ISIS, 21st century youth and the 2015 synod on family – Commentary

 Manila,NJ Viehland

Manila, NJ Viehland Viehland Photos

 

“Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees….”

 

Commentary: ISIS needs ‘Assisian‘ responses, not sniping crusades

By: Hector Welgampola

Amid ongoing Islam-bashing worldwide, comes a bit of good news from the Arab world. According to media reports, in April Qatar will name the recipients of that country’s WISE (World Innovative Summit for Education) Awards for 2015. Given by Qatar’s Education City, these awards have been described by BBC as an effort to recycle oil and gas into knowledge.

“The Emir of Qatar believes that a new golden age can be achieved through education and research coupled with creativity and development,” wrote James Martin, founder of Oxford University’s 21st Century School. The Qatar project would seed “a new Arab renaissance bringing multicultural tolerance, new ideas and education action across the Arab world,” he claimed. Others pin hopes on the project’s Faculty of Islamic Studies, despite lingering suspicion that Qatar funds reach jihadists.

While saluting the project, BBC noted how “events of the Arab Spring have shown the dissatisfaction of a young population with rising unemployment and lack of opportunity.” The Arab world’s youth frustrations have been aggravated by the post 9/11 frenzy to militarily intervene there with a fantasy to impose Western-style panacea for local problems.

Just as lack of social justice incubated communism, prolonged abuse of Arab countries as mere oil wells festered social ills that reignited Islamic militancy. A belated sense of guilt for such abuse led some developed countries to support the Qatar project. A similar sense of guilt should help affirm the inadequacy of military responses to curb frustration-fed jihadism.

Hired armies lack motivation to wipe out guerilla cults or jihadist passion. And eliminating Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi or Osama Bin Laden did not make the world any safer. If al Qaeda was a geographically diffused ad hoc network, its modern avatars like ISIS and Boko Haram showcase bin Laden’s dream caliphate still thriving and on martyrdom. The apocalyptic cult goes beyond self-immolation to the ruthless slaughter of those considered to be infidels. It now threatens West Asia, North Africa and beyond.

If Islamism’s extremist outreach has gone viral, it has also gone global. It attracts youths from two sources. Unsurprisingly, it volunteers youths from Islamic nations. Addressing a recent Christian-Islamic dialogue meet run by Nigerian bishops, an Islamic scholar attributed the rise of Boko Haram partly to “the impunity, bad governance and corruption of Nigerian elite.” Qatar-type projects may help replace such self-serving elite with socially committed cadres.

ISIS also draws youths worldwide. Its media-hyped fantasy appeals to listless young men and young women wearied by the depravity of secularized post-christian society. Maybe, an erratic society’s death-peddling obsession with abortion and mercy killing has so desensitized the young even to fancy jihad as an option. Frequent news reports confirm how the jihadist mirage attracts spiritually starved youths from all continents. But, sadly, such youths’ home countries fail to get the message. Their rulers try to prevent the outflow of youths with laws to muzzle social media, patrol borders or deny passports – all inept measures.

Instead, leaders of state, society and religion should heed the unspoken outcry of desperate youths fleeing parents, siblings, peers, churches and country to embrace jihad. The thousands of young men and women opting for jihad are our own sons and daughters. Their drift to ISIS speaks of our generation’s moral failure. Their spiritual thirst is an indictment of our ineptitude to offer them a meaningful goal of holistic life. So, let’s stop stigmatizing them as misled youths or blessing counter crusades. Today’s society needs to find solutions by re-examining our distorted faith-life, fractured family-life, consumerist lifestyles and counter values based on worship of money-culture.

As evident in the recent Germanwings plane crash too, all youths blamed for atrocities are not jihadists. The crisis of today’s youths should alert society to our long abuse of social structures as a mask for power play. Churches and Nations need to return to a moral ethic and restore honesty in public life. The need to wipe out the scandal of duplicity in religio-ethical and socio-economic life was never more urgent. And Church youth apostolates and family apostolates should be so re-oriented as to attract, involve and inspire all levels of youth life and activity.

Meanwhile, initiatives like the March 24 Catholic-Muslim summit in Rome can offer further hope. Interestingly, Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, Vatican head for interreligious relations, told the meet of his wish to set up a more permanent mechanism for such interaction. For a moment, it brought to mind the environment of interreligious amity facilitated decades ago by the BIRA (Bishops Institutes for Interreligious Affairs) meets and live-ins organized by FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences). Such interfaith action-in-prayer fosters inclusive pluralism. And a response of relational sacramentalty can better facilitate social awakening than statements, episcopal or papal.

That sacramental mission has to awaken the 21st century Church to a Jesus-like embrace of all youths divorced from community by post-christian secular cults. Re-communing with the divorced world of youths is a priority task for next October’s second Synod on Family. Indeed, that will be a more realistic pastoral agenda than theological cud chewing about Communion to marital divorcees. And instead of premising the synod with a requiem for martyred Christians, let reflection on the waste of life of both jihadists and their victims inspire the synod to seed a Church of Assisian service to the human family.

Hector Welgampola
welgampo@gmail.com

Hector Welgampola

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has retired as Executive Editor of the former Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) based in Hong Kong, then Bangkok. Before UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita. He authored the resource book Asian Church Glossary and Stylebook.

Interreligious dialogue – Let a thousand documents now bloom in action!

Pope Francis’ first visit to the Holy Land beginning Saturday has prompted veteran Asia Church journalist Hector Welgampola to revisit the long string of past efforts of Church leaders and offices related to interreligious dialogue and outcomes from these, why theologizing on interreligious dialogue fell short and what Pope Francis contributes to the Church’s movement towards dialogue and cooperation among followers of various religions.

Following is the full text of Welgampola’s commentary: 

Interreligious Dialogue – Let a thousand documents now bloom in action!

A Commentary by Hector Welgampola

A Jewish rabbi and an Islamic imam joined Pope Francis on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That was more than a symbolic gesture. It brought back memories of Saint John XXIII’s wish to restore relations with Abrahamic faiths. In the early days of the Second Vatican Council, that wish made him whisper a council agenda item to Cardinal Augustine Bea. As then head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, the cardinal had been working on the draft decree on ecumenism. Pope John asked him to include in that draft, a para clearing Jews of blame for deicide.

That was a pentecostal prompting. It helped Council Fathers see the need for a separate Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: Nostra Aetate. After Pope John’s death, Pope Paul VI set up a new secretariat to implement that declaration. The Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions, later named as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), was launched on Pentecost Sunday 1964.

Since then, PCID has held numerous conferences and symposia. Over the past half-century, such events have produced a thousand or so documents on interreligious dialogue. These days, PCID’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated worldwide, and more documents may be added to the collection. But what next?

Even amid such multiplicity of documentation, we still need to refocus on the original declaration’s historic call for “dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions.” Currently ongoing jubilations may lead to a salutary outcome, if they help evaluate the futility of sterile monologues about dialogue.

True, modalities for dialogue-based collaboration with other religionists have been discussed by Church leaders, particularly in Asia, where the major religions originated. Especially during the 1970s and 1980, various institutes (BIRA, BIMA) of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) noted that interreligious dialogue must lead to interreligious cooperation. Later on, some of these moves helped Church leaders discern that such interaction has to embrace the cultural, socio-political and economic aspects of people’s everyday life. Asian theologians urged all religions to provide a complementary moral and religious foundation for Asian societies struggling for liberation. But theologizing failed to be translated into action.

Such discernment was unproductive due to several factors. Here are a few:

* Firstly, the Church’s theological approach to dialogue still speaks a language alien to other religions.

* Secondly, absence of a mutually acceptable practical agenda for dialogue failed to ease other religionists’ long-standing suspicions about proselytism.

* And thirdly, in spite of all the documented discernment on the need to embrace the cultural, socio-political and economic aspects of people’s everyday life, the Church failed to build on people’s interpersonal collaboration already prevalent in the public square.

The public square is the venue where followers — not just preachers — of various religions live and work together. It is an interactive forum where persons of various religions witness to their respective values and develop a social ethic enhanced by cultural commonalities. It is pluralism in action. Hence, 50 years after all the theological cud chewing about dialogue, now it is time to overcome these and other hurdles to interreligious collaboration. It is time to learn from the lived witness of Christians collaborating with fellow humans in everyday life.

A small lesson about the enduring praxis of interreligious collaboration can be learned from the antecedents of Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Rabbi and the Imam accompanying him on the visit are two persons who had interacted with him in the public square in his native Argentina. The grace of their interpersonal witness is now at the service of the entire Church. May this small Pentecostal flame help lead us beyond the theological maze of high-profiled dialogue!

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has dedicated decades of his life as a journalist to serving as Executive Editor of the Bangkok-based Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). He led and mentored what used to be a wide network of correspondents and staff of that agency based around Asia and other continents so they would  work together primarily to produce top quality content. Before joining UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring from UCAN Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita.

Veteran Asian Church journalist Hector Welgampola from Sri Lanka has dedicated decades of his life as a journalist to serving as Executive Editor of the Bangkok-based Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). He led and mentored what used to be a wide network of correspondents and staff of that agency based around Asia and other continents so they would work together primarily to produce top quality content. Before joining UCAN, Hector headed editorial teams of newspapers in Sri Lanka. Since retiring from UCAN Hector has lived in Australia with his wife, Rita.