The Society of Jesus, Pope Francis and interreligious dialogue

April 4, 2019 — Our world has never had such a need for peacemakers and also for builders of bridges of brotherhood, to repeat Pope Francis' beautiful words; even more so in the aftermath of the terrible attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand. But also following several attacks on Christian communities, from Nigeria to the Philippines. Strongly condemning all these attacks, the Pope invited Christians to pray for the Muslim victims of the Christchurch attacks, not without calling on humanity to put an end to the persecution of martyred Christians all over the world.

In the Pope's eyes, the solution to these interfaith tensions lies in dialogue and diplomacy - not in armed struggle. Needless to say, he is committed to peace, whether between Cuba and the United States, between Russia and Ukraine, or between Israel and Palestine. As well as his many official visits to the Arab-Muslim world where he advocated for peace and interreligious dialogue. His most recent trip to Morocco speaks volumes on this subject, as Francis once again called for dialogue and fraternity between the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the only way to overcome hatred and division. Great moments of spiritual communion took place during this trip, including this concert by the Moroccan Symphony Orchestra. Muslim (Allahu akbar), Jewish (Adonai) and Christian (Ave Maria) prayers were sung in unison:

nostra-aetateInterreligious dialogue has a very long history in the life of the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits are indeed different from some of their missionary confreres in that they have sometimes practiced the inculturation of Christianity in a radical way. They have also stood out for their desire to better understand the culture and religious universe of the peoples they were (certainly) trying to evangelize. 

This tradition of inculturation has also been combined with a desire to break with the contemptuous and intolerant attitude of the Church of yesteryear towards non-Catholic and non-Christian religious traditions, particularly Jews, and even more so in the aftermath of the Shoah. The time of the Second Vatican Council was essential in rejecting these contemptuous and deadly attitudes. In addition to Pope John XXIII's personal commitment to the delicate issue of the struggle against Catholic anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, it is worth noting the decisive role of two Jesuits in the elaboration of the Vatican II Declaration Nostra Aetate: Cardinal Augustin Bea SJ and theologian John Courtney Murray SJ. To which can also be added Canadian theologian Gregory Baum, who, although not a Jesuit, played a key role in the development of this founding text.

As a promoter of Jewish-Christian dialogue in Canada, our late companion Stéphane Valiquette is also an illustrious representative of this tradition of interreligious dialogue. Just like the Italian Jesuit Paolo dall'Oglio, promoter of Islamic-Christian dialogue and founder of the monastery of Mar Moussa in Syria; and Fr. Frans van der Lugt who lived this commitment to peace and dialogue to the point of martyrdom.





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