The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Pope put proselytizing ahead of fighting poverty: Interfaith Panel

Canada Newswire Group
TORONTO, April 6 2005

Under Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church has used poverty as "a tool for proselytizing," an interfaith 360 Vision panel discussion heard this evening.

Hindu and Sikh panelists argued that the Church has focused on aiding the destitute of Asia and Africa because it seeks to win converts in those parts of the world. At the same time, the institution pays little attention to poverty in Latin America because that continent is already predominantly Catholic.

"Historically, once people have been converted they are neglected," said panelist T. Sher Singh, trustee of the Sikh Foundation International. These were among the provocative observations made during tonight's special edition of the flagship VisionTV current affairs series 360 Vision.The broadcast repeats on Thursday, April 7 at 10 p.m. ET.

The hour-long panel discussion offered a forthright and often highly critical assessment of John Paul's interfaith legacy from the perspectives of various religions. Leaders from the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh
and Hindu communities reflected on the complex nature of the Pope's relationships with other faith groups.

Panelists praised the Pope for his efforts to build bridges with people of different faiths, but expressed disappointment at his failure to go beyond symbolic gestures and establish real ecumenical dialogue.

John Paul II was the first Pope to pray at a mosque in an Islamic country, and will be long remembered for his acknowledgement of the suffering that Catholics inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust. "He opened a door in saying that people of faith have something to say to each other," said Rachel Turkiniecz, professor of Jewish Studies at York University.

At the same time, he was dismissive of non-Abrahamic faiths, and outraged many by calling for the conversion of Asia.

Dr. Budhendra Doobay, a Hindu priest, noted that nearly 20% of the world's population is Hindu or Sikh. Yet John Paul made no overtures to those religions when he visited India.

Singh, for his part, suggested that the kind of proselytizing condoned during his papacy should be made a "universal crime."

Ted Schmidt, editor of the Catholic New Times, said the pontiff was a man of compassion who reached out to all religions, but who nevertheless insisted that "the fullness of truth" resides in the Catholic faith alone. "It's a papacy of profound contradictions," he told the co-moderators, 360 Vision's Sadia Zaman and Kevin O'Keefe.

Schmidt said John Paul's "superstar papacy" sidelined many potential leaders within the Church who might have helped to foster interfaith dialogue. Rev. Sheri Di Novo of Toronto's Emanuel/Howard Park United Church agreed, and suggested that the voices of other Catholics - especially lay people - need to be heard more.

Panelists also addressed issues such as the Pope's deafening silence on the 1994 genocide in predominantly Catholic Rwanda, his disregard for the Latin America liberation theology movement led by clergy such as the slain Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, and his failure to address women's concerns.

Singh said John Paul's resistance to women's rights is leading the Church in a "suicidal" direction. "Half of the entire Catholic Church is not being looked after, their voices are not being heard, their needs are not being addressed," he said.

Imam Abdul Hai Patel from the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Imams noted as well John Paul's inability "to influence the rich West to share the wealth" with poorer nations.

Singh suggested that the time has come for a pontiff who embraces the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, rather than the trappings of a "Pope emperor." Talking of poverty in India and Africa is no good until and unless you start practicing it in the Vatican," he said.

360 Vision, hosted by Noelle Richardson, is the only national current affairs show devoted to exploring the role spirituality plays in the lives of Canadians.

VisionTV is Canada's multi-faith and multicultural broadcaster, dedicated to programming that celebrates diversity and promotes understanding and tolerance among people of different faiths and cultures.

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