The coronavirus pandemic has impacted human beings from all walks of life. The inescapable frailty of the human body is always universal, but this illness brings it to the forefront. Pope Francis’ call for for a universal day of prayer on May 14th addresses this reality head-on. By joining with Muslim leaders, he is setting an example for all Catholics by definitively stating that interfaith prayer is necessary and good.
Interfaith Prayer and Vatican II
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, Church teaching largely forbade praying with members of other religions. The Church believed that doing so would be tantamount to affirming religious beliefs that directly contradicted our own. To pray alongside a Muslim then, would be equivalent to saying that Jesus was not the messiah. However, in The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the Church refined this perspective.
“[The Church] looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”
While we must not fall prey to a relativism that declares all religions equally true, we can and should acknowledge what is true in every religious tradition. God is Truth. Thus, where Truth is found so is God.
In February 2019, Pope Francis paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates, where he met with Sheikh Ahmed el-Yayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. Their meeting was an important step in the healing process between two faiths with a centuries-old history of conflict. Together, they signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, laying out a groundwork for a future of not merely tolerance but friendship. The High Committee of Human Fraternity was established in September 2019 as a concrete manifestation of these ideas. By accepting the Committee’s recommendation for a day of prayer, the pope is following through on his commitment. He is also setting an example for Catholics.
Pray with Others
The days of suspicion and disdain against persons of other faiths are over. While we remain steadfast in our Christianity, we also acknowledge that all people are God’s children. We are bound to the same Earth, the same frail bodies, and the same struggles. We cry out with one voice for God to save us, in this life and in the next, and to be enlightened with Their* ray of Truth.
*I currently experimenting with using the singular “They” form in reference to God, as a symbol of the Trinity. For more information, check out this blog post.