Pope Francis conveys the message that poverty, one of the most critical and vexing issues challenging the human family, will only be solved by leaders who bring others together to pray, study, serve and work. The pontiff made this very clear when, on his recent visit to the Holy Land, he invited two friends to join him in prayer, Rabbi Abraham Stork and Sheik Omar Abbudd, both widely respected leaders among their respective faith communities and beyond.
The pope's actions challenge all of us: while grounded in our own traditions, we should leave our "comfort zones" and form relationships with others to serve those who live in poverty and on the margins of life. It is my fundamental belief that this very approach is evidenced in God's inspiration at the heart of all sacred the texts on this subject. In Islam, the Koran envisions "the world as God's unveiling of himself," seeing the world flush with God's signs, messages and presence. Judaism's Great Prayer of Israel exhorts, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself." In Christianity, the first Christians lived the principle of Koininia, individuals in conscious need of one another, in a dynamic community, lives bound together as members of the Body of Christ.
In his book, The Holy Longing, priest, educator and scholar, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, notes that on the journey of life, there are two signs of soulfulness. First, a soulful life is marked by a commitment to unity and oneness. Second, the penultimate human task is to dedicate our lives to a cause and purpose beyond our own lives.
Authentic spirituality channels a desire among us for a life-giving energy and force for elevating the human family. Scholarship, service and teaching in an interfaith context holds great promise for one of the most critical issues of life immemorial, our brothers and sisters in the cage of poverty. Our spirituality must lead us to see poverty as a death-dealing dynamic, challenging us to bring life and dignity to the dark ignominious life of those trapped by hunger.
In the Turkish preacher and scholar, Fethullah Gulen, we observe the life of an ascetic, who reaches out with love to the needy. Gulen admires those who choose to live a simple and humble life while they share their own wealth. Beyond the realm of the physical comfort, it is this sincere care and sacrifice that we must all take to alleviate poverty.
Conversely, ignorance, intolerance and lack of unity create a roadblock to peace. Gulen's ideas and living example possess a universal message based on the common ground of humanity. Through critical dialogue, Gulen spreads acceptance and understanding. Education serves not only to eradicate ignorance and prejudice, but also provides opportunities to bring people out of poverty.
Beyond simple understanding, we must commit ourselves to propagate a message of common responsibility. Beyond pronouncing peace, we must exercise care to the needs of our communities and commit to maintaining social justice. Like Rohlheiser, Mr. Gulen promotes living for others and dedicating our lives to others' wellbeing. We are brothers and sisters in unique communities, but we must take up certain challenges together because when one community suffers, we all suffer.
The religious leader and founder of my own religious community, St. Vincent de Paul, was a 17th century Roman Catholic priest in Paris. By all accounts, for the first decade and a half of his priesthood, he was a good priest, but also one who found his initial identity by connecting himself with the most powerful in the Church, in government, high society and nobility.
But something happened along the way; while hearing confession of a gravely ill peasant, he encountered the poor and vulnerable Christ, removing his superficiality. From that point, he redirected the energy previously dedicated to self-promotion and status. He spent the rest of his life serving the poor, inspiring rich, poor, women, men, nobility and government officials, priests and nuns, to come together as one in such service.
That chance encounter came from a divine spark that fundamentally changed the course of Vincent's life. As we grapple with the complexity of poverty in an interfaith context, it is that divine spark that will motivate a personal relationship with the poor, seeking that.
At the time of his death in 1660, St. Vincent's body was carried in procession through Paris. The nobility, the powerful and those of financial means came out in droves. They were outnumbered only by the city's poor desirous of catching a glimpse of the man who had become their patron and advocate. There can be no greater acknowledgement of our lives than having God's poor regard us as a dear friend.
Like Vincent, and in the newer traditions of Pope Frances, Fethullah Gulen, Rabbi Stork and Sheik Abbudd, we must develop a vision for peace through interfaith dialogue. And, with one voice, we must embrace each other as one community of the One God. We must stand united together to build a future of peace, where we shoulder the responsibility for the well-being of each other. It is through this act of love and caring that we may find true peace and justice that transcend our communities.