Pope Benedict’s trip to the Holy Land is a great lesson in the Church’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue. Catholics have two very different relationships with Judaism and Islam and if you follow the papal trip to the Holy Land you will learn quite a bit.
Pope John Paul II liked to speak of the Jews as our older sisters and brothers highlighting our shared roots. With regard to Islam, Pope Benedict highlights our common values.
We often think that dialogue is meant to highlight what we share in common and while that if often a good starting point, dialogue is also understanding our differences in order to have a better understanding of the other and a better understanding of ourselves. I had a professor who once said that good dialogue helps us learn more about ourselves and more about our partner in dialogue.
Pope Benedict in a speech in Jordan speaks of Islam and Christianity as “natural allies in defense of common values and a positive role for religion in society.” He added that Muslims and Christians must also “bear witness to all that is good and true, especially the common origin and dignity of all human persons.” This foundation offers many possibilities for collaboration. In his speeches though, he also raises the areas in which the two faiths have quite different perspectives. He affirms that Christianity rejects extremism with regard to religious freedom. Pope Benedict would like to see more freedom for Christians living is Islamic countries both with regard to worship and civil issues like employment. He will speak of this often during his trip.
This trip to the Holy Land will both highlight the beauty of these three major faiths whose home is the Holy Land and the differences in the answers we have to life’s biggest questions.