Pope Benedict and Catholic inter-religious relations in Birmingham by William Ozanne

Catholics in Birmingham has been loyal members of the Birmingham Council of Faiths, as Patron (Archbishops) sometimes as Executive members but mostly as ordinary members. This would not have happened without the changes that John XXIII , Paul VI and John Paul II, and yes Benedict XVI, implemented and developed after the decisions of the Second Vatican Council. The Popes lead (sometimes people say they are dominated by) the departments of the Vatican called the Curia, one of which in 1965 became the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. This mainly produces norms for behaviour and also thinking documents and resources to persuade and underpin Catholic lay and clergy in their relations with other religions. These are more like guidelines than orders. The Popes supported these developments by word and example. In the case of Pope Benedict, his published guidelines have tended to be cautionary, strengthening the underlying principles and theology and correcting some of the enthusiasms. By example, he continued to visit, host and talk with leaders of the major religions and to hold his own Peace Prayer meeting in Assisi with leaders of world religions. The lead he gave is well illustrated by a quotation:

 

To the Youth in Lebanon in 2012 during his visit there:

Together with the young Christians, you are the future of this fine country and of the Middle East in general. Seek to build it up together!

And when you are older, continue to live in unity and harmony with Christians. For the beauty of Lebanon is found in this fine symbiosis.

It is vital that the Middle East in general, looking at you, should understand that Muslims and Christians, Islam and Christianity, can live side by side without hatred, with respect for the beliefs of each person, so as to build together a free and humane society.”

 

For the future: the norms and inspirations of The Second Vatican will continue to direct Catholic thought and behaviour whoever becomes the next Pope. The wealth of relationships that have been built in Birmingham (and elsewhere|) between the religions will not go away: the Vatican II Document “Nostra Aetate”  in our day and age] describes the future like this:

 “One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extends to all men, until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.

  I am sure that the Birmingham Council of Faiths will continue to play a key role in this “eschatological” growth through friendship and dialogue

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