A post today on the Wild Hunt noted that on a recent trip to Brazil, Pope Francis met with representatives of Candomble. The post asked:
If the Pope embraces reconciliation with Candomblé, with real, human, interface between leaders, why shouldn’t Catholics also embrace practitioners of Vodou? Or indigenous African religions? Or modern Paganism, for that matter? Indeed, the Pope’s new attitude is needed more now than ever before. We live in a world where human beings, fueled by religious beliefs, are persecuting and killing one another in increasingly disturbing incidents. What better time for a Pope to emphatically embrace an interfaith mission? A mission that had been blunted during the Papacy of Benedict, but now, hopefully, will bear new fruit. - See more at: http://wildhunt.org/#sthash.QePEpg39.dpuf
The current Pope has a history of being friendly to interfaith work. When he was Cardinal Bergoglio, he was a supporter of the United Religions Initiative in his diocese.
Maria Crespo, an Argentine Catholic and Global Support Coordinator for the URI said in an article last March that she had worked directly with Bergoglio on interfaith efforts. He hosted a meeting of Crespo’s URI Cooperation Circle, which fosters interfaith cooperation, at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. “He is so open and welcoming and humble at the same time,” she said. (Laird Harrison, “Bay Area Catholics May Find the New Pope a Mixed Bag,” KQED News Fix, March 13, 2013, http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2013/03/13/new-pope-chosen/)
The URI has posted: “In 2007, URI - represented by Bishop Swing, Maria Eugenia Crespo and CC [Cooperation Circle] members - celebrated the 10th anniversary of our first meeting in the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Little did we know one of our esteemed participant and friend, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, would be named Pope just five years later! Felicitaciones, Papa Francis!” (http://www.facebook.com/unitedreligionsinitiative)
This is part of a noticeable warming of the Vatican towards the URI.
Under Pope John Paul II, the URI was primarily attractive to Catholic dissenters, but the then-Archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada, allowed his diocesan staff and newspaper to promote it without hindrance. At one point, Archbishop Levada told Father Gerry O’Rourke that when O’Rourke was doing interfaith work with the URI he should tell folks that he was doing this on his [the Archbishiop’s] behalf.
Under Pope Benedict XVI, William Levada was swiftly brought to Rome and raised to be the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition). One of the last things Levada did before leaving San Francisco was to invite me to represent the Wiccan community at a service at the cathedral for John Paul II. When Levada was raised to be Cardinal, he invited some URI leaders to join in the festivities in Rome.
The URI continued to spread, and attracted donations from Catholic leaders from 2004 onward. Donors acknowledged by the URI included the Archdiocese of Baltimore (2005), the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2004), Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington DC (2005), and Archbishop George Niederauer, of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (2008). Fr. James Channan, who served on the URI Global Council from 2002 to 2008, received an award from the Vatican in December 2005 as a “Pioneer of Christian Muslim Dialogue in Pakistan,” indicating Rome’s approval of his interfaith work. This award was granted during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI.
Now, the current Pope sponsored and participated in URI activities before coming to Rome.
Pope Francis also has supporters at the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions (CPWR). There are two articles of interest on their website:
- “The Parliament Of World Religion’s Welcomes Pope Francis – Celebrating a Leader and Patron for Global Interreligious Relations” (http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/news/index.php/2013/03/the-parliament-of-the-worlds-religions-welcomes-pope-francis/)
- “Pope Francis and Interreligious Relations” (http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/news/index.php/2013/03/pope-francis-and-interreligious-relations/)
While there is no question that Pope Francis is an ardent and devout Christian and a defender of the faith, throughout his career he has been a friend to interfaith work. Let’s hope that this trend continues, both for him and for the Vatican. Communication is always better than violence; and it is always better to be building relationships than fences.
Don Frew(with many thanks to researcher Lee Penn for pointing me to these sites and letting me use some of his reporting)