Conversion not your mission Pope tells Morocco Catholics
Monday, April 1st, 2019 – CATHNEWS.NZ
Pope Francis’s meetings in Morocco have underlined the importance of religious liberty and its connection to the dignity and rights owed to every person, regardless of their religion.
On Saturday, the first day of a two-day trip, he told Morocco’s Catholic community they should avoid attempting to convert Muslims. Instead, he suggested they should seek to have good ties with people of all faiths.
“Christians are a small minority in this country. Yet, to my mind, this is not a problem, even though I realize that at times it can be difficult for some of you,” he said at a meeting with Catholic community leaders in Rabat’s cathedral.
“The Church grows not through proselytism but by attraction,” Francis said to applause. “This means, dear friends, that our mission as baptised persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion,” he said.
Francis backs Morocco’s efforts to promote a moderate version of Islam.
“We believe that God created human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and he calls them to live as brothers and sisters and to spread the values of goodness, love and peace,” he said. “That is why freedom of conscience and religious freedom, which is not limited to freedom of worship alone, but allows all to live in accordance with their religious convictions, are inseparably linked to human dignity.”
In response, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI underlined the importance of education to tackle radicalism. He said the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) were created “to open up to one another and to know one another.”
Religions offer venues to fight against radicalism through knowing one another, which will help rise to the challenges of our tormented times through education, the king said. “To tackle radicalism, the solution is neither military nor financial; that solution has but one name: Education.”
The monarch noted that in the face of ideology-linked violence and extremism prevailing in many parts of the world today, “it is clear the dialogue between the Abrahamic religions is insufficient.”
He pleaded for rethinking the role of education in the struggle against extremism. The king says ignorance, or erroneous interpretation of the peaceful and humanity-celebrating messages of religions, is the primary source of many of the problems facing the world.
“My plea for education is an indictment of ignorance. It is binary conceptions and the fact of not knowing one another well enough that are threatening our civilisations; it is certainly not religion.” When taught, understood, and practised as recommended in the scriptures, religion can be a source of blossoming relations between people and countries, he said.
On Sunday when celebrating Mass, Francis told the congregation that he encourages them “to continue to let the culture of mercy grow, a culture in which no one looks at others with indifference, or averts his eyes in the face of their suffering.”
The languages used at the Mass reflected the fact that the Catholic community in Morocco is made up almost entirely of foreigners. The readings were in Spanish, Arabic and French; English, Portuguese and Italian were added for the prayers of the faithful.
More than a dozen Muslim leaders attended the Mass in a sign of friendship and were given seats near the front of the arena.
In our country’s recent confrontation with the massacre of 50 Muslims at worship in their Christchurch mosques, we who are Christians have suddenly been confronted with the FACT that Muslims, though different in their approach to God from ourselves (who recognise Jesus as the source of our redemption); are also ‘children of Abraham’. Their shared inheritance of the Abrahamic Line (through Abram’s son, Ishmael) gives them a share in the life of The One we Christians worship as “The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ”.
All three Abrahamic Faith traditions – including that of our Jewish sisters and brothers – recognise that, for each one of us, there is only “One True God”.
The study of what is called ‘Comparative Religion’ has enabled some of us to see the connection between us which, sadly, has been blinded by acts of terrorism and disrespect by one side or the other in historical acts of aggressive behaviour. There are, as we know, other religious communities of people all seeking spiritual enlightenment like ourselves. We need to allow them to seek God in their own way, ‘without let or hindrance’. Only God has the power to ‘convert’. Our task is to witness to that power within us, that enables us to ‘Love our Neighbour’, as Jesus taught us to do – as Jesus said: “They will know you’re my disciples by your love”.
At the time of Saint Francis of Assisi, marauding armies of the Moslem Caliph were still carrying out acts of terrorism in Europe. However, this had been as a result of the provocation caused by the effects of the Christian ‘Crusades’. There is a story in the ‘Legenda of Saint Francis’ about him meeting up with the Caliph, and impressing this fierce warrior with his peaceful approach – which so entranced the Caliph, that he invited Francis to eat a meal with him before sending him on his way unharmed.
It is surely in this Spirit that Pope Francis has approached his Muslim counterparts on his recent visit to Morocco, where Christianity – like Islam in New Zealand – is largely the faith of a small foreign community. Peaceful co-existence is certainly the ‘Way’ of Francis of Assisi. This is one reason why Pope Francis feels the need to recognise the good that is in the hearts of peace-loving Muslims – a factor that is often not understood by Christians.
Jesus’ willingness to meet with people different from his own faith community – and to speak of their innate goodness, despite their obvious difference; commending them for what is commendable in their attitude toward God and their neighbours; should be an object lesson for all of us.
“We are all human beings” has been a common response to questions of our inter-Faith communities here in New Zealand – a reminder that Jesus Christ, whom we Christians recognise as our Saviour and Redeemer – “Came into the world to save Sinners”. And that’s every one of us!
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
P.S. In complete contrast to this eirenic post; see, here, what is happening in Brunei: