On my way to church this morning, I heard a report on NPR about the fiftieth anniversary of the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate” which was a declaration on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. The report also reviewed the horrible treatment that the Catholic church had inflicted on other faiths, especially the Jewish people.
I am very grateful to have been born at a time when I do not remember the church being against other people because of their religious beliefs or lack of belief. It saddens and upsets me that not all Catholics have accepted this now fifty-year-old teaching. This gives the impression that Catholics are still condemning others for not being Catholic or Christian, even though most of us do not. Rather, we accept all people of good will as together we strive for greater love and peace in the world.
One of my favorite things about Francis is that he shows this attitude to the world. He regularly meets with people of diverse faith traditions, agnostics, and atheists. He often prays in silence in settings that include people of many traditions so that he does not seem to be pushing Catholic prayer onto others. When he spoke in Washington on his recent trip to the United States, he asked the crowd and television viewers to pray for him or, if prayer was not part of their own belief system, to send positive thoughts.
People around the world recognize Francis as a spiritual leader, not just a Catholic leader, because he does care about every person and, as he terms it, “our common home.” Although he was brought up in the pre-Vatican II church, he fully embraces and lives the council’s messages.
The message is needed now more than ever. There is so much to do to improve the lives of people and the planet. We, all people of good will, need to move forward together.