I haven't given much thought to the Pope's intention but this year Pope Francis has started presenting his intention for the month by video - the 'Pope Video' it's called. A friend sent me the one for January as if focussed on interreligious dialogue. It's rather wonderful and shows representatives of the Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths expressing their belief in God or confidence in the Buddha as in the case of the Buddhist nun but they all express their faith in love.
And the Pope himself announces his prayer intention: that sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice. He tells us that “The world expects those who claim to adore God to be men and women of peace who are capable of living as brothers and sisters, regardless of ethnic, religious, cultural or ideological differences.” It's very obvious from the media and even our own experience that people of faith, never mind humanity, is nowhere near this ideal. But it's an ideal within our grasp if we change our way of thinking and relating to one another. For the Pope and for those of us engaged in interfaith relations the way forward is dialogue. It's in dialogue that those who might at first sight appear to be strangers are recognised as our brothers and sisters. At the moment it is a minority sport with many good people giving notional assent to it but little energy or time commitment. Of course people have to prioritise where to direct their energies and there's much good work being done in many many areas. But dialogue as a way of life, not just between faiths, but between nations and all those who seem to be on opposing sides of a divide, is essential for the future of our race. As Pope John Paul said at the first Assisi meeting when he called the religious leaders of the world together to pray for peace, we either live and work together or we die together. I'm hoping that the publicity surrounding this video initiative and the topic of the prayer intention will awaken within many Catholics, and perhaps others, the desire to engage in interreligious dialogue. There are forty million subscribers to the Apostleship of Prayer and that's a lot of good people who may put their prayer into action and get engaged in some way in finding out more about their neighbours and getting to know them as brothers and sisters.
This week begins the season of lent. It starts with a call to repentance. Traditionally the focus has been on prayer, fasting and almsgiving but the word repent means change - a change of direction, a change of mind and heart. It's a call to move beyond what often characterises relationships - competition, superiority, suspicion, fear, insecurity to a recognition that we are all members of the one community, that we share a common home and are dependent on one another. Focusing on our individualities can lead us to compare ourselves with one another, to judge ourselves and what we hold dear with others, to see others as a threat, hindrance or help. To focus on community is to see ourselves as interdependent and to recognise the importance of cooperation, inclusion and friendship. It's to realise that underneath our individual differences there is a basic unity. Pope Francis is a wonderful example of this. He shows us what to pay attention to and how to ignore the kind of differences that academics and theologians can argue over. One example of this is that in his encyclical Laudato Si he includes a Christian prayer but also one for people of all faiths - at least those faiths who address Ultimate Reality as God. This breaks through the debates about the legitmacy of faiths praying together and shows us in a simple and straightforward way that it's possible. So too in his video for January he tells us that all men and women are children of God which is a reality beyond the divisions of religion and belief. To see others in this light would, I think, be a good lenten practice.