Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
By the time you read this, I’ll be in the air on my way back to Saint Mary! Right now, I’m writing this article last Sunday, as I am packing the last things in my luggage to leave for Rome this afternoon. I’ll write this in the past tense with the hopes that it makes sense.
About three months ago, Pope Francis declared that we start a dialogue between Buddhists and Catholics in the United States. Many people wonder why he would do this, as “dialogue” between churches and religions usually represents in suspicious minds some diplomatic motive. It isn’t the work of unity we seek (as we might seek between the baptized in Christian churches) or even the process of trying to find agreement. It is “dialogue” in the simplest sense of the word, a seeking of relationship, friendship, to correct misunderstanding and discover what we share and what is different. Often it results in resolutions for activities, social programs, public statements that speak to our common life in society with regard to justice and peace.
If we had more attempts at understanding and friendship in the world, we would have a lot less hatred and discrimination, this racism that should have long ago become an absurdity to people who knew each other.
The problem is, we don’t know each other, and we find comfort in keeping a distance. Distance leads to isolation, isolation leads to extreme behavior. We all know the rest of the story: it plays itself out every night on the evening news.
So this week 12 Catholics and 12 Buddhists were called to the Vatican. Three of each from Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington, DC. The meeting was originally planned to take place in the United States, but Pope Francis asked that we come to Rome, presumably to make clear the priority that he places on this conversation. And this time, it isn’t a dialogue that takes place among academics only (this is why I’m a part of the dialogue): Pope Francis wanted pastors to be a part of the cohort, too, so that the work of bringing it home and making it happen at home might be more successful. We have so many dialogues that have taken place these past 50 years that you wouldn’t believe it, actually. But the people never find out about it because it remains in scholarly journals and upper levels of leadership, not making its way into the pews and the hearts of everyday people who wish the Church would do something about these things.
Just visit the website of the Conference of Bishops (http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/) to see how many, many of these dialogues have been going on for years… but people don’t ever go looking for papers. They look for the proof of it in the daily life of the Church.
Anyway, I will be giving a paper on Tuesday morning: “Relational Suffering between Persons: The Teachings of Jesus Christ.” The theme is “Suffering, Liberation, Fraternity.” I’m pretty excited. If you want to read it, a link to the paper has been added to the Saint Mary home page. I think it has a pretty nice presentation of the Blessed Trinity. Without understanding how Catholics believe God is self-emptying out of love, we will never get to the realization that suffering united to Christ is redemptive. It has a purpose, and a good effect.
If all goes according to plan, we will attend Pope Francis’ Wednesday audience in St. Peter Square, then go to a private room where Pope Francis will speak to our group alone for about an hour, what he hopes to come out of our dialogue, such things. Then we will have a nice “Vatican lunch” (can’t wait) and a private tour of the highlights of the Vatican. Sounds like an amazing opportunity. I will tell him that Saint Mary says, “Hola.”
Our papers and discussions will continue through Saturday, and then we will fly home on Sunday. I won’t get home until late on Sunday evening.
Say a prayer for us that it goes well, that we begin this dialogue with a wonderful spirit of fraternity and grace. What we are doing is unprecedented with Eastern religions. Maybe you saw in the Arlington Catholic Herald a couple of weeks ago, that our diocese was pivotal in helping make happen a new dialogue with the Hindu community in the United States, which found its beginning in a simple friendship in Fairfax County. All it took was a little courage: one day I stopped at Durga Temple, took off my shoes, went inside and introduced myself. We became friends, and now there is a dialogue where before, there was nothing.
So may it be, and so may it be so simple, in reaching out to those with whom we find ourselves at odds, or strangers. May families, communities, and world religions find peace.
God bless you.