Working locally for peace could have global impact

| Father Erich Rutten | June 9, 2016 | 0 Comments

This spring, I was given the great gift of a 10-week sabbatical in Jerusalem and Israel — the land of the Bible. It was absolutely amazing to walk in the places where Jesus walked. It was an enormous grace to be able to tangibly honor the sites of his ministry, death and resurrection.

As you might imagine, my experience was also profoundly impacted by the very difficult ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. As part of the fighting between Israel and Palestine, there were a number of stabbings in Jerusalem, and almost every week soldiers would shoot tear gas to disperse angry gatherings in Bethlehem. When we traveled in northern Galilee, we stopped at a strategic overlook at the border with Syria. We prayed intently for all the victims of the Syrian war — the killed, the wounded, the millions of refugees, and for the Christians singled out for persecution, torture and death. We prayed that the international community might work much more urgently to resolve the conflicts and find peace.

While in the Holy Land, I read a 2002 book titled, “The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. You would think that the answer to finding peace is simply to let everyone believe whatever they want to believe. But Rabbi Sacks says this: “Relativism is too weak to resist the storm winds of religious fervor. Only an equal and opposite fervor can do that. I do not believe that the sanctity of human life and the inalienable freedoms of a just society are relative. They are religious absolutes. They flow directly from the proposition that it was not we who created God in our image but God who made us in his. They belong to the very tradition that Jews, Christians and Muslims — who have spent so much of their time in mutual hostility — share.

“Healing must come from the religious experiences of those whose lives are governed by those experiences. It must come, if anywhere, from the heart of the whirlwind itself. This means that each of us who belong to a faith must wrestle with the sources of extremism within our own faith.”

Pope Benedict XVI offered an important insight in a talk he gave at Assisi in 2011. He distinguished true religion from false. He said, “Yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature.

“The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put ‘suffering-with’ (compassion) and ‘loving-with’ in place of force. His name is ‘God of love and peace’ (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.”

I know that the Middle East seems far away. Global conflicts might seem to have nothing to do with us. But, what happens there impacts all of us. And what we do can impact them.

Maybe there is a role for us, right in our own communities, to engage with Jews and Muslims and all people — to purify together our hearts and our faiths. This is why Pope Francis keeps encouraging us to truly encounter each other.

Sure, a person can walk where Jesus walked when one visits Jerusalem. But, we can also walk with Jesus here in Minnesota when we work for reconciliation and peace.

Father Rutten is chairman of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs.

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Category: The Local Church