50 years after Vatican II, interfaith relations need a boost

| October 19, 2015 | 0 Comments
Bishops of the world line the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica during the opening session of the Second Vatican Council Oct. 11, 1962. Catholic News Service

Bishops of the world line the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica during the opening session of the Second Vatican Council Oct. 11, 1962. Catholic News Service

If Christians and Muslims are ever to understand and respect one another’s religious beliefs, scholars say both learning and “unlearning” are necessary.

That analysis was offered during one of the sessions of a two-day symposium Oct. 12-13 that marked the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on interfaith relations.

“Christian Faith in a Multifaith World: Challenges and Opportunities for Our Time” was sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and held at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Fifty years after Pope Paul VI promulgated the work of the council fathers that the Church reproved discrimination of others because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion, and implored the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” and to live in peace with all, those tasks seem more and more difficult, particularly with regard to Christians and Muslims, experts said.

“We live in a world of sound bites that doesn’t allow for complexity and nuance,” said Sandra Keating, a theolgian at Providence College in Rhode Island.

“Religion doesn’t fit into a brief time frame well for Christian-Muslim dialogue,” Keating said. “People only get those little blurbs, and that doesn’t allow you deep and rich understanding of what people face.”

A member of the U.S. Bishops Catholic-Muslim dialogue group who serves as a consultor on the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, she said that understanding takes human interaction.

“It’s not just reading a book about Christianity or Islam,” Keating said. “It has to be a personal encounter.”

Keating’s counterpart in the session, Muslim scholar Homayra Ziad, said, “It’s a question of ‘unlearning’ what you think you know.”

Ziad said she finds religious literacy “a problem across the board” in her work on the staff of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, Maryland.

Students she works with — including seminarians — often are “utterly ignorant of other traditions of Christianity, no less other faith traditions.”

Trend of ‘religious indifference’

One symposium attendee, Conventual Franciscan Father Steven McMichael, an assistant professor of theology at St. Thomas, said he feared the only people involved in interreligious dialogue were in the room with him. Registration for the event was 139.

There has been a return to the preconcilior mindset with regard to interfaith and ecumenical relations, Father McMichael said, with Catholics “entrenched” in their own enclave. He expressed current thought by many as “ ‘the only thing I need to know is my own tradition.’ Ecumenism and interfaith relations are not even on the radar.”

Father McMichael, guardian of St. Joseph Cupertino Friary at the Franciscan Retreats and Spirituality Center in Prior Lake, picked up on Keating’s call for the need for personal encounters with people of other faiths and applied it to the local situation.

He said people do not seem interested in understanding the Muslim faith of the Somali immigrants who have found refuge in the Twin Cities area in recent years due to civil strife in their homeland.

“We have no idea who they are,” the priest said. “It’s like the Italians in New York City all being labeled Mafia. We don’t hear about [Muslims] unless it’s about a few joining ISIS.”

Father McMichael defined the trend as “religious indifference — religious indifference in the sense that I don’t care about other people, except when they threaten me.”

The Minnesota Catholic Conference and the Jewish Community Relations Council are alsocommemorating the anniversary of “Nostra Aetate”  Dec. 2 with a dinner at The Depot in Minneapolis.

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