Pawlikowski, OSM were the two Roman Catholic representatives that signed
Religions for Peace USA
Statement Regarding Recent Terrorist Attack and Upsurge in Anti-Immigrant and
on December 12, 2015. However,
there has been a considerable increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Immigrant
prejudice expressed by some business and political leaders
since the statement.
In your opinion, what could Catholic parishes and Catholics in general do to combat this expression of fear and prejudice?
There’s now an annual
World Interfaith Harmony Week
in our global calendar. It was originally proposed at the UN General
Assembly in 2010,
and unanimously adopted for the first week in February (1-7) every year.
The World Interfaith Harmony Week is based
on the pioneering work of
The Common Word initiative.
This initiative, which started in 2000, called for Muslim and Christian
leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two
common fundamental religious Commandments: Love of God, and Love of Neighbor.
The Two commandments are at the heart of the three
monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam--and therefore provide the
most solid theological ground possible.
At the end of the day, faith should lead one to do good to others. As the saying goes: ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ What better way is there to show the positive force of faith than by joining together to do good to one's neighbors. This can take many expressions, such as activities like these: a community cleanup of a river or park; feeding the homeless; blood-donation drives; health fairs; planting of a community garden; fixing of a run-down playground; painting and sprucing up community centers; painting an interfaith mural, spending some time in prayer together (see my book Interreligious Prayer: A Christian Guide).
|Gordon:||Could you comment on the Vatican's leadership on addressing anti-Muslim attitudes in the Second Vatican Council's Nostra Aetate and Lumen Gentium?|
In the Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church to
Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), a basis was provided for
interreligious relations in the oneness of the human family, the common
search for God, and the Gospel
values to preserve and foster
what is true and good in other religions. With regard to Muslims
in particular, the Declaration exhorted cooperation and respect,
“social justice, moral values, as well as peace and freedom for all
people (NA 3)” despite the history of hostilities. It also noted that
Muslims worship the God of Abraham in prayer, almsgiving and fasting;
that they venerate Jesus as a prophet and honor his virgin mother
Mary; and that they await the day of judgment when God will bring all
back to life. “The Church looks upon Muslims with respect” says
the Declaration, and it “rejects nothing of what is true and holy” in
this religion. And so it counsels us to engage in dialogue and
collaboration with Muslims as well as members of other religions, and
“to acknowledge preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral good, as
well as the socio-cultural values
found among them “(2).
The sentence in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) that makes our dialogue with Muslims so much richer and promising today is The plan of salvation also embraces those who acknowledge the Creator, and among these the Muslims are first; they profess to hold the faith of Abraham and along with us they worship the one merciful God who will judge humanity on the last day” (LG 16).
Pope Francis has used dramatic words and gestures to show his desire for closer relations with the Islamic world. He has said that authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Quran are opposed to every form of violence, and invited both Muslim and Jewish leaders to gather in the Vatican gardens and pray for peace. And we all remember the photo of his washing the feet of two Muslims during a Holy Thursday liturgy at a juvenile detention center in Rome just a few weeks after becoming pope.
|Gordon:||Please explain to our readers the difference between the jihadists and the true followers of Islam.|
Jihad is an inclusive word with two
meanings. Its primary meaning is inner striving for self-control and
betterment. Its secondary meaning is armed battle to
protect the faith against others. This latter meaning involves use of legal,
diplomatic, economic, political, as well as military means, but innocents--such
women, children, invalids--must never be harmed. This secondary concept of jihad has been hijacked and mis-applied by Islamist extremists to justify
forms of violence.
Violent Islamist extremists have unfortunately taken over the word’s
secondary meaning in the minds of most people. Such extremists,
however, are the exception in an otherwise peaceful religion. While it is
true that the Quran has passages advocating violence against sinners and
so does the Bible. In fact, every religion throughout history has suffered the
effects of extremists who distort and corrupt the core values of
One need only take a brief glance backwards at the 12th c. Crusades
or the 16th c Post-Protestant Reformation Inquisition to remember
that Muslims are
not the only people capable of committing atrocities in the name of
religion. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that the vast
majority of Christians
never participated in those atrocities, nor do those conflicts in any way
represent what they hold to be the life-giving facets of their religious
the vast majority of Muslims today hold no part with the actions of ISIS.
The vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims are peaceful and tolerant.
So judging Islam on the actions of a tiny, violent minority is both wrong
Lumping all Muslims together is like claiming that the opinions of the most
conservative areas of the U.S. are representative of the whole nation. That’s
not to deny
that in the Middle East there are blood-thirsty extremists who are gleefully
beheading hundreds of nonbelievers and terrorizing whole nations, or that
extremists are popping up in Western world countries. But as we noted,
Christianity has also been through similar periods of intolerance and bloodshed
in the past. After a long period of painful self-examination, it ultimately left behind
its anti-Semitism and its contempt for other faiths. What we tend to forget is
that religion is
often embedded in culture We are generally not guided by religious scripture
alone. Believers of all faiths interpret their texts through the lens of their
ethnic, nationalistic and political perspectives. The struggle to reform
Islam in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and other countries is as much cultural and
as it is
As important as it is for Christians to learn about Islam in general, it is even more important for us to come to personally know individual Muslims. Pastors and social workers might work with their congregations to build relationships with local Mosques and Islamic Centers. Individuals can been couraged to look for opportunities to become better acquainted with their Muslim neighbors and co-workers. Personal encounter humanizes the other who has to some extent been stereotyped in our minds by media impressions. Terrorism exists wherever religious ideology—be it Christian Jewish, or Islamic—succeeds in denying humanity to one’s opponents. Whenever and wherever religion becomes ideology, we can be certain that it will be used in the pursuit of cruel and inhuman projects.
A few years ago I attended the annual conference of the
Islamic Society of North America at the Rosemont Convention Center in
Chicago. There wre over 30,000
Muslim participants. The weekend afforded me the opportunity to listen to
Muslims talk with one another about things that are on their minds and
converse with them
over meals as well as before and after sessions. The Conference theme was
Achieving Balance in Faith, Family, and Community. How normal does that sound?
That theme effectively summarizes the preoccupation of believers of every stripe
in North America today. In the end, what left the deepest impression was simply
There is a community of people with a strong faith in the God of Abraham
and a strong track record in community service and charity (the city of
that year said that the Muslim contribution was larger than any it had ever
received in its history.)
|Gordon:||When and why did you become a member of Religions for Peace USA?|
|| Interreligious dialogue and
collaboration are fundamental to the mission of the Catholic Church. As Swiss
theologian Hans Kung once wrote, “There can be no peace
among nations without peace among religions.” Thus I made the Paulists a
“member” soon after founding our North American office at the beginning of the
The Catholic commitment to interreligious collaboration isn’t an option; it’s a
There are 3 theological principles that undergird this assertion. The first is what we might call “the mystery of unity.” In other words, all humanity has one vocation, rooted in our origins and our destiny. “Since Christ died for all human beings,” Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes tells us, “and since all human beings are in fact called to one and he same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit—in a manner known to God alone—offers to every person the possibility of being made partner in the paschal mystery “(22). In other words, the Council affirmed that all peoples do share a common vocation, a common destiny, even though they don’t necessarily share it in he same way. God has one single plan of salvation, a plan in which all human persons are invited to participate.
The second theological principle is the universal action of God’s Spirit in the world. One of Pope John Paul II’s particular contributions was to further develop in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio the active presence of God’s Spirit in the religious traditions of other peoples. God’s Spirit is at work in the world before, during, and after the life of Jesus. And the Spirit’s universal work affects “not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures, and religions” (28). And the third principle flows from this: the universality of God’s reign.
If that’s the picture, then it makes complete sense that all religions join hands to work together for peace in our world.
|Gordon:||Could you provide our readers with some background on why and how Understanding Islam: Guide for Catholic Educators was created?|
are three regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues in the U.S.—Mid-Atlantic, Midwest;
and West Coast. All are supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The Mid-Atlantic
dialogue, on which I’ve served since 2002, took on the task in 2008 of
developing an educational
resource—a profile of Catholics and a profile of Muslims—that could be used by
teachers in educational settings. The sense was that some of the
Muslim teachers present to Muslim students about Catholics would not be
acceptable to Catholics, and vice versa. We wanted to provide a new resource or
one another that would be mutually acceptable.
There are about 10 Catholics and 10 Muslim participants in the dialogue, and there is just one meeting a year of about two days. Now you might think that the Catholics would simply have drawn up a profile of themselves to give to Muslims for their use, and vice versa. But actually, we did just the opposite: the Catholics took on creating a profile of Muslims, and the Muslims were charged with creating a profile of Catholics. That made for genuine research and dialogue, because it required the participants on each side to share among themselves their perceptions and experience of the “other”, and then present that to each other for feedback in our sessions. Then we would go back to the drawing board to make revisions based on the other’s feedback of our perceptions of them and/or our understanding of their religion. So, as you might guess, his process was a challenging one and prolonged the task, but the Guide for Catholic Educators about Islam eventually emerged as the fruit of our efforts on the Catholic side to present an understanding of Islam grounded in reality.
What are some of the plans for the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in 2016?
First of all, the Paulist North
American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations serves as a
concrete expression of the Paulist Community's commitment to work
unity among the followers of Christ (Ecumenism) and to build bridges of
understanding, respect, and collaboration with members of other world religions
The work can be summarized in three words: Information, Representation, Action.
Information and Education: The Office was established to first of all provide ongoing and updated information and education to the members of the Paulist Community about the issues involved, and to serve as a motivating agent for constructive and creative initiatives on the part of Paulist ministry centers in their local context. The quarterly online newsletter, Koinonia (Greek: participation, sharing, partnership, communion)—free subscription, open to all, by the way -- is one of the ways this is done, as well as through the sharing of information and resources via the internet.
Representation: As the office's director, I represent the Paulists at various regional, national and international ecumenical and interreligious conferences, assuring a Paulist presence and voice at events such as the National Workshop on Christian Unity, the North American Academy of Ecumenists, and the Parliament of World Religions, as well as by presently serving on various dialogues such as the Catholic-Muslim Mid-Atlantic and National Dialogues; the Catholic-Hindu and the Catholic-Buddhist Dialogues. Earlier on in my ecumenical ministry, I served ontwo national intra-Christian dialogues.Action: The Office also engages in direct action promoting Christian unity and interfaith understanding in a variety of ways, such as: Gospel Call, a four-day ecumenical parish mission event that I lead with a Protestant preaching partner, Rev. John Armstrong. It’s an energizing event that brings Christians together in a local area for worship,
community and mission.
In addition, I lead ecumenical and interfaith retreats, workshops and seminars for clergy and laity; give talks; write books and articles; and network with other related individuals and organizations. I’m on the road about 65% of the time. There’s never enough time for all that I’d like to read or do, but I believe one person can still make a positive contribution with judicious use of his time and energy.
In 2016 I will be moving the office to the Paulist Center in downtown Boston, a move occasioned by the sale of St. Paul’s College and the Paulist North American Ministry Center in Washington, DC, where the office has been located since 2007.
||The Paulists have been a leader in Communications which is at the core of your mission. Most of our readers are aware of the Paulist Press, but the Paulists also have pioneered the use of video and podcasts in their communications. I am a big fan of Busted Halo. Communications technology is a rapidly changing field. Are their any other communications technologies that that Paulists may be considering using in the future?|
||Well, you didn’t mention Paulist-Productions, our film-making company in Hollywood, CA which has produced some memorable big-screen films like Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story; Romero , the bishop of El Salvador who was martyred; as well as some TV movies like The Lost Valentine It has won many awards for its films and television shows, including five Emmy Awards, the Humanitas Award, the Christopher Award and five Gabriel Awards. And as for Busted Halo, in terms of new communications technologies, SiriusXM does broadcast The Busted Halo show on satellite radio, as well as stream it on-demand to their mobile app. Additionally, Busted Halo keeps up with all the current social media including Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Snapchat, and periscope.|
||You are a prolific writer with 15 books to your credit and over 250 articles in a wide variety of periodicals and journals. Did you formally study writing or what has prompted you to become a writer?|
||I had a double major in college of English Literature and Philosophy, and I would have to say those courses fertilized the seeds that had already been planted in high school English classes. Writing, both prose and poetry, seemed to come from within as a natural inclination. One of the expressions that takes for me on a regular basis is keeping a journal. Trying to give concrete expression to abstract thoughts has over the years become a near-daily exercise. A few of its benefits are that it requires reflection, cultivates conscious decision-making, keeps memory active, provides me on my annual retreat with a helpful perspective of the year past, and cultivates gratitude, the heart of prayer.|
||Your interest in spirituality, meditation, and yoga is remarkable. What initially interested you in exploring the multiple dimensions of spirituality especially from an eastern perspective?|
After engaging full time in the
work for Christian unity over ten years at the Canadian Centre for
Ecumenism in Montreal and working in all 10 provinces of Canada,
it was becoming apparent to me that there was a rising tide of religious
pluralism in North America and that I needed to become more conversant, not just
other traditions of Christian faith, but about other world religions. So after
the World Council of Churches General Assembly in Canberra, Australia in 1991, I
a three month sabbatical in India to have a more direct experience of Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Islam. I spent my first month at the Christian ashram of Shantivanam
directed by Benedictine Fr. Bede Griffiths, a pioneer in interreligious
At this ashram, there was a daily session of yoga, followed by quiet sitting in
meditation. I had already been practicing Christian meditation/Centering Prayer
17 years, and within the first few sessions of yoga at the ashram, when it came
time to sit in quiet meditation, I could feel a palpable difference in both my
body and mind.
I was able to sit more comfortably, and my mind was quieter and more focused.
What’s going on here, I wondered? And when I learned that hatha yoga—movements
and postures with a focused mind—were originally designed to help people
meditate better, I was motivated to learn more about yoga. Two of the greatest
any meditator are the restless mind in the fidgety body! And here was a practice
the objective of which was formally defined in the tradition as “calming the
Another factor that inclined me to engage with the physical postures and breathing exercises of hatha yoga is our own Christian incarnational theology. We have the highest theology of the body among all the religions of the world. That said, we also have one of the lowest levels of actually attributing to our bodies any significant role in our spiritual lives. We need some help here! There’s no other religion in the world that claims God chose to become one of us, and did so in an actual, historical person (Jesus), choosing to call these embodied spirits of ours “home”. The few practices we have that attributed a role to our bodies in our spiritual practice—like a weekly fast day and keeping a day a week for rest and renewal on the Sabbath—have by and large both fallen off our screens in this era. Yoga is just one way to remind us that our bodies have an important role to play in our spiritual lives, and if they’ve been “sitting on the bench,” we need to bring them onto the playing field.
When I came back from India and saw how yoga was going mainstream in North American culture, I thought to myself, “Hmmm. Given the majoritarily Christian makeup of the U.S. and Canada, a good number if not the majority of those engaging in this practice here must be of Christian background. Who’s helping them to engage with this practice in a way that’s coherent with their Christian faith?” Seeing that there were few if any, I decided to deepen my own study and become an instructor, eventually writing the book Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga as Christian Spiritual Practice and the DVD Yoga Prayer. I also offered a retreat for Christian teachers of yoga to help them “connect the dots” between this embodied practice and their own incarnational faith, and make them more aware of the deep roots of contemplative prayer (referred to here as meditation) in the Christian tradition, going back to the teachings of the desert fathers, St. John Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences (5th c) through The Cloud of Unknowing (14th c) and the teachings of Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila (16th c) . They asked if a retreat like this might be offered every other year, which we’ve done, and out of those retreats has grown a website now accessed around the world because of its helpful resources as well as a book Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality.
|Gordon:||I know that some Christians—clergy and lay—do not consider Yoga as a helpful spiritual exercise. What may they fail to see in the practice?|
||There is a lot of misunderstanding of yoga out there. The primary one is that
yoga is a religion. The consequence of having that framework for it is that if
you’re a Christian
and you’re engaging with yoga, you’re practicing another religion and that’s
apostasy. The fact, however, is that yoga is not a religion. It’s a
philosophy, a science, a physical
and a spiritual practice. But it’s not a religion. All you have to do to realize
that is to look at who practices it. I know of classes for Orthodox Jews in New
York City and Muslim
Washington, DC. Across the country there are Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, and
people of no faith, who participate in it. That clearly indicates that one
of it more like a software that you plug into the hardware of your own faith
understanding and work with accordingly.
There are essentially two approaches: the classical approach to the practice or the contemporary approach. The latter is all about physical fitness, increased flexibility, strengthened muscles, etc, and meditation is not even part of the picture. Whereas in the former, the classical approach, the physical postures are about stretching and relaxing the muscles, tissues and organs with concentrative attention so as to release tension and stress from the body and focus the mind—all to prepare you for coming to rest in God’s presence more peaceably and comfortably with concentrative attention in quiet sitting meditation. And it works! And that’s why people keep coming back to the practice. I think one of the contributions we Christians can make to the practice in our contemporary cultural context is to help restore the inherent linkage in the classical tradition between hatha yoga and meditation. And a direct benefit for us is that doing so involves recovering our own rich tradition of contemplative prayer.Georg Feuerstein, a yoga scholar and author of The Shambhala Encyclopedia of yoga, acknowledges that yoga, it is quite true, has historically been associated with India’s three great religious-cultural traditions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Thus the teachings of yoga are infused with many concepts that have a Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina flavor. That said, in response to the question of how can yoga then enrich the religious or spiritual life of a practicing Christian or Jew, Feuerstein’s response is “The answer is the same as for a practicing Hindu, Buddhist, or Jaina. Yoga aids all who practice religion, regardless of their persuasion, by balancing the nervous system and stilling the mind through its various exercises (from posture to breath control to meditation). Yoga’s heritage is comprehensive enough so that anyone can find just the right techniques that will not conflict with his or her personal beliefs…. So, practicing Christians or Jews (or practitioners of any other religious tradition), should take from yoga what makes sense to them and deepens their own faith and spiritual commitment” (Feuerstein,The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, pp. 25, 26).
And that describes well what I do. I teach the practice in a distinctive way,
linking together individual postures into posture flows that give bodily
expression to the attitudes of
the heart embedded in the prayers people have been praying all their lives—but
generally just from the shoulders up, that is, in their heads. And what’s more
is that we pray
those prayers put to music, which has a wonderful capacity to engage one’s
affectivity as well. The end result: praying with body, mind, heart, and spirit
can open that rote
prayer up in fresh and
As the founder of the Paulist Fathers, Isaac Hecker, once said,
"We must bring forth the old truths in fresh, new forms."
|Gordon:||Could you comment on our near pandemic of gun violence in the United States?|
||As one who has done
both post-graduate studies in Europe and lived in Canada for 21 years, I
have come to see gun violence as the dark side of the American
It doesn’t reflect well on us as a people that citizens can legally purchase
weapons designed specifically to kill with brutal speed and efficiency. Nothing
in the Constitution
prevents the government from adopting sensible gun regulations such as universal
background checks, bans on military-style assault weapons and large-capacity
or laws prohibiting the sale of guns to violent offenders, the mentally ill, or
terrorists. We pass laws requiring helmets for cyclists and seat belts for
people in cars, but seem
unwilling to face the fact that guns kill over 32,000 people a year here.
America has by far the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, with nine
guns for every ten people.
We also have by far the highest level of gun violence among 23 advanced nations.
Muslims in the United States have sometimes expressed to me their amazement at
Christians’ high tolerance for violence in games, prime-time television
programs, movies, and in-the-street shootings.
A new study has found that every day, an average of 20 American children are
hospitalized for injuries caused by firearms.
Another 3,000 die every year before they get to the
emergency room. And for people 15-19 years of age, firearm injuries are the
second leading cause of death, behind motor vehicle crashes. This is what passes
for “normal” in
And the gun right’s solution to gun violence is more guns—always more guns. The gun rights movement is in the process of creating a “shoot first” society. And this profusion of arms makes us instinctively wary of reaching out to others, even in acts of charity. The so-called stand-your-ground legislation now on the books in 20 states emboldens gun owners to use their weapons in public. But such laws, in sowing and then validating mutual distrust, drive people apart. In the end, an armed society makes it difficult for us to fulfill the Gospel and Catholic social teaching by working for the common good. It inclines us to live out of fear and defensiveness rather than a spirit of outreach and service.
As Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said following the announcement by President Obama of measures concerning regulation of firearms: “Violence in our society is a complex issue with many facets, taking many forms. While no measure can eliminate all acts of violence which involve firearms, we welcome reasonable efforts aimed at saving lives and making communities safer.”
|Gordon:||Over the years, the work for Christian unity has been a major component of your ministry. What has motivated you to “stay in the saddle” on this?|
||The Church has a job to do: to play a
leading role in God’s work of healing a broken world. It is by its own
nature missionary, i.e., called and sent to witness in its own life to
that communion God intends for all humanity and for all creation in the Kingdom
of God. So visible unity amongst ourselves as Christians is a critical dimension
of our witness.
When, as a result of our divisions, we are not yet united at the Lord’s table
and not yet able to bring prophetic witness together in the face of injustice,
our witness is
compromised and drained of its compelling power. The Church has a job to do in
the world. In its tasks of proclaiming the gospel, promoting social justice, and
one might say the world is too strong for a divided church. The problems are too
vast for piecemeal responses.
As Pope Saint John Paul II said in his encyclical On Commitment to Ecumenism, “it is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of appendix which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all she is and does (20).”
In my new book, Christian Unity: How You Can Make a Difference, I harvest the experience of 35 years of ecumenical ministry in giving very down-to-earth, grassroots-oriented suggestions as to what parishes, interchurch couples and families, monastics, religious communities and lay movements, social action groups, teachers and students, and people in professional life can do to help heal the wounds of division among the followers of Jesus for the sake of the Church’s mission in the world. (Here is a discount coupon for the book)
|Gordon:||This has been an inspirational interview and will provide our readers with great insights into some of the most important challenges that are affecting all of our lives.|