Pope John Paul

April 14, 2000 Halifax Herald

Pope's sincere apology an example for all to follow

On March 12, 1999, Pope Paul II did something that no other major religious leader has had the fortitude to do: He admitted that the Church he heads committed grievous wrongs against humanity over the ages. To see a Pope, the leader of the World's largest religious force, ask forgiveness for the sins of adherents of the institution he represents is the highlight of my lifetime. Hopefully, it signals the beginning of the end of intolerance.

To keep the momentum going to overcome this evil, one that has heaped horrors upon uncountable defenceless people on Mother Earth, won't be easy. It takes courageous people to do what John Paul II did; they are not plentiful. The hot spots crying out for his kind of intervention are many.

One such place is Northern Ireland. The Queen, as head of the Church of England, has a responsibility to journey to that unfortunate land and make it clear to the Church's believers that ministers and lay people involved in spreading and perpetuating hate will be disassociated from the Church. The Catholic Church needs to do the same with members of the IRA.

Then, Great Britain's government must muster the fortitude to repeal the constitutional requirement that reserves the wearing of the Crown to Protestants only. Then, it should leap into the modern world and remove the monarch as head of the Church. Such mixing of church and state is a carryover of institutionalized intolerance from an intolerant age. It has no place in a modern democracy. Nor does it provide a good base for British officialdom to preach tolerance to others.

The benefits of keeping Church and State apart have been well proven. In such an environment, conscientious individuals have separated their religious convictions from their politics when running for office and, when elected, have served all the State's diverse citizens without bias. John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic American President, pledged when he ran for the office that if elected, he would keep apart his personal religious beliefs and the exercising of the responsibilities of the office. He did. He is remembered by the majority of Americans, of all persuasions, as one of the country's most influential leaders.

Following Kennedy's example is crucial to ending the horrors caused by religious intolerance. A multitude of historical incidents relate how religious fundamentalism and politics have been a clear receipt for stirring up and setting loose blind hate. India, the Middle East, Ireland an Bosnia are a few examples.

A recent example of how to fan such hate was provided by extremist Jews who, during the Pope's visit to the Holy Land, cursed him for the religion he represented. If asked, these people would sincerely state that they do their thing to honour God's wishes. Which leads a person of goodwill to conclude that if their ideal of God is the true light, then may God help us all!

To follow a path contrary to what people of extremists views follow is very easy and has a great side benefit: It gives one a sense of personal peace. During my lifetime, I've collected friends who gave allegiance to hundreds of Christian and non-Christian religions. They've come from every walk of life and have been of every human skin colour; some have been wheelchair-bound, blind, deaf and otherwise afflicted; some have been rich, poor, addicted to alcohol, drugs or other substances; some have been ex-criminals, etc. Not once have I ever considered hating any of them for what they are, what they believe or for anything. All I silently asked of them during our encounters was that they leave me to my own convictions, which they mostly have.

This doesn't mean that I don't dislike some types of people; but the list is very short. Those with closed minds head it. These types, especially those of the cloth and other influential positions who advocate hatred of others because they don't conform to their ideas of how society should function, create sick societies if left unchecked. Therefore, their influence, whether extreme left or right, must be muted by all justice seeking people.

When people of goodwill from diverse backgrounds set out to achieve peaceful and respectful co-existence between them, these words of wisdom uttered by Seneca Chief Red Jacket, when rebuffing efforts to convert his people to Christianity, provide a shining role model for them to follow:

"Brother, we do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given to your forefathers, and has been handed down from father to son. We also have a religion, which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. We worship in that way. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favours we receive; to love each other and to be united. We never quarrel about religion.

“Brother; the Great Spirit has made us all, but he has made a great difference between his white and red children. He has given us different complexions and different customs....Since he has made so great a difference between us in other things, why may we not conclude that he has given us a different religion?...

“Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you; we only want to enjoy our own..."

Daniel N. Paul


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