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Perspectives

from the Secretary General

Cover Story

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

A precious legacy of blessed Pope John XXIII was the encyclical, Pacem in Terris, issued just before his death in 1963. This forthright, clear and openhearted appeal “to all men of good will” showed the way to peace in the modern world.

One challenging section distinguished “between error as such and the person who falls into error — even in the case of men who err regarding the truth or are led astray as a result of their inadequate knowledge, in matters either of religion or of the highest ethical standards.

“A man who has fallen into error does not cease to be a man. He never forfeits his personal dignity... . Besides, there exists in man’s very nature an undying capacity to break through the barriers of error and seek the road to truth.

“God, in his great providence, is ever present with his aid. Today, maybe, a man lacks faith a nd turns aside into error; tomorrow, perhaps, illumined by God’s light, he may indeed embrace the truth.”

What followed startled many readers by its implicit reference to Marxist Communism:

“Again it is perfectly legitimate to make a clear distinction between a false philosophy of the nature, origin and purpose of men and the world, and economic, social, cultural and political undertakings, even when such undertakings draw their origin and inspiration from that philosophy.

“True, the philosophic formula does not change once it has been set down in precise terms, but the undertakings clearly cannot avoid being influenced to a certain extent by the changing conditions in which they have to operate.

“Besides, who can deny the possible existence of good and commendable elements in these undertakings, elements which do indeed conform to the dictates of right reason, and are an expression of man’s lawful aspirations?”

Pope John is affirming that “actions speak louder than words.” We should be more concerned about the other’s behavior than the ideology to which he or she appeals — it’s possible to collaborate in good works with anyone.

In matters religious, one can always find texts in Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books that can outrage and offend the sensibilities of others. But that doesn’t mean that Jews, Christians and Muslims should never trust one another nor work together.

As a Christian, I’m outraged and offended by many things done by Christians over the centuries. I don’t identify with these deeds. For me, those responsible for them are “so– called” Christians, since what they have done is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus.

With all due respect, the same can be said by Jews and Muslims — and by adherents to Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Sikhism, various traditional religions and no religion at all.

Relentlessly holding on to historical — and recent — memories of past offenses, like a dog with a bone, bellies compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love.

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Tags: Christian-Muslim relations Jews