Until the Sky Turns Silver: A Summary

By Kelly Moltzen OFS

Until the Sky Turns Silver: A Summary

“Until the Sky Turns Silver” is a documentary fiction book about the work of the organization All Together in Dignity / ATD Fourth World, which connects people living in extreme poverty with opportunities to share their stories. Those who participate become empowered to advocate for themselves and their communities, including by speaking at the United Nations. The book is based in New York City, and the characters in the book are based on the lives of people the authors have known in real life.

The book tells the stories behind people who are living in poverty, and the work of the ATD team members in engaging those individuals – particularly youth – in activities that demonstrate they truly do care about the dignity of every individual. For example, ATD sets up art activities and libraries on the streets, so it is easy for people to attend, and the participants can beautify and activate their neighborhood. ATD members share the dismay when community members who have been kicked out of their homes, or have become drug users, get put down by others who often judge people without knowing the people’s stories. The book communicates why it is important for initiatives aimed at ending poverty to truly aim to include all individuals, not just half of the population as the Millennium Development Goals do. It also communicates the importance of including people living in poverty directly in conversations about policies that will affect their lives, as the people most directly impacted know best from life experience what works and what doesn’t.

In “Until the Sky Turns Silver,” the characters had the chance to organize a skit and write a talk and poem for an event at the United Nations, which gets attended by dignitaries, ambassadors and their staff. After weeks of worrying about her speechwriting and not knowing what to say, Tanita gives a moving speech about what it feels like to be looked down upon as a person living in poverty. She gives the speech alongside Ahmed, an ATD Fourth World volunteer who came in from Tanzania for the event. It was for World Day for Overcoming Poverty, held each year on October 17. The event is well received and is successful in helping some of the people in attendance to think differently about engaging people in poverty. Following the UN event, when the characters go to UN Church Center for refreshments, it sparks a conversation about churches and religion. They share some enlightened perspectives on religion:

“A church ought to tell me what they do to stand by folk who are in trouble.”

“In a number of prisons, the government has started funding religious programmes geared to help prisoners fit into the community after they’ve served their time. That’s an important goal – but the programmes are very much based on Jesus and the Christian gospel…I’ve heard a Muslim prisoner say he joined a Christian programme because he was afraid that if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be released on parole. How can people feel free to choose whether to convert when they are in prison and a programme like this seems like their only chance for early release?”

“I am a Muslim, but I don’t think God wants us in different categories, whatever our religions. Practicing any religion is a way of being part of a community and reaching out to one another.”

“Not everyone believes in God, but people who don’t believe have to have a powerful, powerful mind. God is the only one who can help you start over again when you have a millstone around your neck. He’s the only one with you when you get thrown in jail. God is the only one who can help you get off drugs.”

“But that’s the problem nowadays. Our young people don’t go to church the way we did growing up. The priests don’t even know them. And how can we protect our kids without the church?”

“Churches just can’t compete. The streets are speaking to our kids loud and clear. No matter how we raise them, violence is waiting at every corner. How do we expect religion to compete with that? But what helps my kids is the art workshop. It’s right out there on the street where we live. They don’t have to look for it. And I hear how Jesse and Yun Hee talk to our kids. They want them to be their own person and to believe in themselves. Maybe getting confidence can keep our kids away from gangs.”

ATD Fourth World is the partner organization that worked with Franciscans International to create the handbook, “Making Human Rights Work for People Living in Extreme Poverty.” It should be clear to any Franciscan or Franciscan-hearted person that ATD Fourth World and religions have at their roots missions which are very much the same, and that is seeing the dignity in every person, seeking out those in extreme poverty, and giving them a platform and/or helping them to find their voice.



IMMIGRATION AND THE PRINCIPLES OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING/DOCTRINE

IMMIGRATION AND THE PRINCIPLES OF CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING/DOCTRINE

“The Church believes that all decisions which affect society have a moral dimension. So, when making decisions with affect social, economic, political, cultural, and family life, there are moral principles which must be embodied in any such decisions and policies. Immigration is one of the realities that the Church’s social teaching address often.”

Invitation to Participate in Healing Day Nat'l Bell Ringing Aug. 25

Invitation to Participate in Healing Day Nat'l Bell Ringing Aug. 25

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia Bishop James B. Magness invite Episcopal churches to take part in a national action to remember and honor the first enslaved Africans who landed in English North America in 1619 by tolling their bells for one minute on Sunday, August 25, 2019 at 3:00 pm ET.

Recap of Laudato Si Generation conference in Nairobi & Meeting with JPIC Franciscans Africa

Recap of Laudato Si Generation conference in Nairobi & Meeting with JPIC Franciscans Africa

By Kelly Ann Moltzen OFS

OFS-USA-EIC

Dear all,

I was able to attend the Laudato Si Generation conference in Nairobi, Kenya on July 15-16 which was put together for the Fourth Anniversary of Laudato Si. It was organized by the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) during CYNESA's Fifth Anniversary year, along with the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development, UN Environment (which is based in Nairobi), and WWF Africa. Support for the conference was provided by Catholic Climate Covenant and Partnerships for Change. The Holy See mission in Nairobi, led by the Apostolic Nuncio, was a valuable contributor to the conference. The conference focused on the four themes of the role of faiths and religions in care for our common home; the role of youth; the role of indigenous communities, and the role of Africa. Some of the main takeaways for me were learning about the New Deal for Nature and People effort of WWF, with the goal to halve the footprint of production and consumption by 2030, for heads of state to adopt within the next 18 months; the Great Green Wall (and forthcoming film of the same name) and Laudato Tree initiatives supported by Don Mullan and the Society of African Missions from Ireland; and the Faith for Earth initiative of UN Environment which is planning to start a youth forum.

It was fascinating and encouraging to hear how the Irish government has provided $1.2 million to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification to support research into what is needed in order to actually create the Great Green Wall - what kind of peacemaking dialogues are needed between tribes in order to get everyone in a particular community to agree to the initiative, which is set to create jobs and livelihoods for many people across the Sahel. (As I heard about the the momentum around the Great Green Wall, I kept thinking about how much Latin America needs something similar to stem the violence and migrant crisis in the Americas.) There is also an Interfaith Rainforest Initiative; a sister effort to REPAM working on the Amazon is REPAC working on the Congo basin. I was glad to hear of what the Vatican is planning for 2020 for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, to get 50 dioceses, 50 schools, 50 universities, 50 hospitals, 50 banks, 50 cities and 50 farms to lead by example and commit to Laudato Si practices. Also, the work that individual CYNESA country chapters are doing is encouraging. The Rwanda chapter has planted 6,000 trees in 2 parishes and 2 schools with 1400 students from Catholic primary schools, and in the future wants to work on wildlife conservation and protection for youth; plant 100,000 fruit trees by 2022; print Laudato Si books in local languages, and hold Laudato Si workshops.

Some issues I encountered which are worth noting:

-Access to land especially for indigenous peoples is a serious issue.

-When activists speak up and challenge the governments, they put themselves at risk. Several people I met have been threatened due to their activism. Most African countries do not have a seat at the UN Security Council; Kenya is lobbying to have a seat on the council and if selected, would focus on climate change and sustainable development.

-Air pollution especially in Nairobi is a huge problem. The fuel is highly toxic and lacking in regulatory standards: "Pollution and poor air quality are now killing more Africans than AIDS/HIV." UN Environment has called for a stop to the flow of dirty fuel to West Africa and written about how the idling of buses is contributing to the air pollution.

-CYNESA is comprised of many young adults who are just finishing college and looking to network for potential job opportunities. There are many educated youth who are in need of green job opportunities. Yet illiteracy is still 46% in Africa.

-Youth need to be very savvy if they want to be in dialogue with the business sector through the UN. On the one hand they want to say to business, "We are aware of what you are doing. We are forming our youth to fight against it." On the other hand some African businessmen are destroying the environment but may not be aware of the impact of their actions and need to be sensitized. The business community provides statistics about employment provided by their industries (i.e. plastic industry); but environmental advocates are not as organized when it comes to having statistics prepared about the potential of green job creation.

I also had the opportunity to meet with members of the JPIC Franciscans Africa (JPIC FA) office while I was in Kenya. They are doing tremendous work on promoting a rights-based approach to lobbying and advocacy, peacebuilding and conflict resolution, building upon the trainings they have done with Franciscans International to engage people at a grassroots level. Their efforts are rooted in a sensitization about the importance of ecological solutions and a keen understanding as to the need for land access especially among indigenous peoples. They have successfully advocated for Mukuru slum in Nairobi to be recognized as a Special Planning Area by the national government, which means it will get attention by the government. One of the core volunteers with JPIC FA, Steeven Kezamutima, is a YouFra (Young Franciscan) member, musician with the band Prophet's Voice which has become popular among activists in his home country of Burundi to the chagrin of the Burundi government; and he is getting his Master's in Justice and Peace at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), where he has started a YouFra fraternity. Every year since 2014 they have held an Interfaith Youth Forum for Peace and Environment at CUEA. This year's will be on September 20-21 to include participation in the Fridays for Future worldwide climate strike initiated by Greta Thunberg, as well as the International Day of Peace. He has hopes of this connecting with other Laudato Si Generation efforts around the world. Steeven has also created a documentary about Fr. John Kaiser, an American priest who served in Kenya for decades and was assassinated for standing up against human rights abuses; and has partnered with the Capuchin Franciscans to create Capuchin TV episodes such as Earth in 2050, Green Talent Show and Birthday Tree Planting.

JPIC FA used to receive funding from Misean Cara from Ireland; however because there are no Irish missionaries in their region currently, Misean Cara has not renewed their funding. Sister Mary Frances, the director of JPIC FA, is allowed by her congregation to do the JPIC FA work, though she is not able to also contribute to her community. Steeven will be graduating from CUEA within a year and while he wants to be able to continue his work with JPIC FA, will need to find a job. It is my hope that efforts such as theirs can be funded in Nairobi as well as for us to find a way for others to be funded to bring this work elsewhere such as the United States. Sister Mary Frances has shared numerous documents with me already, reports from their work over the past several years. I would be glad to share them with anyone interested in helping me think through how to support their efforts.

My experiences at the Laudato Si Conference and by hearing about the great work of JPIC FA provide examples of how the rest of us can better link together the elements of JPIC; Formation; Youth and Young Adults; and Ecumenical-Interfaith Relations. My hope is that these stories from Africa may inspire us to find new ways to integrate these efforts more strongly together, to form and engage more youth & young adults and all people to work on JPIC issues together, through ecumenical-interfaith relationship building and collaboration.

CYNESA is working on a report from the conference and undoubtedly will remain in contact with both the Vatican Dicastery for Integral Human Development as well as UN Environment. The Vatican actually wants to do Laudato Si conferences in different regions of Africa, with the vision that Africa will lead and other areas of the world will follow. Allen Ottaro, the founder and executive director of CYNESA, is working on getting a visa to hopefully visit the U.S. this fall. He would very much like to meet with a variety of people who can give him an understanding of U.S. culture and politics and grassroots efforts, and partner with him on Laudato Si efforts. Meanwhile, I would be glad to meet and further discuss my learnings from the conference and my experience in Kenya, my first trip to Africa where I was privileged to meet people from across the continent, especially eastern and southern Africa, as well as several people from other parts of the world (Samoa, Philippines, India, Ecuador, and Germany).

Peace and all good,

Kelly Moltzen OFS

Accepting All People as A Gift of The Lord

From: Vatican II in Plain English

With Pope Francis, the Franciscan Family celebrates the 800th anniversary of the meeting of Br. Francis and Br. Illuminato with Sultan Malek al Kamil. Considering the Pope’s efforts, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the church has to say in regard to our active involvement with non-Christian religions.

From Book 3 (from a set of three books) entitled The Decrees and Declarations, I have excerpted certain quotes.

Book 3 – The Decrees and Declarations – Chapter 4, The Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions

(Although the “verses” below are written in psalm-scripture style in the book, I present them in paragraph form to save space.)

1 In our day and age, people everywhere are growing closer together, and their ties are becoming more profound, even when they are socially diverse.
Because of this reality, the Church is giving more attention to its relationship with non-Christian religions and, toward that end, gives primary consideration in this document to what unites all people and to what people have in common.
This furthers the Church’s task of fostering unity and love among people and even among various nations.
For we believe and teach that all men and women form one human family, have a common origin and God, and share a common destiny in divine Providence.
People naturally look to various religions to answer profound human questions: What does it mean to be human?
What is goodness? What is sin?
What makes us sad?
What is the path to happiness?
What does death mean?
What is beyond the grave?
What, in short, is the mystery of life?

2 People have long sensed the presence of the divine, however that is understood or defined. It seems to hover near us, mysteriously present in the events of life. We have variously known this as a supreme being - a divinity or heavenly sort of parent - and this has given people a religious sense.
In Hinduism for example, people contemplate this divine mystery and speak of it through myths and penetrating enquiry, seeking relief of human struggle through aesthetical practice, meditation, or movement toward God.
In various forms of Buddhism, too, people understand that the current situation is not sufficient and that there is a path for life on which people can reach greater freedom or enlightenment.
In many other religions around the world as well, people strive to relieve the restless hearts through religious practices and lifestyles that consist of teachings, rules of life, and sacred rights.
The Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true and holy in any of these religions and, in fact, looks upon them with sincere respect.
Even though they differ from us, their ways of life and doctrines often reflect the truth that we all seek.
The church of course, continues to proclaim Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life,” but we all exhort all our members to be prudent and loving and open to dialogue with others.
We urge Christians to defend and promote the spiritual and moral benefits found among other world religions, including the values found in their cultures.

3 We also appreciate the Muslems, who adore one God who, they believe, acts with mercy and power, who is our creator and sustainer.
They seek to obey God in the spirit of Abraham and Sarah, even when the divine decrees seem inscrutable.
Even though they do not believe in the divinity of Jesus, nonetheless they revere him as a prophet, and they honor Mary, his mother.
They wait with us for the judgment day, when God will give all their due, and therefore, they value a moral life and practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Even though we have had many hostilities between Christians and Muslims, we now urge all to forget the past and work for mutual understanding and peace.


4 This council also recalls the spiritual bonds that unite Christians and Jews: our common heritage in Sarah and Abraham.
We are the Church of Christ, but we acknowledge that the roots of our faith are in the spiritual ancestors, Moses, and the prophets whom we hold in common.
The very story of Christianity - that God is leading us to freedom - was foreshadowed by the journey of the Jews from bondage to freedom through the desert.
We cannot forget, therefore, that we receive divine revelation through the Jews.
… As Christians, we are rooted in Judaism, and we even believe that in Christ, Jew and Gentile were reconciled once and for all.
Mary herself was a Jew, of course, as we’re all the apostles, not to mention Christ himself - a faithful Jew. ...

5 It is really not possible to call upon God, the creator and sustainer of all, if we treat anyone less than lovingly.
The scriptures themselves say as much when they remind us that whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Hence, one’s relationship to God is intimately linked to one’s relationship to those around him or her.
There is absolutely no ground, then, to offer anyone less than full dignity and respect.
Therefore, we outrightly reject and abhor any discrimination against anyone based on race, color, condition of life, or religion.

We beg all Christians to be at peace and to maintain good relations with all peoples.

The Word of the Church



Mike Carsten OFS
March 13, 2019
www.ofsusaecumenicalinterfaith.org
— Vatican II in Plain English - The Collection

Now is the Time: A Call for Ecumenical/Interfaith Prophets.

Fall 2017

Now is the Time:  A Call for Ecumenical/Interfaith Prophets

Gods peace be upon each of you,

This past week the Troubadours of St. Clare Fraternity Council agreed to create within the Council the position of Ecumenical/Interfaith Formator. Our sister Barbara Jur, OFS, has consented to be the first facilitator of this new Council position. Barbara is already an elected Councilor with active voice within the Council. Her acceptance of this new role will be a blessing to us all.

To the best of my knowledge, we are the first and only fraternity to have taken such a step; further, I believe, no Region in the United States has moved in this direction, including Divine Mercy Region. We are very grateful to Barbara for her generous “yes” in response to the Council request. She has assumed this new role, and we look forward to her guidance and our own future formation.

Why is such a position necessary within a National, Regional, Local fraternity? The answer for me is simple. We need prophets. We need those brothers and sisters who will:

  • put themselves out there and speak truth to us;

  • remind us of our call as Franciscans to be in loving relationship with everyone;

  • help us fulfill the responsibilities of our profession; and,

  • take us places we would rather not go.

I encourage all Regional Executive Councils (most especially Divine Mercy Region) to explore the possibility of creating such a position within their respective Regions. I ask most especially the fraternities of Divine Mercy Region to search out and call forward into service those in our local fraternities who have a passion for Ecumenical and Interfaith dialogue and relationship.

Let us find together those prophets living amongst us that are willing to speak truth and take us to those peoples and places where we may not really want to go.

Pax et bonum,

Mike

With Attentive Eye, Open Mind, and Heart

With Attentive Eye, Open Mind, and Heart 

by Mike Carsten OFS


     Recently in my day job, I had the honor of escorting one of our neighbors in downtown Detroit to his final resting place at the National Cemetery in Holly Michigan. Carl was a veteran of the Korean war and lived in section 8 housing in the inner city of Detroit. He was someone that I was able to serve in life and honor in death. Carl was given a full military funeral with a flag draped casket. The 21- gun salute, sounding out in the silence, demanded an acute awareness of lives lived and lost. 
 
     The National Cemetery in Holly is a beautiful place. My father is buried there. In going to the cemetery, whether to visit my dad or escorting one of our seniors, I am reminded of pilgrimage. Immediately upon entering, I find myself slowly moving in silence along a roadway that is lined with American flags, surrounded by perfectly placed white headstones shimmering and gleaming in the sunlight. Row after row after row.

     After Carl’s memorial service, I went to visit my dad. While standing in silence amongst all the headstones, I noticed (maybe for the first time) that there were many different religious symbols marking the top of each stone, most of them I did not recognize. I looked out across the vast white rolling field of thousands upon thousands of headstones and marveled at the amazing diversity of beliefs that were represented. In that moment, there was no need to debate the worthiness of individual belief systems. No need to defend my own beliefs. Just the silent witness of shared experience, unity in diversity and love of country. I was standing in the most ecumenical-interfaith place I have ever experienced. It is a Sacred Place.

    I quote the following as found in the Pilgrim's Companion To Franciscan Places (as printed by Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs):

  James Postell, teacher and architect, provides a rich explanation of sacred place: 
"Sacred has to do with both an inner and outer presence – a spiritual power, an intersection of Heaven and Earth. … Place implies human significance, human action derived from history, belief, ritual, and everyday… activity."  According to Postell, sacred places are perceived as sacred and serve to mark  important geographic, cultural, political, and religious transitions involving spiritual power. As such, their presence requires an attentive eye and open mind and heart.

     My pilgrimage to the National Cemetery allowed me a moment of insight. I was able to see and experience our “unity in diversity” as a nation in the signs and symbols we employ at death. I pray that with your help we together can work with attentive eyes, open minds, and hearts to educate and raise our awareness as Franciscan sisters and brothers to the ecumenical and interfaith efforts taking place in our communities, in our parishes, in the Church, and in the Franciscan movement.  We, then, may accept all people as a gift of the Lord.

Peace
Mike

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World - Recommendations for Conduct

World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
World Evangelical Alliance

Preamble
Mission belongs to the very being of the church. Proclaiming the word of God
and witnessing to the world is essential for every Christian. At the same time, it is
necessary to do so according to gospel principles, with full respect and love for all
human beings.
Aware of the tensions between people and communities of different religious
convictions and the varied interpretations of Christian witness, the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the World Council of Churches
(WCC) and, at the invitation of the WCC, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA),
met during a period of 5 years to reflect and produce this document to serve as a
set of recommendations for conduct on Christian witness around the world. This
document does not intend to be a theological statement on mission but to address
practical issues associated with Christian witness in a multi-religious world.
The purpose of this document is to encourage churches, church councils and mission
agencies to reflect on their current practices and to use the recommendations in this
document to prepare, where appropriate, their own guidelines for their witness and
mission among those of different religions and among those who do not profess
any particular religion. It is hoped that Christians across the world will study this
document in the light of their own practices in witnessing to their faith in Christ,
both by word and deed.


A basis for Christian witness

  1. For Christians it is a privilege and joy to give an accounting for the hope thatis within them and to do so with gentleness and respect (cf. 1 Peter 3:15).
  2. Jesus Christ is the supreme witness (cf. John 18:37). Christian witness is always a sharing in his witness, which takes the form of proclamation of the kingdom, service to neighbour and the total gift of self even if that act of giving leads to the cross. Just as the Father sent the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, so believers are sent in mission to witness in word and action to the love of the triune God.
  3. The example and teaching of Jesus Christ and of the early church must be the guides for Christian mission. For two millennia Christians have sought to follow Christ’s way by sharing the good news of God’s kingdom (cf. Luke 4:16-20).
  4. Christian witness in a pluralistic world includes engaging in dialogue with people of different religions and cultures (cf. Acts 17:22-28).
  5. In some contexts, living and proclaiming the gospel is difficult, hindered or even prohibited, yet Christians are commissioned by Christ to continue faithfully in solidarity with one another in their witness to him (cf. Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:44-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).
  6. If Christians engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means, they betray the gospel and may cause suffering to others. Such departures call for repentance and remind us of our need for God’s continuing grace (cf. Romans 3:23).
  7. Christians affirm that while it is their responsibility to witness to Christ, conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 16:7-9; Acts 10:44- 47). They recognize that the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills in ways over which no human being has control (cf. John 3:8).

 

Principles
Christians are called to adhere to the following principles as they seek to fulfil Christ’s
commission in an appropriate manner, particularly within interreligious contexts.

 

  1. Acting in God’s love. Christians believe that God is the source of all love and, accordingly, in their witness they are called to live lives of love and to love their neighbor as themselves (cf. Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15).
  2. Imitating Jesus Christ. In all aspects of life, and especially in their witness, Christians are called to follow the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, sharing his love, giving glory and honor to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:21-23).
  3. Christian virtues. Christians are called to conduct themselves with integrity, charity, compassion and humility, and to overcome all arrogance, condescension and disparagement (cf. Galatians 5:22).
  4. Acts of service and justice. Christians are called to act justly and to love tenderly (cf. Micah 6:8). They are further called to serve others and in so doing to recognize Christ in the least of their sisters and brothers (cf. Matthew 25:45). Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service.
  5. Discernment in ministries of healing. As an integral part of their witness to the gospel, Christians exercise ministries of healing. They are called to exercise discernment as they carry out these ministries, fully respecting human dignity and ensuring that the vulnerability of people and their need for healing are not exploited.
  6. Rejection of violence. Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts.
  7. Freedom of religion and belief. Religious freedom including the right to publicly profess, practice, propagate and change one’s religion flows from the very dignity of the human person which is grounded in the creation of all human beings in the image and likeness of God (cf. Genesis 1:26). Thus, all human beings have equal rights and responsibilities. Where any religion is instrumentalized for political ends, or where religious persecution occurs, Christians are called to engage in a prophetic witness denouncing such actions.
  8. Mutual respect and solidarity. Christians are called to commit themselves to work with all people in mutual respect, promoting together justice, peace and the common good. Interreligious cooperation is an essential dimension of such commitment.
  9. Respect for all people. Christians recognize that the gospel both challenges and enriches cultures. Even when the gospel challenges certain aspects of cultures, Christians are called to respect all people. Christians are also called to discern elements in their own cultures that are challenged by the gospel.
  10. Renouncing false witness. Christians are to speak sincerely and respectfully; they are to listen in order to learn about and understand others’ beliefs and practices, and are encouraged to acknowledge and appreciate what is true and good in them. Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions.
  11. Ensuring personal discernment. Christians are to acknowledge that changing one’s religion is a decisive step that must be accompanied by sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom.
  12. Building interreligious relationships. Christians should continue to build relationships of respect and trust with people of different religions so as to facilitate deeper mutual understanding, reconciliation and cooperation for the common good.

Recommendations
The Third Consultation organized by the World Council of Churches and the PCID of the Holy See in collaboration with World Evangelical Alliance with participation from the largest Christian families of faith (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal), having acted in a spirit of ecumenical cooperation to prepare this document for consideration by churches, national and regional confessional bodies and mission organizations, and especially those working in interreligious contexts, recommends that these bodies:

  1. study the issues set out in this document and where appropriate formulate guidelines for conduct regarding Christian witness applicable to their particular contexts. Where possible this should be done ecumenically, and in consultation with representatives of other religions.
  2. build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions, in particular at institutional levels between churches and other religious communities, engaging in on-going interreligious dialogue as part of their Christian commitment. In certain contexts, where years of tension and conflict have created deep suspicions and breaches of trust between and among communities, interreligious dialogue can provide new opportunities for resolving conflicts, restoring justice, healing of memories, reconciliation and peace-building.
  3. encourage Christians to strengthen their own religious identity and faith while deepening their knowledge and understanding of different religions, and to do so also taking into account the perspectives of the adherents of those religions. Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.
  4. cooperate with other religious communities engaging in interreligious advocacy towards justice and the common good and, wherever possible, standing together in solidarity with people who are in situations of conflict.
  5. call on their governments to ensure that freedom of religion is properly and comprehensively respected, recognizing that in many countries religious institutions and persons are inhibited from exercising their mission.
  6. pray for their neighbors and their well-being, recognizing that prayer is integral to who we are and what we do, as well as to Christ’s mission.

Appendix: Background to the document

  1. In today’s world there is increasing collaboration among Christians and between Christians and followers of different religions. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) of the Holy See and the World Council of Churches’ Program on Interreligious Dialogue and Co-operation (WCCIRDC) have a history of such collaboration. Examples of themes on which the PCID/WCC-IRDC have collaborated in the past are: Interreligious Marriage (1994-1997), Interreligious Prayer (1997-1998) and African Religiosity (2000- 2004). This document is a result of their work together.
  2. There are increasing interreligious tensions in the world today, including violence and the loss of human life. Politics, economics and other factors play a role in these tensions. Christians too are sometimes involved in these conflicts, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, either as those who are persecuted or as those participating in violence. In response to this the PCID and WCC-IRDC decided to address the issues involved in a joint process towards producing shared recommendations for conduct on Christian witness. The WCC-IRDC invited the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to participate in this process, and they have gladly done so.
  3. Initially two consultations were held: the first, in Lariano, Italy, in May 2006, was entitled “Assessing the Reality” where representatives of different religions shared their views and experiences on the question of conversion. A statement from the consultation reads in part: “We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others’ rights and religious sensibilities. Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith.”
  4. The second, an inter-Christian consultation, was held in Toulouse, France, in August 2007, to reflect on these same issues. Questions on Family and Community, Respect for Others, Economy, Marketing and Competition, and Violence and Politics were thoroughly discussed. The pastoral and missionary issues around these topics became the background for theological reflection and for the principles developed in this document. Each issue is important in its own right and deserves more attention that can be given in these recommendations.
  5. The participants of the third (inter-Christian) consultation met in Bangkok, Thailand, from 25-28, January, 2011 and finalized this document.

Secular Franciscans Learn the Similarities between our Faith and Islam

Secular Franciscans Learn the Similarities between our Faith and Islam

By DON WATKINS, OFS

December 13, 2016 at 9:23 PM

The St. Irenaeus and St. Bonaventure fraternities had a unique opportunity to attend  a lecture titled, “Islam: A Catholic-Franciscan Perspective.” Fr. Michael Calabria, OFM,  Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies  at St. Bonaventure University spent nearly two hours lecturing our fraternities and answering our questions about this timely topic. Our fraternity had been discussing an article that appeared on the Franciscan Action Network website. The article referred to a recently released study from The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University which stated that, “most American Catholics do not personally know a Muslim and most do not have a good understanding of Islam as a religion.” The report found that “nearly half of Catholics can’t name any similarities between Catholicism and Islam, or say explicitly that there are no commonalities.”

After sharing this article with our fraternity, our Vice Minister, Betty Hooker, OFS suggested that we take steps to acquaint our fraternity with Islam. We approached Fr. Michael and he graciously agreed to present. Fr. Michael said that it was an interesting correlation that Catholic publications that viewed Pope Francis positively also tended to view Islam positively and that those publications who were not favorable to Pope Francis tended to view Islam negatively. He also said that most Catholic bookstores seem to sell highly questionable books about Islam, but he said that is also true of other bookstores as well. Through his talk we gained an appreciation of the many intersections of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith.  Fr. Michael told us that he wanted to dispel the myth that Christians and Muslims have been at “each other’s throats” since time immemorial. He said that while various Muslims and Christians have been involved in wars with each other the same can be said for Christians fighting other Christians and Muslims fighting each other.

He talked of his early interest in Islam which began when he was an Egyptology student at Johns Hopkins University.  He was on a trip to Egypt with his professor in 1981 and how this experience evolved into an academic interest. His first encounter with Islam came with the call to prayer early in the day while he was there. Muslims pray five times a day. The prayer begins. “God is the most great.” He said that contrary to popular belief “not everyone drops to the floor” but you do see that in some places. Fr. Michael equated Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” with this call to worship. We are invited to bring God into our consciousness. This call to worship five times a day was the result of a bargain between God and Moses. He said, that Moses is the most frequently mentioned prophet in the Quran. Islam shares most of the prophets from the Jewish and Christian traditions. He drew a contrast between Western church architecture which is designed to “shut out the world” so that people could focus on the altar.” In a mosque the focus is on what lies beyond the walls of the mosque. This outward orientation is because the focus is on the universe where everything is taken to be a sign of God’s presence. Fr. Michael saw this as parallel to the spirituality of St. Francis which sees all creation as brother and sister. Although we sit, rise and kneel in our prayer, Fr. Michael said that “Islamic prayer is a more fully embodied prayer.”  When the person who is at the lowest point of the prayer, with their head on the ground, that is when they glorify God and also ask for forgiveness. Before praying Muslims perform ablutions, which are a way of ritually preparing yourself for prayer which is very similar to the Hebrew practices in the Bible.

In a mosque, there is an architectural convention called “The Niche” which directs a person toward Mecca which is the holy city. We have a similar structure called the apse in Christian churches where the altar is placed and that serves much the same purpose to direct our attention. Fr. Michael shared about Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj and the prayer directed to the Kaaba which is believed to have been the house of worship built by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham and his son. The Kaaba is the primordial center of their worship. No matter where Muslim are in the world their prayer is directed toward it.

Fr. Michael also told us that another significant aspect of Islam is the practice of almsgiving which is computed to 2.5% of your annual earnings. Significantly in the Quran almsgiving is always mentioned with prayer. Regular prayer and regular charity are believed to bless those who practice this. In other words prayer alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by almsgiving too. My relationship with God must find itself expressed in my relationship with others, particularly the poor. This is the message of the Hebrew prophets and it is the message of Jesus and the message of Islam as well. Our relationship with God in all three religions is expressed in our relationship with the most vulnerable in our society.

He drew the contrast between our Catholic fasting and ritual fasting that Muslims practice during Ramadan. Fasting in Islam is much more rigorous. Nothing passes your lips either water or food from sunup to sundown. Because the Islamic calendar is lunar the time of Ramadan changes each year. Sometimes when Ramadan falls during the summer months this could result in fourteen or fifteen hour days of fasting.  Fr. Michael says that this fasting re-orients one to God. He said, “every time you hear your stomach grumble or your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth this can reorient you to God.” He also said, that while fasting in Ramadan is much more rigorous than Lent but it is a much lighter time than Lent and more like Christmas for them. This is because during those night hours during Ramadan, Muslims meet, eat and celebrate. This ritual fasting in Islam like our own in Christianity is to turn your attention to the remembrance of God. One of the symbols of Ramadan are little tin lamps that people hang outside their home or hang outside their businesses this symbolizes the light of the Quran which was originally revealed during the month of Ramadan. Fr. Michael drew our attention to our own practice of candles in Advent wreaths before Christmas. He shared that Muslims believe in one God, as do Christians and Jews. He said, “This is the God of Abraham, the God of Moses and the God of Jesus. He dispelled the common belief that Allah is a different God by showing us an Arabic Christian Bible where God is referred to as Allah. In fact he said, that Allah is the word that Arab Christians use when they refer to God.

He said, that while we have different theologies we share many common beliefs.  He said if we want to understand how Muslims relate to Christians it is very similar to how we Christians relate to Jews. Muslims see their faith as a fulfillment of the promises of its two predecessors. For Muslims, what is revealed in the Quran is a fulfillment of all that went before. He said, “for Christians Jesus is most immanent in the Christ.” For Muslims everything in creation reflects the in-dwelling of God. Fr. Calabria cited one of his favorite passage from the Quran to illustrate the closeness of God to all creation.  “And indeed We have created man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and We are closer to him than (his) jugular vein.” In other words, God is closer than the veins in one’s neck. For Muslims this is the immanence of God. Fr. Michael said, “For Muslims God has spoken to humanity in the Torah, in the psalms of David,  the Gospel of Jesus Christ and finally in the Quran.”  They see their faith as a fulfillment of all that has gone before. Fr. Michael’s had us spellbound for almost two hours. Everyone from our two fraternities emerged with a much fuller understanding of our common Abrahamic roots and an appreciation for nuances and intersections of our faiths. We are grateful to Fr. Michael Calabria for his time, eloquence and scholarship.

Don is a member of St. Irenaeus Fraternity - St. Kateri Tekakwitha Region USA