According to the Catholic Almanac, only about seven percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million people are Catholic. But in the days following the disastrous tsunami that struck the region last December, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was one of the first organizations to get aid to those affected.
It seemed as if everywhere I turned—The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC—the word “Catholic” kept popping up. I was impressed and proud. It reminded me of a quote I read once from Catholic Charities USA: “We serve all people because we are Catholic, not because they are.”
Such acts of ecumenism and interfaith relations usually do not play out on such a grand scale, thankfully. But it certainly was a good reminder of their importance.
On the Homefront
As a mom, there has been more than one occasion when I have run into this topic—and come up short. For instance, around Christmastime this past year my daughter, Madison, began asking me questions about Hanukkah. She was learning about the celebration in kindergarten, but didn’t quite grasp the concept. I was embarrassed to admit to her that I didn’t know a whole lot more than she had already learned in school. I quickly looked up some information on the Internet and then later went to the library and checked out some books about Hanukkah.
In fact, it wasn’t until I wrote this column that it was brought to my attention that ecumenism specifically refers to relationships with other Christians. When referring to relations with followers of non-Christian religions, such as Muslims and Jews, the term used is “interfaith relations.”
I’m sorry to say that it often takes situations such as those just mentioned to remind me that I would do well by my family and me if I expanded my religious boundaries a bit. Ecumenism and interfaith relations are important. Don’t believe me? Then take your cue from Pope John Paul II, who has devoted a good deal of time and energy throughout his papacy to this task.
The Important Work of Ecumenism
This past November at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, told his fellow bishops, “The work of ecumenism is difficult and there will always be reasons to delay. The way to address challenges of ecumenism is to face them.”
Here are some ways you and your family can focus on the important task of ecumenism in your lives:
• Take a trip to a local synagogue, mosque or church of another denomination. Perhaps you could arrange to meet with someone there and have him or her explain any things that are different from your own church.
• Read the January 2000 Catholic Update, “The Christian Family Tree:Celebrating Jesus Together,” or the July 2000 Catholic Update, “World Religions: A Primer for Catholics.”
• If you or your children have friends who are of a different faith, go to religious services with them and invite them to go to Mass with you. (Check with their parents first to make sure it’s O.K.) Discuss your experience.
• Check out a book or a video about a different religion or that religion’s customs. Talk with someone you know who is of a different religious persuasion than yourself.
• Choose a different religion each month and set aside one night a month to devote to discussion of that religion. Have every family member find something to share about that particular religion, or bring a symbol of that religion. For example, April 24 is the Jewish celebration of Passover this year. Have everyone bring some symbol of this event, such as a food that would be served during the Seder meal.
• Learn the facts. After the attacks on 9/11, many Muslims reported being harassed or attacked because they shared the same religion as the terrorists, who cited religious grounds for the attacks—despite the fact that the Muslim holy book, the Quran, strictly forbids killing.
• Use discussions about other religions to teach your children about tolerance and understanding.
• Put ecumenism into action. Make a donation to the work of organizations such as Catholic Relief Services (www.catholicrelief.org; or mail to: CRS, 209 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-3443), Catholic Near East Welfare Association (www.cnewa.org; or mail to: CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195) or Catholic Charities USA (www.catholiccharitiesusa.org; or mail to:1731 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314).
Next Month: Mother's Day