy and education for CAIR’s Massachusetts branch. “We’re incredibly heartened by the wider community’s support for this young Muslim student, particularly by the powerful messages from the interfaith community.”

Read the full article here.

Towards A More Comprehensive Interfaith Dialogue

A Christian woman prays inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 29, 2018. (Photo credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

In an age where religious persecution is spreading at speed, it is crucial to consider steps which need to be taken to prevent further acts of religiously motivated violence. Engaging in political dialogue and stressing the need to adhere to international legal standards and states’ international law obligations is not nearly enough.

Interfaith dialogue, which refers to an exchange among religious communities on issues of mutual concern, explores the “engagement of the world’s religious traditions around theological questions and in their efforts to collaborate on questions of peace, human rights, and economic and social development.”

The annual G20 Interfaith Forum aims to build a network of faith and interfaith leaders from around the world, together with non-governmental organizations and other policy leaders, to discuss the role that religious communities can play in promoting the goals of successive G20 Economic Summits. The G20 Interfaith Forum identifies the policy and societal contributions of faith traditions and philosophies on leading global issues. The aim is to develop recommendations on priority issues that draw on interfaith insight and experience. The 2018 G20 Interfaith Forum discussed such urgent issues as equality and gender perspective, the migration and refugee crisis, modern-day slavery, environmental issues, hunger and violent extremism. 

Read the full article here.

Raising Your Baby on Peace (guest essay)

Raising Your Baby on Peace

353,000 babies will be born today and each one will have a choice of two paths through life: a peaceful one or a violent one. Evidence suggests that babies who are born into violent circumstances will be more likely to continue this cycle of violence when they become adults. It can be difficult to shift deeply ingrained attitudes. If you are expecting a baby, then how can you raise them in a culture of peace? Doing your bit as a parent or guardian will contribute towards sustainable peace for generations to come.

credit: Photos In Cancun

Reasons Be Optimistic for the Next Generation

Due to the hard work of peace activists and democratic governments, we currently live in the most peaceful era of human history. Babies being born today are less likely to experience violence than any previous generation. Global crime rates are down, with the rate of homicide decreasing from 20 in 100,000 in the Middle Ages to just 1 in 100,000 today. Death rates in wars since the peak of World War Two have decreased more than hundredfold.

Through the work of religious peacemakers and intergovernmental organizations, there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the next generation. They have the chance to be part of a truly peaceful society, through battling the last remaining areas of war and violence. Take comfort in the relative safety that your newborn is entering, then build on it with lessons of peace.

Teaching Peace Early in Life

The first stages of a human’s life involve fulfilling basic baby needs, such as providing food and sleep. However, it is never too early to begin instilling the right values in your offspring. Research suggests that physical punishment increases levels of violence in children as they age. Even among small babies, a firm “no” is comprehensible and therefore getting physical is rarely, if ever, necessary. 

As your child starts to ask questions about the world, teaching lessons of peace become paramount. The golden rule – treating others as you would wish to be treated – should be one of their first moral lessons. Be sure to reiterate this to encourage peaceful behaviors as your child develops into an adult.

Maintaining an Awareness of Violence

Despite the many reasons to be optimistic, you should also be willing to face the reality of violence. In the US alone, 20 people a minute are subject to domestic violence from a partner. Although war and per capita deaths, along with violent crime, are at their lowest levels ever, there is still work to be done. If we don’t acknowledge these hard truths, then overcoming it will be impossible. Furthermore, society must be educated on periods of war and violence, such as the Holocaust and World War Two, because those who do not learn about this history are at risk of repeating it.

There has never been a more peaceful time to raise a child, but that doesn’t mean that there is not work still to be done. Raising your baby in a culture of peace, tolerance, and understanding will set them on a path which increases the global level of peace.

Sally Perkins