Monday, June 7, 2010

How the Holy See talks to Buddhists

Sometimes the problems Catholics face in Europe and the U.S. blind us to the global picture. Not since the Holy Spirit fell on all those visiting foreigners on the day of Pentecost when everyone heard the Gospel proclaimed in their own tongue has the Catholic Church been more truly catholic, more truly universal. We are finally in the era of World Catholicism.

At the dawn of the 20th century there were roughly 266.5 million Catholics in the world. At the turn of the 21st century, we had grown to 1.1 billion. The overwhelming majority, a staggering 720 million live in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

The Catholic population of sub-Saharan Africa went from 1.9 million to more than 130 million during the 20th century.

Catholicism is growing worldwide for a variety of reasons. My simple point, however, is that we often feel as though we are being beat out by other "exotic" spiritualities. This myopia is pure American self-absorption and Hollywood smoke and mirrors.


Time and again, I hear people say that Buddhism is growing in strength. Indeed, compared to Catholicism, Buddhism seems influential in Hollywood. Outside of Mel Gibson, who are the Catholic superstars like Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, or Harrison Ford? Richard Gere made multiple appearances with the Dalai Lama. He, Sharon Stone and Harrison Ford assisted in financial support to help the Dalai Lama make a tour of America. Gere has a foundation to spread Buddhism in the west.  A Buddhist Tina Turner and a Buddhist Goldie Hawn may be hard to square with the image of the quiescent, fat Buddha but Goldie has been one since the 1970s and Buddhism may be what saved Tina from Ike.

But the future doesn't belong to Buddhism...not even in Asia.  
  •  In 2007 there were 350 million Christians in Asia as compared to 372 million Buddhists. By the end of 2010, there should be more Christians in Asia than Buddhists- as John Allen puts it: "a mind-bending reversal of normal impressions about the continent's preferred religion." 
  • India's Catholc population grew from under 2 million to over 17 million, and should be at least 26 million by mid-century. This is within a hundred years.
  • From 1985 to 2005 the percentage of the population in South Korea which identifies itself as Catholic more than doubled, standing today at just over 11 percent according to the 2005 census. 
  • In 2000 there were more Catholic baptisms in the Philippines alone than in France, Spain, Italy and Poland combined.

All of this is a tease to highlight how a truly spiritual Catholic leader greets a spiritual Buddhist community after Catholicism has successfully outgrown them in their own  Buddhist homeland.

Note the complete absence of triumphalism or cant or polemic.
Note the generosity of spirit and hope for the future.
Note the prospect of working together against the works of the devil. 
Note the absence of the threat of hellfire which does remain a terrifying part of our full proclamation.

But this is a simple greeting. The headier theological debates are for later. In spite of our differences, we would like to greet you on your holy day and find the common ground that we do really have. We don't have to say everything. Sometimes courtesy and kindness provide a very sweet setting for a full gospel presentation in the future.

When I read this stuff I swell with gratitude for the privilege of being Catholic, especially on this feast of Corpus Christi.


 Christians and Buddhists Respect Human Life As the Basis of Respect for All Beings

Dear Buddhist friends,


 1. On the occasion of your feast of Vesakh, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue extends congratulations and heartfelt best wishes for peace and joy to all of you around the world. May this message help strengthen our existing bonds of friendship and collaboration in service to humanity.


 2. Let us take this opportunity to reflect together on a theme of particular relevance today, namely, the environmental crisis that has already caused notable hardship and suffering throughout the world. The efforts of both of our communities to engage in interreligious dialogue have brought about a new awareness of the social and spiritual importance of our respective religious traditions in this area. We recognize that we hold in common a regard for values like respect for the nature of all things, contemplation, humility, simplicity, compassion, and generosity. These values contribute to a life of nonviolence, equilibrium, and contentment with sufficiency.


 3. Pope Benedict XVI, has noted that “the various phenomena of environmental degradation and natural disasters… remind us of the urgent need to respect nature as we should, and to recover and value a correct relationship with the environment in everyday life” (General Audience, 26 August 2009). The Catholic Church considers the protection of the environment as intimately linked to the theme of integral human development; and for her part, she is committed not only to promoting the protection of land, water and air as gifts destined for everyone, but also to encouraging others to join the efforts to protect mankind from self-destruction. Our responsibility to protect nature springs, in fact, from our respect for one another; it comes from the law inscribed in the hearts of all men and women. Consequently, when human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits (cf. Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, n. 51).

4. Both Christians and Buddhists have a profound respect for human life. It is crucial therefore that we encourage efforts to create a sense of ecological responsibility, while at the same time reaffirming our shared convictions about the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one learns to love one’s neighbour and to respect nature.

5. May we together promote a healthy relationship between human beings and the environment. By enhancing our efforts to promote ecological consciousness for serenity and peaceful coexistence, we can give witness to a respectful way of life that finds meaning not in having more, but in being more. By sharing the insights and commitments of our respective religious traditions, we can contribute to the well- being of our world.

Dear Buddhist friends, once again allow us to express our sincere greetings and to wish all of you a Happy Feast of Vesakh.

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran


Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata


Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue




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