Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Respecting others' beliefs

I was surprised to see in another of his amazing interviews that Pope Francis listed ten steps to happiness, one of which begins: "Don't proselytize."  We should, he said, inspire others by our example, by dialogue, not by using pressure or persuasion. "The worst thing of all is religious proselytizing. . ."  Wow.

This is refreshing to hear. It reminds me of the approach used 400 years ago in China by the Jesuit scientist Matteo Ricci, who felt (despite the wishes of Rome at the time) that heavy-handed missionary preaching was not the way to attract people to Christianity.  As a result, his mission was a modest success, but his work as a cultural ambassador is honored in China, even today.

I gave a talk on Ricci in May and wish that I had been able to include the Pope's statement since I sensed that my largely secular audience was not entirely comfortable hearing about a Jesuit from Italy who went as a missionary to the East. In fact, Ricci and his companions were, unlike many missionaries then and since, interested in learning from their hosts and, in this case, in contributing to Chinese knowledge. They were sensitive enough to their host culture not to impose Christian teaching on the natives.

Ricci was a prodigious translator of basic Western texts into Mandarin and gradually became recognized, even by the last Ming Emperor, whom he never saw, for his scientific achievements.  Ricci's heroic life one day might lead to his canonization--he is now on the track to sainthood--and his work is in keeping with the approach of his fellow Jesuit today, Pope Francis, who has learned in Argentina some invaluable lessons about how to deal with people.

If only some of the leaders today in the Mideast and other hot spots could learn the lesson of dialogue and mutual respect. . . .

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