From the editor’s desk
Fostering interfaith relations1 December 2012
Although its relations with other faiths are far better than they were before the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has still not resolved all the complexities of that new relationship. The way forward is by theological exploration, dialogue and joint action. Theologians must not be discouraged from thinking outside the box, as happened in the Vatican’s disgraceful treatment of the late Fr Jacques Dupuis SJ; nor should political complications stand in the way of addressing awkward questions, such as whether the Church should recognise a specifically religious claim by the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
The Vatican II decree Nostra Aetate transformed Jewish-Christians relations, outlawing Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. But it glossed over the land issue, not least because Christian Arab leaders became concerned that Palestinian interests should also be recognised for the sake of balance. In its final form, Nostra Aetate also had important things to say about Catholic-Muslim relations, and indeed relations with other faiths, too. But there are still loose ends. Does Nostra Aetate’s proclamation that the Catholic Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religions mean that they can be regarded as alternative paths to salvation? If they are not, what is the point of them? If they are, however, what happens to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ?
Dr Edward Kessler’s article in The Tablet today in celebration of Nostra Aetate tactfully raises several such issues. Nor can they be ignored in the work of Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan, interviewed in these pages, who has courageously pioneered dialogue between Catholics and Muslims through his cultural foundation, Oasis. It is
simplistic to dismiss such efforts on the grounds that, logically, Catholicism and Islam cannot both be true; better to start with the expectation that each of them may well be truer than the other side might have supposed.
Islam’s sublime emphasis on the holiness of God, for instance, can only be admired by Catholics. What cannot be said is that when they pray together or side by side, only one of them is praying to a God who truly exists. There is one true God and both are praying to him – a radically uncomfortable thought for fundamentalists of either type. This basic insight can transform interfaith relations, as in the foundation of a centre for interfaith dialogue, which opened in Vienna this week with Saudi finance and enthusiastic backing from the Catholic Church, the United Nations and Jewish groups. It is also relevant to the reality of modern Catholic education in Britain, where members of different faiths share the same classroom. It means, for instance, that the facilitation of prayer by Muslim pupils becomes a religious duty for Catholic teachers.
Latest statistics collected by the Catholic Education Service point to the growing diversity of religion among the intake of a typical Catholic school. But the gradual decline in the Catholic intake should not be regarded as a setback. A Catholic school should enshrine the ideals of Nostra Aetate at its heart, rejecting “nothing that is true and holy”, and regard fostering interfaith relations as its special business. If the result is to be growth of respect rather than confusion, however, the religious identity of Catholic pupils has to be secure. If it does nothing else, a Catholic school must take religion seriously.
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In this week’s issue
‘Two concepts pulling in different directions’
Art and the spirit
Strictly not for turning
A question of conscience
Saving the children
Rough justice for minorities
Don’t look now
Well read and well informed
Churches under-valued or over-estimating themselves?
Francis Davis, guest contributor
Hume knew Alan Hopes would one day be bishop
Fr Mark Woodruff, guest contributor
Anglican patrimony is becoming a reality
Don't get cynical about the impact of campaigns
Geoffrey Chongo, guest contributor
The Pope and the redemption of atheists
From creation to 're-creation'
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