As Fr. Mike McCue discussed in a post earlier this week, the relationship between Christianity and Islam is a hot topic of public debate these days. As we approach the ninth anniversary of September 11 this weekend, a Florida pastor has also threatened to burn the Koran. This promise has met with outrage from many people throughout the world, and the Church has joined in their condemnation. This week, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue released the following statement:
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue received with great concern the news of the proposed “Koran Burning Day” on the occasion of the Anniversary of the September 11th tragic terrorist attacks in 2001 which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives and considerable material damage.
These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.
The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of September 11th would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.
Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: “Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions” (Address to the new Ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, similarly expressed, “…violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion…” (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new Ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006).
Interestingly, Pope Benedict XVI has chosen the theme “Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace” for the celebration of the 44th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2011 (http://zenit.org/article-29875?l=english
). Rather than thinking that a multiplicity of religions is somehow beneath our dignity or that we need to eradicate other religions, we need to affirm the value of religious freedom as one of our fundamental rights. Actions such as burning a Koran suggest that religions other than Christianity are of no value, and are the cause of violence in the world. Instead, however, these actions contribute to the circle of violence we are working to prevent. The pope will make an important point that religious freedom is necessary for peace, not an obstacle to peace.
The Gospel for today comes from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” and reminds us that as followers of Christ we are challenged to love our enemies (Luke 6:27-38). While clearly people who follow another religion are not enemies of Christianity, this Gospel teaches us that love must be the motivating force behind all of our actions.
One of Francis de Sales’ most famous quotes is that we must do everything out of love, and not out of fear. While a very small minority of people may claim burning the Koran is a Christian act, it clearly is done out of fear and a lack of love. As followers of Christ in the Salesian tradition, we pray for an end to all violence and a deeper respect for all people who authentically seek God in their particular religious tradition. We remember this week all who lost their lives and family and friends in the attacks of September 11. Following Jesus’ command in the Gospel today, we also pray for the attackers, and all who choose violence under the guise of religious fervor. As we continue our efforts for peace in the world today, we look forward in hope to the day when the Prince of Peace will return.