Monday, October 31, 2011


The charge was made in the Mobile Press-Register on Saturday, 29 Oct in an AP item, that Pope Benedict showed his typical closed-mindedness and craving for control by refusing to pray with members of other religions in an inter-religious gathering. [Ironically, this was in an article supposedly all about upcoming new liturgical language at Mass.]  The reference was obviously to the “Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World” which took place on 27 October in Assisi. This charge is inane and really does not deserve the time I am taking to refute it—a refutation that would be less likely to be needed if the correspondent actually made some effort to research the piece before writing it.

Perhaps this correspondent overlooked the fact that this event was not something the Pope was asked to participate in, for which he gave “hard-line conditions” for his appearance.   Assisi was from first to last his initiative, and he was the one who did the inviting and set the parameters for it. Should he have run his thoughts past our correspondent first, for approval?

Why would Pope Benedict “refuse” to pray with others at this gathering? Perhaps the answer is out of respect for his own beliefs, and those of the others. Let me elaborate—it seems to me at the very least an imposition to pray as a Christian when supposedly sharing prayer-time with a Jew or a Muslim. There are, incidentally, theological views among those latter faiths that regard Christians as heretics for introducing another god (Jesus Christ); they therefore would not recognize Christians as true monotheists. It is one reason why these three world religions are typically referred to, these days, as Abrahamic, rather than monotheistic, faiths.

What about Hindus? I cannot speak for the AP correspondent, and I mean no disrespect to Hindus. But I would be reluctant to pray to Kali…
Buddhists, on the other hand, do not strictly speaking have a belief in God at all—their prayer is for the purposes of achieving enlightenment (as the Buddha did), and of attuning themselves to nirvana, the cessation of the cycle of reincarnation and the cessation as well of personal consciousness. It is very akin (in the best possible sense) to the philosophy of Stoicism, in which the serenity produced by detachment is a most high value.  Yet noble as it is, I would not want to pray for that same goal for myself.

Pope Benedict invited atheists to join in this meeting. To whom would they have prayed together?
It is fascinating that our society so vigorously opposes things like prayer before sporting event(preferring “a moment of silence”) yet would express the editorial opinion (misplaced in honest reporting in any case) that the Pope is at fault for sharing moments of silence with those who would reject his notion of God.

Perhaps this can be best explained by realizing that the critique is coming from a mind-set that thinks prayer in any form is really a trivial exercise. But at least from the Catholic point of view, and, I am convinced, from the point of view of the overwhelming majority of those taking part in Assisi, Pope Benedict was simply being hospitably sensitive to those who do not agree with his own view of God and prayer. In the end, his outreach surely trumps the small vision of the AP correspondent.

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