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YEAREND-INTERRELIGIOUS Dec-12-2007 (1,140 words) With logo posted Dec. 10 and photo to come. xxxn

Ups, downs mark ecumenical, interfaith relations in 2007

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The year 2007 marked a year with some progress for the Catholic Church in its relations with other Christians and in interfaith dialogue, although the year was also beset by some setbacks on the path to unity and understanding.

One positive move, recorded in November, was what Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, called a "real breakthrough" in a new Catholic-Orthodox dialogue document in that the Orthodox were willing to discuss how authority was shared and exercised on a universal level in the early church. The document was finalized during a meeting in Ravenna, Italy, attended by members of the dialogue commission.

One negative came along with the breakthrough, though: The Russian Orthodox Church delegation to the meeting walked out.

In July the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that the Catholic Church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities. The document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist.

Protestant leaders worldwide voiced dismay over the document, which was published in response to critical reaction given "Dominus Iesus," the doctrinal congregation's 2000 declaration on the "unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church."

Also in July, Pope Benedict's apostolic letter to widen access to the Latin-language Tridentine Mass provoked a sharp reaction among Jews because of an unresolved dispute over anti-Semitic language in the rite's Good Friday liturgy.

While the term "perfidious Jews" was not part of 1962 Tridentine rite authorized for use by the pope, it still contained a prayer for the conversion of Jews that asks God to end "the blindness of that people."

Abraham H. Foxman, U.S. director of the Anti-Defamation League, called the papal decree a "body blow to Catholic-Jewish relations."

Ecumenism remained on the front burner in top church circles. Prior to the November consistory at the Vatican, the world's cardinals and cardinals-to-be met for a full day, and ecumenism -- a subject requested by the cardinals themselves -- took up the entire morning. Cardinal Kasper said the opportunity to examine ecumenical themes with all the world's cardinals was particularly important because "ecumenism is a mandate from Our Lord. It is not an option, it is an obligation for the church."

In the United States, dialogue continued on many fronts:

-- Catholics and Sikhs discussed spirituality, holiness and the saints during a three-day bilateral retreat in September in Washington.

-- In Los Angeles, Catholics and Orthodox met for three days in October in an ongoing dialogue on church structures. A joint committee of Catholic and Orthodox bishops also met in October in St. Augustine, Fla., to discuss evangelization.

-- Also in October, an annual dialogue for Catholics and Muslims in the Midwest stressed the need for dialogue. The meeting was held in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Mich., home to one of the nation's largest Arab-American populations.

-- Anglicans and Catholics met for three days in October in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, Va., to discuss the role of Mary and the progress in ecumenical relations.

In the Episcopal Church, tensions within the church and its role within the Anglican Communion -- including the ordination of openly gay Bishop V. Eugene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003 and questions of authority -- continue to roil the denomination.

On Dec. 8, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., voted to secede from the church. Some individual Episcopal churches had earlier done so, prompting further questions about the rightful ownership of church assets.

The Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission issued a statement in September saying that "difficulties in the life of the Anglican Communion," particularly the tensions caused by Bishop Robinson's ordination, the blessing of same-sex unions in British Columbia and the acceptance of women bishops in some Anglican provinces, have forced Anglicans and Catholics to recognize that progress toward full unity will be slower than many of them had hoped.

The year in interreligious activity got off to a promising start in February with the first official meeting of Christian Churches Together in the USA, attended by leaders of 36 churches and national Christian organizations. The organization represented the five major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, historic Protestant, evangelical/Pentecostal, and racial/ethnic. At the meeting, in Pasadena, Calif., they discussed the importance of evangelism and issued a call to cut child poverty in America in half by 2017.

In the area of Catholic-Muslim relations, Pope Benedict XVI in November invited a group of Muslim scholars to meet with him and with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The dates for the meeting have yet to be set.

The invitation was a response to a letter from 138 Muslim scholars to the pope and other Christian leaders calling for new efforts at Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the shared belief in the existence of one God, in God's love for humanity and in people's obligation to love one another.

A month before Pope Benedict issued his invitation, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French newspaper La Croix that he was not sure "theological dialogue" was possible with Muslims.

"With some religions, yes," he said. "But with Islam, no, not at this time. Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Quran, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God. With such a strict interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the content of faith." Many of the scholars who had signed the letter said Cardinal Tauran's remarks troubled them.

Cardinal Tauran, in a message to the Muslim world at the end of the Muslim observance of Ramadan in September, denounced terrorism and all violence committed in the name of religion. The message also took aim at religious discrimination, saying the rights of all believers must be protected during the "troubled times we are passing through."

In May, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said religious leaders have an obligation to God to begin healing the wounds in Catholic-Muslim relations, including those caused by Pope Benedict's remarks about Islam during his 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany. "Meeting the pope cannot heal all these wounds, but at least we are making an effort to begin," Khatami said.

The year 2008 promised to make its own headlines in the field of interfaith dialogue, as Pope Benedict XVI had already scheduled an interreligious talk at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington as part of his planned April 15-20 visit to the United States.


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