When I say, as I have several times in various venues, that one of the goals of Pope Francis is to institute some of the Vatican II reforms that his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, slowed, one of those reforms I'm referring to has to do with interfaith dialogue.
For it was on this date in 1964, in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, that what was then called the Secretariat for Non-Christians was created by the council. In 1988 it was renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. And even though the Wikipedia entry to which I've just linked you says the date was May 19, not May 17, the council itself reports that it was instituted on May 17 with a homily by Pope Paul VI.
For interfaith connections to mean much to the people in the pews, it must happen at a local level over a long period of time. And it's not easy.
And yet it's vital that the national and international governing bodies of faith communities declare that good inter-religious understanding is important. That's what happened on this date in 1964.
The history of interfaith relations over the centuries and around the world is not always pretty. Indeed, as my essay about how the Christian church preached anti-Judaism for century after century makes clear, often that history is ugly and shameful.
And Christianity is not the only culprit in this. Indeed, there have been representatives of Islam, Judaism and other world faiths who have preached a kind of harsh we're-right, you're-wrong theology that has made interfaith relations difficult, if not impossible.
But most world religions have in one way or another in recent decades moved to establish more formal dialogue with other faiths and to be forces for peace and harmony.
Thanks to Vatican II, this is a good day to celebrate all of that.
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IRAN'S WAR AGAINST BAHA'ISM
Interfaith cooperation is exactly what is not happening in Iran between its Shi'a leaders and the Baha'i community there, as we just passed the eighth anniversary of the imprisonment of seven Baha'i leaders. In fact, Iran is trying to eradicate Baha'i followers, which means the rest of us must stand up and notice and say "No."