A humbler, more open Church – Pope Francis

In a visit largely unreported in the West, Pope Francis attended a recent Conference of World Religions in Kazakhstan. In his speech the Pope showed his openness to other religious communities, recognising their common humanitarian beginnings, with the warning that the Church must be more open to the world in its deep need of a common aim to understand each person’s responsibility for the good of others.

Despite the protest from a local Catholic Bishop, Athanasius Schneider, a German who serves as auxiliary bishop in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan, Pope Francis insisted on the need for fraternal relationship between – not only Christians – but also people of other religions, all children of the same God, needing to work together for the common Good. Here are short paragraphs from this report: –

“We also need others, all others: our Christian sisters and brothers of other confessions, those who hold other religious beliefs than our own, all men and women of goodwill,” the pope said during a meeting with the members of the country’s tiny Catholic community — including Bishop Schneider.

“May we realize, in a spirit of humility, that only together, in dialogue and mutual acceptance, can we truly achieve something good for the benefit of all,” Francis said. “Without dialogue, there is ignorance or war”. The pope was even more direct during the press conference he held during his flight back to Rome. Without actually naming Bishop Schneider, he noted that “someone criticized” him for attending the interreligious meeting, claiming that it was “fomenting” relativism.

“There was no relativism!” Francis exclaimed. “Everyone had their say, everyone respected each other’s position, but we dialogue as brothers and sisters. Because, if there is no dialogue, there is either ignorance or war.”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

_________________________________________________________

CathNews – NZ Pacific

Kazakhstan

Monday, September 19th, 2022

Pope Francis’ recent three-day visit to Kazakhstan seemed not to have been widely reported in the general media, including here in Italy where there’s news about him almost every day on TV and in the press.

Most people around the world, including most Catholics, probably don’t even know that the pope made the September 13-15 trip to the former Soviet republic in Central Asia.

Or that he was there for a religion summit alongside more than 80 other faith leaders representing the various strains of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.

But the Jesuit pope’s visit may very well be remembered many years from now as one of the more significant of his pontificate, no matter how Catholicism develops or changes.

Francis has been helping his Church become much more welcoming and inclusive, less judgmental and doctrinaire, and more accepting, respectful and neighbourly towards people of other faiths, without trying to convert them.

If the Church continues evolving in this way as a humbler, less-sectarian community of believers over the coming decades, then his Kazakhstan trip will be seen as having played a supporting role in that effort.

But if his eventual successor as Bishop of Rome decides to halt the “ecclesiastical perestroika” Francis has set in motion and is able to successfully reverse directions, the 2022 papal visit to Kazakhstan will be remembered for something else — the time when a pope signalled that Catholicism was just one more among the world’s many other religions.

“The Catholic Church was founded by God himself”

In fact, that is basically the charge that Athanasius Schneider, a German who serves as auxiliary bishop in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan, levelled against him.

“We’re not one of the many religions,” the extremely traditionalist bishop told EWTN. “There is only one true religion, which is the Catholic Church, founded by God himself.”

“There is no other way to salvation,” said the 61-year-old prelate, who has served as auxiliary bishop in two different dioceses in Kazakhstan since Benedict XVI promoted him (and Cardinal Angelo Sodano ordained him) to the episcopate in 2006.

Bishop Schneider, who is close to the Priestly Society of Pius X (Lefebvrists) and has said that certain texts from the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) are erroneous, was horrified that Pope Francis participated in the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan.

He said the pope risked confusing people, leading them to think that the Catholic Church belongs to “a supermarket of religions” where “everyone is there, and you can choose what you want”.

“We also need other, all others”

One of my colleagues has assured me that Bishop Schneider is a “very holy man”, although it’s not clear how he deduced this.

Certainly, the bishop demonstrates outward signs of piety and religiosity. And his devotion to liturgical ritualism is well-known, especially among his fellow adherents of the Old Latin Mass.

The bishop’s ecclesiological/theological vision is definitely guided by the Tridentine paradigm, while Francis’ is shaped by the still-unfolding paradigm of the post-Vatican II Church.

We must presume that Schneider and those Catholics who share his views are acting in good faith when they seek to protect the Church and its doctrines.

But they do so by enforcing rules, rigid liturgical formulas and purity codes. Their type of Church is exclusionary, judgmental and sectarian. They sincerely believe Catholicism is the only true religion and, thus, it has no need of dialogue with other faiths, the false religions.

Pope Francis, however, disagrees. And he said so while in Kazakhstan.

“We also need others, all others: our Christian sisters and brothers of other confessions, those who hold other religious beliefs than our own, all men and women of goodwill,” the pope said during a meeting with the members of the country’s tiny Catholic community — including Bishop Schneider.

“May we realize, in a spirit of humility, that only together, in dialogue and mutual acceptance, can we truly achieve something good for the benefit of all,” Francis said.

“Without dialogue, there is ignorance or war”

The pope was even more direct during the press conference he held during his flight back to Rome.

Without actually naming Bishop Schneider, he noted that “someone criticized” him for attending the interreligious meeting, claiming that it was “fomenting” relativism.

“There was no relativism!” Francis exclaimed. “Everyone had their say, everyone respected each other’s position, but we dialogue as brothers and sisters. Because, if there is no dialogue, there is either ignorance or war.”

The pope said it’s important for people of different faiths to “talk a little and get to know one another” better, pointing out that “so many times these misunderstood ‘religious’ wars” we’ve seen throughout history were the result of people not knowing each other well enough.

“The path of interreligious dialogue is a shared path to peace and for peace; as such, it is necessary and irrevocable,” Francis told the other faith leaders at the final session of the religion summit in Nur-Sultan.

All children of the same Creator-God

“Interreligious dialogue,” he said, “is no longer merely something expedient: it is an urgent-needed and incomparable service to humanity, to the praise and glory of the Creator of all.”

And he said the summit in Kazakhstan was a “providential” opportunity to “reaffirm the authentic and inalienable essence of religion” at a time of widespread “pseudo-religious terrorism, extremism, radicalism and nationalism, dressed up in religious garb.”

The bottom line, for Francis, is that differences — even differences of religious belief — do not change the fact that we belong to one human family; that we are all brothers and sisters who are children of the same Creator-God.

This is the message he has been preaching since the beginning of his pontificate in 2013. And ever since the coronavirus pandemic broke out he’s been doubling down on that message by pointing out that we share a common fate or destiny — that is, we are all in the same boat.

His two encyclicals — Laudato si’ in 2015 and Fratelli tutti in 2020 — spell this out beautifully, demonstrating how this is not some New Age spiritual gobbledygook, but is actually rooted in the scriptures and the perennial tradition.

Fraternal encounter and dialogue: the only path in these dark times

At the start of the religion summit in Nur-Sultan the pope said that each person has the “right” to believe and to “render public testimony to his or her own creed, proposing it without ever imposing it”.

“To work for a society marked by the respectful coexistence of religious, (and) ethnic and cultural differences is the best way to enhance the distinctive features of each, to bring people together while respecting their diversity, and to promote their loftiest aspirations without compromising their vitality,” he insisted.

“May the Almighty set us free from the shadows of suspicion and insincerity and enable us to cultivate open and fraternal friendships through frequent dialogue and luminous sincerity of purpose,” the pope added.

And he concluded that particular address with words that his Catholic traditionalist critics like Bishop Schneider must not have heard.

“May we never aim at artificial and conciliatory forms of syncretism, for these are useless, but instead firmly maintain our own identities, open to the courage of otherness and to fraternal encounter,” Francis said.

“Only in this way, along this path, and in these dark times in which we live, will we be able to radiate the light of our Creator.”

  • Robert Mickens is LCI Editor in Chief.

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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