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Religious groups in US look at new pope with expectation

March 14, 2013 11:18 IST

Welcoming the election of Pope Francis I, religious organisations hope for interfaith dialogue and harmony among the world’s diverse religions. George Joseph reports

Hindu and Muslim organisations in the United States welcomed the new Pope Francis I and asked him to initiate dialogues with other faiths and work together for a better world.

The Hindu American Foundation, an advocacy group based in Washington, DC expressed hope that the church under Pope Francis I will respect and privilege pluralism and interfaith relations, based on earlier efforts with Nostra Aetete, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. 

“As a pluralistic faith, Hindus respect the papacy for its importance to Catholics, and hope that the church now begins a new era of mutually respecting dharma religions and other pluralist traditions as divinely inspired paths as well,” said Pawan Deshpande, a member of the HAF Executive Council. 

The Declaration of Nostra Aetete, signed in 1965, was the first papal document to state, in reference to Hindu and Buddhist beliefs: ‘The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is holy and true in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.’ 

The HAF statement also noted that many Hindus considered the tenure of Pope Benedict -- marked by few visits from spiritual leaders including Radhika Ramana Dasa -- as one of lost opportunities for dialogue with Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, and marred by controversy fueled by Pope Benedict's own public remarks and actions.

“Under Pope Benedict's watch, the church did not privilege interfaith relations and pluralism with our community,” said Deshpande.

Hindu Americans have long insisted that predatory proselytisation campaigns where education, medical care, humanitarian aid, employment or other allurements are predicated on conversion to Christianity vitiate the sensitivities of communities and spark conflicts. In the past few years, aggressive campaigns fueled conflict which led to violence, in some cases.

“As Hindus, it's difficult to have meaningful interfaith dialogue when the church is openly advocating for the demise of our faith,” said Padma Kuppa, HAF executive council member.

The World Muslim Congress, a think tank based in Dallas, Texas, and the Foundation for Pluralism congratulated the new pope.

“I hope he heralds a new beginning for building a better world. On behalf of the people of faith or no faith, and my faith Islam, I welcome the pope and make ourselves available to jump at his call for creating peace in the world, where no human has to live in fear of the others, let the world be the new kingdom of heaven where we all feel safe and secure with each other. Amen,” Mike Ghouse, leader of the group said.“

There are a few deeply rooted conflicts among the Muslim-Christian, and Jewish-Christian communities that are the root cause of much of the conflict in the world, they have been simmering within the hearts and minds of the Christians, Muslims and Jews, and flare up now and then in difficult expressions.

“It needs a powerful personality for urging the Muslims and Christians to accept the otherness of other, and not focus on correcting the other. It needs a strong personality that can absolve Jews from the myths ascribed to them. It needs a pope who is a blessed peacemaker and extends his embrace to the pagans, Hindus and all other forms for worshipping god or not worshipping. We are all children of God and honouring each other is honouring the creator,” he said.

“The pope is singularly the most important person on the world stage besides the president of the United States who can affect positive or negative outcomes. He can aggravate the conflicts or mitigate them,” he noted.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, America’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, congratulated Pope Francis and offered the community's support and cooperation.

“We congratulate Pope Francis and offer the Muslim community's support and cooperation in every positive effort he will undertake for peace, justice and the betterment of humanity,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, US, hoped that the new pope would intensify the church’s efforts at interfaith dialogue and creating harmony among world’s diverse religions; be more open to reforms; and bring transparency, maturity, accountability and modernisation to church.

Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, also urged the new pope to come up with a detailed worldwide White Paper on the global child abuse scandal engulfing the Church.

George Joseph in Washington DC