Cooperative efforts between the U.S. Catholic bishops and leaders of other faiths such as Hinduism and Islam have resulted in several dialogues and the publication of numerous documents in recent weeks.
“It is my hope that the guides on interreligious education will be of practical help to educators and the lay faithful,” said Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout of Washington, D.C.
He emphasized the importance of religious groups “speaking to their own students about the teachings and practices” of other faith communities.
Bishop Knestout co-chaired an April 11-12 meeting of Catholic and Muslim scholars preparing for final edits on educational documents about each other's beliefs.
At the meeting, a draft version of “Understanding Islam: A Guide for Catholic Educators” was presented. The document includes a brief discussion of the history of Islam, its key teachings and contemporary issues. Muslim participants at the meeting said that the document contains historical inaccuracies that need to be corrected and asked that more core Islamic values be incorporated to correctly show Islam as a living, dynamic tradition.
A draft version of “Understanding Catholicism: A Guide for Muslim Educators” was also presented at the meeting. Catholic participants asked that the document be altered to better portray the central teachings of the Trinity and Incarnation as they are understood by Catholics rather than by the Muslim faith. Utilizing the comments offered by the drafting committees, both religious groups will complete the final editing of their projects in coming months.
“These materials should ensure a respectful and accurate presentation of the beliefs and practices of both Catholicism and Islam,” said Bishop Knestout.
Ecumenical and interreligious discussions have been part of the U.S. bishops’ efforts to reach out to those who hold different beliefs in both the United States and North America.
During his 2008 visit to Washington, Pope Benedict XVI called for dialogue among members of different faiths in order to build solidarity, influence the culture and ultimately “discover the truth.”
In recent years, the bishops have helped plan and host meetings and discussions with members of various faiths. The U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs recently attended an annual meeting between Vaishnava Hindus and an ecumenical body of Christians. The April 13-14 meeting in Potomac, Md., focused on “the hiddenness of God” as presented in Christian mystical theology and in the Hindu text “Bhagavad Gita.” Both religious groups share the belief that God is hidden but perceivable in creation. Encountering God’s presence in creation, man is called to return his love. In Christianity, the ultimate revelation of God’s presence takes place in the Incarnation.
In addition, the U.S. dialogue between the United Methodist Church and the Catholic Church has produced a joint statement on environmental stewardship. Released April 20, the statement, “Heaven and Earth Are Full of Your Glory,” highlights the shared belief by Catholics and Methodists that their celebration of the Eucharist is tied to the glory of God through creation.
The dialogue between the two churches, co-chaired by Bishop William Skylstad, retired bishop of Spokane, and Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of the UMC Florida Conference, is part of an effort to build unity in recent years.
Noting “the unity of God’s work of creation and redemption,” the statement emphasizes the Eucharist’s “intrinsic connection with the renewal of creation.” It points out that bread and wine, derived from natural elements, play a central role in the Eucharist and the salvation it offers. The statement calls on both Methodists and Catholics to practice stewardship in a way that links prayer and the life of the Church.