“Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life”, remarked Pope Francis at a press conference during a visit to Asia. This included a visit to a Buddhist temple while he was in Sri Lanka.
Some politicians have tried to bolster their own power in recent decades by promoting ethnic and religious supremacism. However there is also a long tradition of respect for diversity, which the pope recognised and welcomed. While this can verge on superstition, it can also foster neighbourliness and spiritual growth.
“What was your motivation for such a spontaneous visit?” one journalist asked. “We know that Christian missionaries were convinced, right up to the 20th century, that Buddhism is a swindle and a religion of the devil.”
The pope replied that the head of the temple was a good friend of a local cardinal. Also “yesterday I saw something I never thought I’d see … at the shrine of the Madonna, it wasn’t just Catholics, they weren’t even the majority. There were Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus. They all go there to pray, and they say they receive graces. There’s something in the people there that unites them.”
He continued, “If they are so naturally united that they come together to pray in that holy place, that is Christian, then how could I not go to the Buddhist temple to greet them?” He spoke of “the sense of inter-religiosity that is lived in Sri Lanka. There is respect among them. Yes, there are small fundamentalist groups, but they are not of the people, they are ideological elites.”
He explained that, at one time, Catholics were taught that not just non-Christians but even Protestants were bound for hell, and mentioned the advances following the Second Vatican Council: “There have been dark periods in the history of the Church too, and we have to say that with shame. We’re all on a path of conversion, which is a grace; always from sin to grace. This inter-religiosity as brothers, respecting each other always is a grace.”
In response to a later question, he admitted his own church’s past involvement in religious violence: “To us, that which happens now, it stuns us. But let’s think about our own history: how many wars of religion have we had? You may think of the night of St. Bartholomew; how can this be understood? We too were sinners in this. But one cannot kill in the name of God. This is an aberration.”
He rejected that part of the Enlightenment heritage which treated religious expressions as “are a kind of subculture, which are tolerated but are of little value.” Instead “Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life, human life, the human person.”
Throughout the world it is all too easy, for faith communities and atheists, to be contemptuous of, or hostile to, other traditions. Certainly forms of religiosity and belief which foster injustice and cruelty deserve to be firmly opposed.
However there is a risk of disregarding or scorning expressions of faith which advance wisdom and compassion (which some might describe as God-given, others as examples of humanity at its best). Pope Francis’ generous response to others’ open-heartedness was a helpful reminder of the value of mutual respect.(Ekklesia.uk)