Fr. Damian MacPherson S.A.
Fr. MacPherson, SA, is Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto.
While attending an ecumenical service at a Lutheran church in Rome a year ago, Pope Francis encountered a Lutheran woman who was married to a Roman Catholic. She asked the Pope why she could not receive the Eucharist while attending Catholic services with her husband.
Oct. 31, 2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the date Martin Luther posted his 95 proposals on the door of a Catholic church in Germany to launch the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, Luther’s imprint on Christianity has never faded over the centuries.
It is all but impossible to discuss the multi-dimensional aspects of assisted suicide and euthanasia without a discussion of suffering. Suffering is the underlying factor around which the discussion on euthanasia ultimately takes place.
For the past 50 years, beginning with the 1965 Vatican II decree Nostra aetate, Catholic-Jewish dialogue has steadily improved to the point that today the relationship between Catholics and Jews has never been stronger.
What is closer to home than the family? It is the blueprint of who we are and, often, what we hope to become. It is from the family that we derive our personal and social identity. Family shapes and moulds our moral values and disciplines our behaviour.
The words to describe Islamic State atrocities have been all but exhausted. The bloodcurdling images in the news of their attacks stir the deepest resentment and there appears to be no end in sight to their violent activities. All of society feels insecure and vulnerable.
You have heard it said that a stitch in time saves nine. I know how to thread a needle and have done so many times. I have even sewn a button on my shirt and on occasion sat at a sewing machine, but a tailor I am not.
In a report on the eve of the 2012 Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., gave a brief but stinging assessment of the impact of secularism in our time. He noted a dramatic reduction in the practise of faith among the baptized from so called First-World countries. In addition, he said entire generations have become disconnected from such “foundational concepts” as marriage, family, common good and right and wrong. Secularism, he said, has created Catholics who are unable to recite the Church’s foundational prayers, who see no value in Mass attendance and who ignore the sacrament of Penance.
Pope Benedict’s XVI visit to Lebanon last month was a proud and privileged moment for Lebanese and other Christians in the region. But as the Pope spoke on behalf of peace, called for Christian unity and addressed the importance of living the interfaith reality in the region, American embassies in the Middle East and other locations around the world were under siege by Muslim crowds.
Muslim anger was aroused by an amateur film made in the United States that depicted the prophet Mohammad in disrespectful ways. Political cartoons in French newspapers quickly picked up the theme, exacerbating an already volatile situation. The issue is very sensitive to all Muslims. Even a respectful image of the prophet is forbidden.
Much of the world was left with sadness at the death of the U.S. ambassador and three colleagues who were killed when the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was stormed. Many in the civilized world simply do not understand why some Muslims respond so violently to a film created by a single individual. We’re left to ask: does the punishment poured out upon those embassies equal the offence?
Pope Benedict, standing shoulder to shoulder with leaders of the Christian world, along with various inter-faith leaders and a group of atheists in Assisi, Italy, in October 2011, made the following comment: “We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to disregard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended good. In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as a justification for violence. While we condemn terrorism of the day, it should be acknowledged that history also gives testimony that Christians have used force and violence in a way which today we acknowledge with a measure of shame.”
Most Canadian and Americans, including Canadian and American Muslims, would agree that these outrageous attacks are without justification and must be condemned. But, regrettably, there is a growing sense in the West that Muslims in general are a menace. Incidents such as these contribute another layer of undeserved resentment and suspicion of most Muslims. It is becoming more difficult for the average person in the West to believe the majority of Muslims are law-abiding, God-fearing, neighbourly people who walk the streets of our neighbourhoods and are very much committed to our same values of freedom, peace and family.
The Muslims who act violently represent a tiny percentage of the world’s Muslim population. Muslims are about a quarter of the planet’s population, about 1.6 billion people in total. In 2009, they exceeded the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics (although there are 2.18 billion Christians overall) and over the next 20 years the Muslim population is projected to grow twice as fast as the rest of the world. The tendency is to regard Muslims as being Middle Eastern or south Asian but the reality is that they inhabit every continent and embody many nationalities and cultures.
So it is incumbent upon us, as Christians, to not paint the whole Muslim world with the same brush of suspicion. Islam is one of three world monotheistic religions, joining Christianity and Judaism. In Islam, Jesus is revered as a prophet but not as divine, while Mary is honoured and mentioned more often in the Quran than in the New Testament. Like Christians, Muslims are called to love their neighbour — and most do.
When a Christian or a Muslim dishonour their neighbour, both fail in the faithfulness to which they have been called, and both must undergo a change of heart. What that means in our day-to-day lives is that if a Christian has an opportunity to befriend a Muslim based upon the Golden Rule, they should take that initiative, thus building a better world. And vice-versa.
Together, Christians and Muslims need to address the sobering question of how to overcome the ideological differences that drive such a wide wedge between them. Is the human desire for genuine peace and freedom stronger than acts of violence? Let’s pray that the answer to that question is yes.
(Fr. MacPherson, SA, is Director of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the Archdiocese of Toronto.)