‘Custodians’ of Faith Shatter Delicate Harmony
Just when we think our community here in the greater Toledo area is a religiously harmonious one, some self-righteous and self-appointed ‘custodian’ of a faith throws a proverbial stone to shatter the delicate interfaith harmony. Though there are people of conscience who do speak up against such ignorance, it always leaves a residue of bad taste.
The latest expression of this religious intolerance came from a priest in Sandusky in a letter to the editor of the Blade.
He was outraged that the Franciscan nuns from Sylvania blessed a three-panel painting commemorating the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malek al-Kamil during the 5th Crusade in the early 13th century.
The icon was to be installed near the entrance of Queen of Peace Chapel on the campus of Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania. His anger was directed at the nuns for inviting a Muslim imam to participate in the blessing ceremony.
The Reverend Patrick Rohen categorically stated that a blessing can be performed only by an ordained priest and not by the nuns. Had he stopped there we would not be having this conversation.
His subsequent remarks not only showed his ignorance of Islam but put the Catholic Diocese of Toledo in an embarrassing situation. In those remarks the priest advised the nuns whom he derisively called the ‘liberal gals’, to get dispensation from their mother superior and start the process of converting to Islam. His last salvo, a cheap inaccurate shot, was to tell the nuns that once converted to Islam they will be forced to wear a veil.
Perhaps Reverend Rohen does not know (even though he served in Iraq as a chaplain recently) that there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world and like the Catholics they vary widely in their cultural traditions. Not all Muslim women wear a veil or a headscarf which are mostly worn in the Middle East where majority of Arab Muslims live. Arabs are a minority (15%) within the greater Islamic world. It is possible that while embedded with our forces in Iraq his view from the bunker was blurred and distorted.
While Christianity and Islam have, through history, locked horns and have fought protracted wars there have also been times when Muslims, Christians and Jews came together for the greater good of the societies they lived in.
From the early 8th century to almost 16th century, parallel and overlapping Islamic civilizations flourished in Baghdad, Cairo and Iberian Peninsula. The dazzling accomplishments of those civilizations would have not been possible without the contributions of Christian and Jewish scholars, artisans and theologians. (Xenophobic Muslims - and there are plenty of them around - take pride in the spectacular achievements of their forefathers but willfully neglect to acknowledge Christian and Jewish contributions.)
On the local scene there is a robust interfaith dialogue between the three monotheistic religions. Started as Catholic-Muslim Dialogue many years ago, it was later changed to Christian-Muslim Dialogue by including Protestant traditions. I have had the honor and privilege to participate in two early dialogues with the leading Catholic theologian Father Jim Bacik of Corpus Christie University Parish in Toledo. At my request in 1993 the dialogue was expanded to include Jewish participation.
We live in a polarized world divided by ethnicity, race, religion, nationality and wealth. Religion being a double-edged sword can divide us as readily as it can unite us. There are fundamental differences between all major religions but there are also enough threads that connect us and bind us. Cherishing and celebrating those threads will not diminish us.
So here is a plea to our religious leaders - priests, ministers, imams, rabbis, pundits, granthis and the rest - to devout part of their sermon to talk about positive aspects of other religions. Rest assured your flock will not go astray but be strengthened in their faith in others. It is not easy; every religion thinks it has the corner on salvation.
What we all need to do is to pay more attention to here and now rather than to the hereafter.
That will go a long way towards painting a world that is free of prejudice and bigotry; one where ours-is-the-only-way irrationality would give way to broader acceptance of others.
For your reading pleasure I recommend Abou Ben Adhem, a short poem by the 18th century poet James Henry Leigh Hunt. It is available on the Internet.