During his recent trip to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged and even celebrated the religious diversity in the region. On the event of his trip, Benedict XVI issued Ecclesia in Medio Oriente in which he addressed very many topics of serious concern to people living in the region. He addressed ecumenical and interreligious matters throughout the text. Many of these matters touch on social justice concerns related to Catholic social teaching. Worthy of note, the Pope recognized the significant contributions made by the broad array of Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities (#24).
Pope Benedict XVI addressed directly the violence that has afflicted the region, especially violence between and among the various religious communities and, in doing so, called for peace within the context of their shared religious heritage. He wrote, “According to its Hebrew etymology, peace means being complete and intact, restored to wholeness. It is the state of those who live in harmony with God and with themselves, with others and with nature” (#9). One must find peace “within” before it will be manifest in the world. Speaking from a Christian perspective, he identified conversion to God and “showing forgiveness to those close at hand and in the wider community” as fundamental dimensions of peace-making (#10).
Speaking to the broader, global context, the Pope explained that “the Church wishes to overcome every difference of race, sex and social condition (cf. Gal 3:28 and Col 3:11) in the knowledge that all are one in Christ, who is all in all.” On this theological basis, “the Church supports and encourages every peace initiative throughout the world and particularly in the Middle East” (#10).
Of particular import, given the religious diversity in the region, the Pope encouraged peace-making among different Christian communities and among different religious traditions. With regard to the latter, he spoke of an “ecumenism of service” (#14). He encouraged Christians in the region to continue to develop their collaboration in promoting human dignity and solidarity. He wrote, “Particularly fruitful forms of cooperation in the area of charitable activities and the promotion of the values of human life, justice and peace could also be developed or expanded” (#18). Benedict XVI grounded his call for interreligious dialogue and cooperation in the “Church’s universal nature and vocation” (#19). He specifically addressed the grounds for collaboration among Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims.
“Religious freedom,” he explained, “is the pinnacle of all other freedoms.” This freedom is “rooted in the dignity of the person; it safeguards moral freedom and fosters mutual respect.” Religious freedom emerges from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions. If respected, religious freedom can promote peace and even promote interreligious cooperation for the common good. Benedict XVI urged everyone in the region to achieve peace and justice through interreligious cooperation. It is his prayer:
May this region demonstrate that coexistence is not a utopia, and that distrust and prejudice are not a foregone conclusion. Religions can join one another in service to the common good and contribute to the development of each person and the building of society…God willing, the happy union of the dialogue of everyday life and the dialogue of intellectuals or theologians will slowly but surely contribute to improving relations between Jews and Christians, Jews and Muslims and Muslims and Christians. This is my hope and the intention for which I pray (#28).
Posted by: N. Rademacher, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Religious Studies