Fratelli Tutti and World Religions
Much has already been written about Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti, (3 October, 2020) but I think it is his last chapter that is the key to the future: “Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.”
Recently I’ve been re-reading William Johnston’s Arise My Love … Mysticism for a New Era (Orbis, 2000), and it strikes me that this wonderful book can help open up more fully the possibilities touched on by Pope Francis.
William Johnston is an Irish Jesuit who lived for more than 50 years in Japan and was a professor of religious studies and director of the Institute of Oriental Religions at Sophia University in Tokyo. He is critical of the institutional Church, seeing that it has almost collapsed in Europe and North America under the weight of the double scandals of financial and sexual abuse.
People are hungering for spirituality, he says, and are longing for a pope for our times, a pope who will embody kindness before all else. (Those words were written more than twenty years ago.)
The new era that Johnston refers to is an era of interreligious prayer. He begins and ends his book by calling to mind the day (27 October, 1986) when religious leaders of the world prayed together for world peace in Assisi at the invitation of John Paul II: the Dalai Lama was there, Mother Teresa of Calcutta was there, the Archbishop of Canterbury was there.
By mysticism Johnston means contemplative wisdom – the wisdom that goes beyond words and letters, beyond reasoning and thinking. Asian bishops dislike the Western penchant for distinguishing, dividing, and separating They say that Asians prefer silence before the Mystery.
Johnston also says that Asians want a more maternal Church. In Japanese, he notes, the Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Parent,” the Japanese sign for “parent” combining the images for father and mother. This kind of harmony is what Asians seek, and he quotes a Japanese Christian who says, “Buddha is the Moon; Christ is the Sun … I love and admire Buddha; but I worship Christ.”
Perhaps a new Christology will emerge in Asia, he says, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive. And he also hopes for a new understanding of hell. (See my article, “Hell and the Image of God in the Spiritual Exercises,” The Way, July 2018, 91-102.) He mentions Francis Xavier having to tell weeping Japanese that their unbaptized ancestors were all doomed to spend eternity suffering in separation from God.
The book builds upon the Second Vatican Council’s “Decree on Non-Christian Religions” (Nostra Aetate). He makes much use of Bernard Lonergan’s theology of conversion: intellectual, moral, and religious conversion, and sees conversion as the basis of all religion.
He frequently quotes Pope John Paul II, who encouraged an attitude of respectful dialogue with those of other religions, and not just the proclamation of the gospel to them, trusting that the seeds of the Word are secretly at work in the good soil of their beliefs.
Johnston’s hope is for what John Henry Newman called a “Second Spring” –a rebirth of Christianity in Asia – and he quotes this statement from the Japanese bishops: “The church, learning from the kenosis of Jesus Christ, should be humble and open its heart to other religions to deepen its understanding of the Mystery of Christ.” This simple sentence, he says, could be revolutionary.