Archbishop Romero got most publicity because of his commitment to the poor of El Salvador. He was murdered while saying Mass in a convent in San Salvador in 1980 at the hands of a US backed Government death squad. His death resulted in 12 years of civil war and his murderers were never brought to justice. He reminded the death squads that they were killing their own brothers and sisters and that no soldier “is obliged to obey an order against the law of God”. The day before his death he said “ In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise up to heaven each day more tumultuously, I plead with you, I pray you, I order you, in the name of God: Stop the repression.” It’s no wonder he was murdered. Power and injustice do not face up to Truth.
Paul VI was a more controversial figure because of the encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ which forbade the use of artificial methods of contraception at a time when many people in the Church expected the reverse. But he was a great Pope. He took the Catholic Church forward into the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, spoke at the United Nations, visited Jerusalem and began the long process of friendship and reconciliation with the Orthodox Church. He established the Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, now called the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Dialogue was the hallmark of his pontificate. For him the Church was not to stand aloof from the world or see itself as separate but to enter into dialogue with it, to love it. As the Pope who promulgated the document, ‘Nostra Aetate’, which began the Church’s journey into the world of interreligious relations, he is for me a champion of interfaith dialogue.
For Paul VI dialogue and love went together. Engaging in interfaith relations does lead to genuine friendship and love between people of different faiths but recently I was challenged to consider the possibility of loving another’s faith as my own. It came at an event on the Politics of Unity during which we listened to a speech that Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement, had made in Innsbruck in 2001. It was essentially about politics and was addressed to politicians. In this speech Chiara suggested that brotherhood between politicians could be a source of unity and that “we should live brotherhood so well that we reach the point of loving the party of the other as we love our own, knowing that neither party was born by chance, but each as the answer to an historical need within the national community”.
This could be quite a challenge for interfaith practitioners. There’s no doubt that some do love another religion as their own to the extent that they claim dual identity. Paul Knitter, a Catholic theologian, has written a book, ‘Without Buddhism I couldn’t be a Christian’ setting out how much he has appreciated the wisdom of Buddhism that has illuminated his understanding of Christianity. I think this could be quite common and I know a number of people who claim it but Knitter has taken the additional step of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma, which would normally make him Buddhist but, at the time of writing his book, he also claimed to be Christian. I don’t think I could do that. I appreciate Buddhist teaching, I can even say that I love it but I couldn’t make that kind of commitment to another. It’s like having a home base in my own religion from which I can relate to others and certainly appreciate aspects of them. I can feel at home in other faiths but it’s always been a bit like being at my auntie’s – familiar but not quite my own home.
There are also some people who would find it hard to say they loved another faith as their own, seeing it as a kind of betrayal. To love another as our own is to suggest that the other might be as good as, or even better, than our own. It might even suggest approval of aspects of another religion that we don’t like. As someone once said at an interfaith meeting, surely we all think our own is right and the best. I’m not sure I do. I know there are truths within my own religion and that it’s been a good force in my life but I also recognise its faults and drawbacks, especially the institutional aspects of it. Sometimes it can be quite a challenge to love it in the face of scandals which within Catholicism seem to be so dominant at the moment. I have to learn to love my faith in its weaknesses as well as its strengths. So with another faith, I can recognise its strengths, draw on its wisdom and beauty, appreciate how life-giving it has been to its members and yet not agree with some aspects of it, realising that all religions have institutional aspects that can be oppressive.
In this way then it's certainly possible to love another faith as I love my own