Update April 5th, 2017
 
                              
 

OMI's and Islam

The 36th General Chapter of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (the highest authority within the Oblates), meeting in Rome, Italy from Sept. 14-Oct.12, 2016, made four "Points of Attention," regarding Islam: 

1.  Renew our awareness that evangelization is not only the explicit proclamation of the faith and the Gospel. 

2.  Make an inventory of our missionary settlements in the Muslim world in the Congregation: gather in a document their  experiences, expertise, visions and needs. 

Click here for # 3 and 4 and the entire document.

   Assisi continued September 18-20, 2016 with Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI participating click here
See below for Assisi 2011

 

Fr. George McLean, OMI, Evangelizer and Dialoguer

 

We are grateful to Fr. Charles Hurkes, OMI, for forwarding the 64 Letters of Condolences from Dr. Hu Yeping. Click here for a slightly edited version, where the many cc e-mails have been deleted.  A personal remembrance of Fr. McLean:  after his year of study in Cairo, Egypt, concerning Islamic Religious Thought (1991), he wrangled an invitation to address the Mullahs (scholars of Islamic Religion) in the holy city of Qom, Iran.  He was the first non-Islamic scholar, and the first Christian, to do so.  He entered the lecture hall with some fear, and immediately sensed the hostility of the Mullahs.

 

He related to a group of us when the Oblate Center for Mission Studies, Washington, DC (1994-1999) and his Center for Research in Values and Philosophy (see 8th item below) were working closely together, that all of a sudden, an expression from our Oblate spirituality came to mind:  to be an Oblate of Mary Immaculate is to have "a passport to heaven."  He remembered that this is also a revered Islamic expression.

 

So he introduced himself as an "Oblate of Mary, with a passport to heaven," and the Mullahs expressions all changed from one of hostility to welcome. This was one of Fr. McLean's many gifts, to take an expression from one religion and adapt it to another, showing the unity of values.

 

Dialogue, Part of  the New Evangelization: 

OBLATE MARTYR FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE 

Father Michael Rodrigo, OMI, was a pioneer in Buddhist-Christian Dialogue in Sri. Lanka.  On Nov. 10, 1987, he was martyred for his ministry. Previously, he was written up by Fr. Philip Singarayar, OMI in the booklet Oblate Missiologists, pp. 24-25:  click here.  In Nov. 2012, the Sri Lankan Oblates produced the first of three annual  issues of Samvada, Sri Lankan Catholic Journal on Interreligious Dialogue.  Each issue contains articles about Fr. Mike.

 


Issue 1 click here      




Issue 2
click here


Issue 3 click here.
 

 

  Secretary of State John Kerry on Religion and Dialogue Click Here


Witnessing to Muslims: Is it Possible? Click here for the August 25th update and the previous  presentation of Dr. Bob Brenneman
     
Louis Lougen Orlando Quevedo  Marcello Zago
 

With the naming of Oblate Archbishop Orlando Quevedo as our second current cardinal, we have acquired a deeper and urgent need to be dialoguers. With the naming of Oblate Archbishop Orlando Quevedo as our second cardinal of this decade (Jan. 12, 2014), we briefly had two cardinals skilled in dialogue.  (The first, Cardinal Francis George, died on April 17, 2015).  We hope soon to look at Cardinal George's legacy in dialogue. Now let us briefly present why Cardinal Quevedo is important for dialogue.

 Our superior general Louis Lougen OMI put it this way in July, 2011:  "Our Oblate spirituality also brings us into dialogue with people of other religious traditions.  Grounded in our Catholic faith, we seek to understand how others believe in God.  Oblate spirituality enables us to respect other religions and to work with them so that our world will reflect the heart of God" (Catholic Digest, July/August 20ll, pp. 28-29; click here for the article.

 

Lougen recently visited one of our missions in a Moslem majority country, and asked the Oblates there:  what are you doing with Moslems?  Interestingly enough, Cardinal Quevedo has spent most of his life furthering dialogue with Moslems in the Philippines, and as archbishop of Cotabato on the island of Mindanao has been influential in that area being named Autonomous Region for Moslem Mindanao.

 

Quevedo also was very influential in the forming of the bishops of Asia into a conference which deals creatively with dialogue with the major religions of all of Asia. Lougen commented on Quevedo's appointment:

By naming Archbishop Quevedo cardinal, Pope Francis is giving a signal to all of us: it is the recognition of a very committed missionary, a priest and bishop who leads by serving others, whose main concern is the Gospel and the poor and who has worked tirelessly to promote friendship between Christians and Muslims, to support their struggle to live together in respect and peace,” stated Fr. Louis Lougen, OMI, Superior General of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate , the religious congregation to which Msgr. Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, on the island of Mindanao, belongs.

Fr. Lougen explains: “Archbishop Quevedo is a man of the Church with many gifts and who has always chosen to live simply and whose option as a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate has always been to be very close to the poor. He is a man of compassion, joy and generosity. Pope Francis is showing what kind of Church we are called to be by naming Archbishop Quevedo as cardinal”. The Superior says he is convinced that for Quevedo, this honor at being designated a cardinal is not to be “a prince of the Church” but is a confirmation that the Church, and Archbishop Quevedo’s own life, are “to be like Jesus, a servant who washed the disciples feet”.

“As Oblates of Mary Immaculate we are happy and proud,” he continues, “and rejoice in his being recognized for his prophetic ministry as religious, missionary, priest and archbishop”.

Fr. Lougen concludes with a hope for peace in Southern Philippines: “The process of peace depends on the efforts of everyone. It is my hope that this honor may bring attention to the importance of dialogue, respect and peace-building and may reinforce the commitment of all of us to this process.”

Although written in 1998, Zago's article on the Spirituality of Dialogue remains a classic. Click here.  For Zago's role at Assisi, see the Dialogue Page, fourth box, Pilgrims of Peace.

 
The Aug. 2011 Newsletter analyzing the Assisi event 50th's anniversary is very relevant today, as Dialogue becomes richer, more complex and more controversial.  Click here.


(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, called for the “‘intelligence of the heart’, which inspires us to respect what God is accomplishing in every human being” during the opening session of an interreligious forum in Vienna, Austria, on Monday morning.
The cardinal spoke at the opening general assembly of the two-day Global Forum of the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and intercultural Dialogue.
Below is the Cardinal’s complete text:
“We are living in a changing world. We are living more and more in a ‘provisional’ world. But many people rediscover that we cannot live without reference to history and especially without relation to our contemporaries, their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties. In such a context religions are called to propose – not to impose – reasons for living.
What is at the centre of our concern is the human person, man and woman. The human person is the object of the attention of political and religious leaders. Each one of us is a citizen and a believer. All of us belong to the same human family. It means that we share the same dignity, we are confronted by the same problems, we enjoy the same rights and we are called to accomplish the same duties.
But unfortunately, we have to recognize that too often: we judge people on their appearance or on their ‘production’, even though every human person is much more than how he or she appears or is able to produce; we reduce the human person to an object (I am thinking of all the problems raised by bio-technology), while the human person transcends his/her material dimension;
Interreligious dialogue teaches us: to be careful not to present the religion of the other in a bad light in schools, universities, the mass media and, in particular, in the religious discourse; not to demean the religious convictions of the others, especially when they are not present; to consider diversity – ethnical, cultural, vision of the world – as richness, not as a threat.
Interreligious dialogue impels us: to listen and to better know each other; to think before judging; to present the content of our faith and our reasons for living with kindness and respect".
Therefore, interreligious dialogue can contribute to: give to God again the place which He deserves; to inspire fraternity; to give the wisdom and courage to act.
To look at the theme "The Image of the Other" is also to look within ourselves in order to purify all that makes us closed to what is new and true; to look at the other means also to accept being questioned by him about our faith and to be ready to give an account of it; to look at the other is to be available to work with all persons of good will for the common good.
One of the tasks of KAICIID could be the promotion of what I dare to call, "the intelligence of the heart", which inspires us to respect what God is accomplishing in every human being and at the same time to respect the mystery that every human person represents. What we have to avoid absolutely is that religions engender fear, attitudes of exclusion or of superiority in people.
In concluding, I express my heartfelt wishes for the success of this meeting. It will send a very significant message if KAICIID can become a place where we can take time to look at each other, to better know each other and to share all our abilities in order to make this world more secure and enlightened, with all its inhabitants living in the spirit of respect and friendship that Pope Francis has repeatedly said, "To encounter all because we all have in common our having been created in the image and likeness of God."

 

 
 
Two members of our religious community have contributed significantly to the reality of Dialogue.  Archbishop Marcello Zago OMI (1932-2001)'s work at the 1986 Assisi event is described in the box below.  Father George McLean OMI's work in developing the Council on Research in Values and Philosophy recently won the Global Dialogue Prize for 2013. See www.crvp.org website for McLean's unprecedented work.
 

Highly recommended for the challenge of praying with people of other faiths:  Thomas Ryan CSP, Interreligious Prayer:  A Christian Guide (NY

:  Paulist, 2008).  Only 85 pages, this booklet first gives the Biblical reasons for deciding when and what kind of interreligious prayer is necessary. A Canadian who lives in Washington, DC, Father Ryan is our best expert in North America on interreligious dialogue.  See his Koinonia newsletter for continual updates on ecumenism and dialogue: www.unity.paulist.org.

For Hispanic readers:  Pope Benedict specifically invited leaders to Assisi, who belong to no faith but who are influential in the areas  of culture and science as they work for Justice and Peace.  One of these, Guillermo Hurtado, is a Mexican philosopher.  He edits a journal of philosophy Dianoia.

 

Pilgrims of Peace, Assisi, Oct. 27, 2011

The 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s World Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi, Oct. 27, 1986 was a marvelous deepening of the Proclamation of Jesus, Christian Unity, and Dialogue with World Religions, for Peace.  But it also reminded us that some people concluded all religions are the same.

 Oblates of Mary have a magnificent heritage from Marcello Zago OMI, who was the pope’s right hand man at the 1986 meeting.  Click here for Marcello’s moving description of what happened and how we can avoid syncretism and relativism.  For more on Marcello’s life, bring up Oblate Missiologists from the home page.  On Feb. 26, 2011, Father Fabio Ciardi OMI, Director of Oblate Studies and Research, gave a conference in Villorba, Italy to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Marcello's death (March 1, 2001).  Fabio stated that Marcello's "teaching over the years was always serene, simple and secure."  The entire conference is being translated from Italian and should be available shortly.

 Marcello was assisted by another Oblate, Al Kedl OMI, who wrote two articles in Vie Oblate Life 65 (2006, #’s 1 & 2) about the experience. His first article “Fr. Marcello’s Role,” pp. 28-38 describes the long and intense preparations. His second article, with the same title, begins with this description of the day itself:  “Father Zago and myself left the General House at 9.00 a.m., with our minibus driven by Bro. Jakob Wagner, O.M.I.  Fr. Fausto Pelis, O.M.I., from the Italian Province, was also coming with us to Assisi in order to be in charge of the Ba’Hai prayer group.  I was to be in charge of the Amerindian traditional native religion group.  From the General House, we drove to the Secretariate for Non-Christians near the Vatican, where we picked up five other passengers:  the President, Cardinal Francis Arinze, and four other priests who work at the Secretariate.  Each of these four would be in charge of a religion group at Assisi.  So now we had a full minibus load” (p. 27).  Both articles are available on our international website www.omiworld.org, click on Vie Oblate Life.

Reading both Marcello’s article above, and considering Kedl’s description, one can see that Oblates had a very important role in developing the spirituality of the event, and the actual carrying out of the event.

Franciscan Planning for Oct. 27, 2011:  The city of Assisi is built around the various Franciscan communities.  Click here to see how Franciscans all over the world are preparing.

Vatican Announcement of April 6, 2011 (L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, pp. 3-4), “Pilgrims of  Truth, Pilgrims of Peace in Assisi,” click here.

Catholic News Service commentary by Cindy Wooden and John Thavis, April 8, 2011, click here.

Example of “Together to Pray, But Not Praying Together,” Columban Magazine, Nov. 2007, p. 11, click here.


 

What Assisi Has Lost

A report from the meeting of religious leaders
Austen Ivereigh | NOVEMBER 14, 2011
the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

Of all the challenges faced by the Vatican in organizing the 25th anniversary of the historic interreligious gathering in Assisi in 1986, the hardest was how to make it newsworthy. The 176 delegates—representing, said the Vatican, ”not only the world's religions, but all people of good will, everyone seeking the truth”—whom Pope Benedict XVI led by train from Rome to the town of St Francis were comprehensive in their diversity. But if the Christian delegations on October 27 included the top men—Pope Benedict himself, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I—the delegates from Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others included no obvious celebrities, or even organizations whose presence might have raised an eyebrow. Even the inclusion of four non-believers failed to create a stir, for it was not Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens standing with the pope but little-known academic philosophers.

In purely news terms, of course, 2011 couldn’t compare with the pure gold of the original 1986 gathering. The sight of Christian leaders standing in a semi-circle in the basilica dedicated to St Francis together with the Dalai Lama and a rainbow of sashes, robes and elaborate headgear was unprecedented. The 160 leaders of the great world religions called by Pope John Paul I did not “pray together,” exactly, but “came together in public to pray at the same time.” That distinction was lost on most observers, who still remember the ritual fires, the drums and the feathers, and the invocations of spirits. The scenes confirmed the fears of the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who famously boycotted the gathering. 

But that first Assisi gathering caught the imagination of the world. Alarmed at the deep freeze in superpower relations, Pope John Paul II had summoned—as no one but a pope could—the spiritual energy of the world’s faiths, and put in train a movement among religions at the service of peace in the world. The theology was simple: the Catholic Church, whose task is to communicate the Gospel, seeks to further the global common good, and encourage the message of peace which is at the heart of every faith. And where better than in the town of il poverello, who had tamed the ferocious wolf of Gubbio, leap-frogged the walls of war and spoken to the Sultan?

If the 2011 gathering seemed less dramatic, it was partly because of the obscurity of the non-Christian delegates, and partly because the centerpiece of the 1986 action—the public act of prayer—was now missing. At the first Assisi réprise in 2002—when John Paul II, by now frail, again gathered the religious leaders to chase away the dark clouds of 9/11—the delegates prayed in their faith groups in different locations in Assisi, rather than in public. But prayer was still the point. 

This time it was different. Rather than a day of prayer it was a “pilgrimage,” a time of “reflection and dialogue,” with each participant being assigned a room in a retreat house for “a time of silence for reflection and/or personal prayer.” The only public acts were speeches that were short and lacking in content. 

Yet that did not stop a number of deities being invoked. “O infinite-bodied Lord! I see YOU in each hand and feet, in each eye and head, in each name and being,” prayed one Hindu delegate, while the Ifu and Yoruba representative began with an untranslated invocatory chant. Recalling his concern after 1986 to make clear that “there is no such thing . . . as a common concept of God or belief in God,” it must have been difficult for Pope Benedict to hear a swami announce that “truth is one” even though “professed in different ways.” 

The other absentee at this year’s gathering was the Spirit of Assisi. The term was first used by Pope John Paul II when he received the 1986 delegates at an audience in Rome two days after the event. “Let us continue to spread the message of peace,” he told them; “let us continue to live the Spirit of Assisi.” The term, popularized by the Franciscans, has been used by Sant’Egidio at the interfaith gatherings—held “in the Spirit of Assisi”  —they have organized every year since then.  It was used by the founder of the Bose monastic movement, Enzo Bianchi, who wrote in La Stampa that the gathering of  October 27 showed that Benedict XVI had “made his own the Spirit of Assisi,” which he described as the church’s “truly universal mission”, one demanding respect for all faiths and the religious path of each person. And the phrase is the title of an article in the Messenger of St Anthony by the Custodian of the Basilica of St Francis, Giuseppe Piemontese OFM Conv. And it was invoked, on 27 October, in the speech by Patriarch Bartholomew I, who described it as “the capacity of faiths in dialogue to infuse society with peace.”

Yet in the Pope’s addresses in Assisi and in the many documents and speeches in the run-up to the event by curial officials, including a long series of articles in Osservatore Romano, the term is carefully avoided. This reflects the view that, like “the Spirit of Vatican II,” it has been tainted by errors—in this case the “syncretistic interpretations” of 1986.  

It wasn’t just Rome’s theological squeamishness that left Assisi III feeling flat but another absence, the spirit of community. Key to the organization of Assisi I and II were both Sant’Egidio and Focolare, movements of young Italians deeply committed to reconciliation across boundaries; it was their relationships which Cardinal Etchegaray drew upon in 1986 and 2002 in extending invitations to religious leaders. But while the movements were present on October 27—Focolare arranged the music and dance at the afternoon ceremony at the Basilica of St Francis; the founder and president of Sant’Egidio were both on the delegates’ train—the organization was this time firmly in the hands of the Curia. It meant that, despite warm embraces at the end, the atmosphere this time, and unlike 1986 and 2002, was mostly that of a conference or summit, rather than what Italians call un incontro.    

This was reinforced by the presence of the “nonbelievers” among the delegates, included for the first time at the Assisi gatherings at the Pope’s request. The four academic humanists had been invited by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s Council for the New Evangelization, whose Courtyard of the Gentiles project aims to build bridges with atheists and secularists in post-Christian Europe.  The speeches by the French-Bulgarian academic Julia Kristeva and by Guillermo Hurtado of Mexico made clear that these were “humanists in dialogue with believers” and therefore much more like searching agnostics than committed secularists.

And although there were only four of them, they seemed to be accorded a special place. After criticising both the distortion and the denial of God as lying behind modern violence, Pope Benedict’s main address—delivered at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli below Assisi—suddenly praised agnostics as “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace,” which was the title of the gathering. Agnostics, he said, suffered from God’s absence yet “are inwardly making their way towards him, in as much as they are seeking truth and goodness.” Just as he did recently in Germany, when he described agnostics as “closer to the Kingdom of God than believers whose life of faith is ‘routine,’” Benedict XVI in Assisi suggested that the challenges of agnostics helped to purify the faith of believers. Their inability to find faith, he suggested, “is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God,” while the struggling and questioning of agnostics “is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.”

It soon became clear that the 25th anniversary of Assisi had been framed to support Pope Benedict’s “New Evangelization” strategy of connecting with post-Christian Europe. It is an ambition that is little by little coming to dominate his papacy, so that almost everything he does links to this goal. Pope Benedict wants to make an alliance with “open” secularists, to stand together against both religious and secularist fundamentalists. 

In terms of the objectives of Assisi I, the inclusion of nonbelievers represents, on the hand, a broadening of the original coalition conceived by Pope John Paul II. It is an alliance of peace that now extends to people of goodwill, whether atheist, theist or polytheist.

But there is a risk that this new frame dilutes Pope John Paul II’s original intuition: that at a time when religion was taking a more public role, both as builder of justice and legitimator of violence, it was necessary to reaffirm the peace at the core of all true religion. That is why, whether it was the joint prayer of 1986 or the timetabled but separately located prayer of 2002, the point of the exercise was an essentially spiritual one—the opening of the heart of the world to the saving and healing power of God, however understood. This time the “witness of prayerful reflection,” suggests Michael Barnes, S.J., in Thinking Faith, “has given way to a more theological debate about the meaning of religion itself,” abandoning powerful symbolism in favour of “yet more routine speechifying.”

Can Assisi now be successfully recast as an alliance of goodwill and mutual interests? Can this new frame capture minds and hearts as did a spiritual humanism of peace?

Judging by the uplifting yet oddly uninspiring experience on October 27, the answer would have to be no; and that may be reflected in the muted media impact it made. It is always easier to say why an event made the news than why it failed to; and the fact that it was a commemoration, rather than a response to a global emergency, may partially account for the indifference. Or maybe the world’s religious leaders gathering for peace is no longer news because religions are no longer considered to be at war. Perhaps the Spirit of Assisi , in all its theological ambiguity, has become a commonplace, and no longer captures the imagination.

But many of those at the heart of the previous Assisi meetings fear that the vision behind them has been eclipsed. The 1986 event was an audacious, prophetic gesture, the intuition of a pope who saw what needed doing and acted. It was never intended to be other than a single event. But it set in train a movement, a distinctively religious contribution to peace in the world, that was never intended to bear too much theological scrutiny, but which people recognized as of God: expressed in symbols, a matter of the heart rather than the head. Twenty-five years later, Pope Benedict has reaffirmed that movement, both in the church and in the world, and set it on a new path. But too much effort to avoid theological ambiguity and subtract the spiritual may well have dampened the flame that has kept it burning all these years.

Austen Ivereigh is European correspondent for America. Ivereigh had a less critical article in the print edition of America, Nov. 14, 2011, pp. 6-7

This article is being used with permission from www.americamagazine.org