Interfaith Awareness Week: a catholic Catholic Perspective

Cambridge, MA. In case you haven’t noticed, we are now entering the 12th annual Interfaith Harmony Week, an initiative celebrated (sometimes with slightly different names, such as Interfaith Awareness Week) around the world to notice, celebrate, and deepen the awareness we have of people of faith traditions other than our own. There is an extensive calendar of events that you can find simply by googling the title, or at the home page. Unsurprisingly, there are events here at Harvard, one of which we are hosting at the Center for the Study of World Religions, a panel on Global Perspectives on Interfaith Responses to Violence, on February 7. (Truth in advertising: I am presiding, but did not take the lead in organizing the panel; that was done by our own very capable, very imaginative, very organized by AnnMarie Micikas, a Harvard Divinity MDiv student. In any case, come if you are in the neighborhood.)

It is interesting that this week follows fairly closely on the Week (or Octave) of Prayer for Christian Unity, traditionally marked in the week of January 18-25, ending with the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. See also what the Vatican had to say in preparing for the occasion and urging our participation.

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In turn, I must add, on Sunday, January 23 the Archdiocese of Boston also marked the Catholics Come Home initiative, marking the Church’s outreach to Catholics who for whatever reason have ceased active participation in the Church. The Cardinal offered a taped homily for use in parishes on that Sunday, which can be found online.

Meta-comment: It is an interesting and good development that these three initiatives have happened, this year at least, at nearly the same time. It is right that they should converge, instead of remaining separate, isolated events, as if in competition, the one canceling out the other. Interfaith harmony, Christian unity, Catholic renewal: these are three goals that remain distinct, of course, and in the Church remain focused on the Church as the home wherein Christ is most vividly present, but all three goals flourish better when the other two are marked.

As Catholics, we need a sense of identity, home, belonging, but this cannot be at the expense of better, deeper, more respectful relations with Christians of other communities; the more we find ways to commune with one another in Christ, the better. But similarly, neither Catholics nor other Christians live in a world where people who are not Christian are merely on the periphery, to be ignored or there only to be converted. These too are our brothers and sisters, and the imperative for all Christians, Catholics included, is to cultivate a holy awareness of these believers and their traditions.

However we thereafter imagine our witness to Christ, it will be more effective — salt of the earth, light of the world — if the doorways between Catholics and Christians and believers of every tradition are opened, that we might see God in one another. So even if you have forgotten one or the other of the three in the past weeks, it is never too late to pray for Catholic/Christian/Interfaith wholeness and harmony.

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