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Posted November 20, 2014

Excerpts from Origins VOLUME: 44 ISSUE: 25

Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in the Mind and Heart of Pope Francis

Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

Pope Francis has begun articulating a new approach to ecumenical and interreligious relations based on building bridges and walking together, according to a Basilian priest who has served as an English-language Vatican spokesman. Father Thomas Rosica, who also is CEO of Salt and Light Television, Canada's national Catholic network, told a Nov. 9 workshop for U.S. bishops in Baltimore that the pope's views have been outlined in four of his daily homilies over the past 19 months. "For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us," he said. "It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path."

Father Rosica noted that Pope Francis has reached out to Orthodox Christians, evangelicals, Pentecostals, charismatics and Jews in ways that have captivated many but others have found "disconcerting." He recalled a conversation between the pope and evangelical Episcopal Bishop Tony Palmer, in which the pope chastised his longtime friend for using the phrase "coming home to the Catholic Church." "No one is coming home," Pope Francis told Bishop Palmer. "You are journeying toward us and we are journeying toward you, and we will meet in the middle."

In these four brief daily homilies, I believe that we have four very distinct lenses or hermeneutical keys through which we may understand Pope Francis' modus operandi in relating to other Christians and people of good will of other faith communities.

1. Paul does not say to the Athenians: "This is the encyclopedia of truth. Study this and you have the truth, the truth." The truth does not enter into an encyclopedia. The truth is an encounter - it is a meeting with supreme Truth: Jesus, the great truth. No one owns the truth. We receive the truth when we meet it in a person. His name is Jesus." Francis warns that Christians who are afraid to build bridges and prefer to build walls are Christians who are not sure of their faith, not sure of Jesus Christ. The pope exhorted Christians to do as Paul did and begin to "build bridges and to move forward."

2. Faith that passes through a distiller becomes an ideology - because ideologies are rigid always and because Christian ideology is rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness; this Christian ideology is a serious illness.

3. "Humility, gentleness, magnanimity: These are weak things, because the humble person appears good for nothing; gentleness, meekness on the surface appear useless; yet generosity means being open to all, having a big heart. The weaker we are with these virtues of humility, generosity, gentleness, meekness, the stronger we become as stones in this temple."

4. "It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: There is no horizon, because you become your own horizon. Yet there is something deeper underlying all of this: the fear of gratuity. We are afraid of God's gratuity. He is so great that we fear him."