ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (LifeSiteNews) – Speaking as part of an ecumenical gathering during his trip to Mongolia, Pope Francis quoted from Buddhist texts while arguing that “every religious institution” has “the right to freely express what it is and what it believes.”
He urged gathered non-Catholic religious leaders to promote their own religions, saying:
May it be so for us, as committed followers of our respective spiritual masters and faithful stewards of their teachings, ever ready to offer the beauty of those teachings to those whom we daily encounter as friends and companions on our journey. May it be so, for in a pluralistic society committed to democratic values, such as Mongolia is, every religious institution, duly recognized by civil authority, has the duty, and above all the right, to freely express what it is and what it believes, in a way respectful of the conscience of others and in view of the greater good of all.
Papal encounter with Mongolian religions
The Pope’s comments came as part of his address Sunday morning, delivered to Buddhist, Shinto, Shaman, Jewish, Muslim, and assorted Christian religious leaders. The ecumenical gathering took place during the Pontiff’s short trip to Mongolia, a nation with a strong Buddhist majority and fewer than 1,500 Catholics.
Seated in the capital’s Hun theatre, the Pope joined twelve other leaders in the event, during which speeches were shared promoting religious dialogue and co-existence.
Pope Francis introduced himself as “a brother in faith to those who believe in Christ, and as a brother to all of you in the name of our shared religious quest and our membership in the one human family.”
He outlined his perception of the assembled religious leaders’ creeds, saying that “the social significance of our religious traditions can be gauged by the extent to which we are capable of living in harmony with other pilgrims on this earth and can foster that harmony in the places where we live.”
Francis quoted from the Buddhist collection of sayings from Buddha, The Dhammapada, along with the Danish writer and critic of Catholicism Søren Kierkegaard, and Ghandi.
“The religions are called to offer the world this harmony,” said Francis, adding that at the ecumenical event, the assembled leaders “are meeting together as the humble heirs of ancient schools of wisdom.”
In our encounter with one another, we want to share the great treasure we have received, for the sake of enriching a humanity so often led astray on its journey by the myopic pursuit of profit and material comfort.
He issued a call for “all” to “explore and appreciate” the “great patrimony of wisdom” found in the “various religions” of Asia. Among ten aspects of Mongolian culture which he praised as part of the “great patrimony,” Francis included “a healthy relationship to tradition, despite the temptations of consumerism,” which echoed his praise and approval at the numerous traditional costumes on display to honor his visit.
The pontiff also decried the mixing “of religious beliefs and violence, of holiness and oppression, of religious traditions and sectarianism.”
Consequently, Francis expressed a call for the plurality of religions to work in society, stating that this was both a “duty” and a “right.”
May it be so, for in a pluralistic society committed to democratic values, such as Mongolia is, every religious institution, duly recognized by civil authority, has the duty, and above all the right, to freely express what it is and what it believes, in a way respectful of the conscience of others and in view of the greater good of all.
While he did not cite the primacy of the Catholic Church or its teachings, Francis stated “that the Catholic Church desires to follow this path, firmly convinced of the importance of ecumenical, inter-religious and cultural dialogue.”
The Church, he added, “offers the treasure she has received to every person and culture, in a spirit of openness and in respectful consideration of what the other religious traditions have to offer.”
Pope Francis made several condemnations of “proselytism” during his various speeches on the papal trip, but while speaking to the assembled religious leaders, he argued that “dialogue, in fact, is not antithetical to proclamation: it does not gloss over differences, but helps us to understand them, to preserve them in their distinctiveness and to discuss them openly for the sake of mutual enrichment.”
He expressed a desire that the “prayers we raise to heaven and the fraternity we experience here on earth spread seeds of hope.”
Catholic Tradition on promotion of other religions
While Pope Francis advocated the “right” of other creeds to “freely express” what each believes, his predecessors in the papal throne have condemned such arguments.
Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors condemns as erroneous and heretical the notion that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true.”
In his 1888 encyclical Libertas, Pope Leo XIII wrote about the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, stating that the Catholic Church tolerates:
certain modern liberties, not because she prefers them in themselves but because she judges it expedient to permit them, she would in happier times exercise her own liberty; and, by persuasion, exhortation, and entreaty would endeavor, as she is bound, to fulfill the duty assigned to her by God of providing for the eternal salvation of mankind.
Pope Leo XIII clearly noted, however, that “one thing, however, remains always true — that the liberty which is claimed for all to do all things is not, as We have often said, of itself desirable, inasmuch as it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights.”
Leo repeated this when he wrote in his 1896 encyclical Satis cognitum that everyone should become a child of God by taking “Christ Jesus as their Brother, and at the same time the Church as their mother.”
This was similarly taught by Pope Pius XI in his 1928 encyclical Mortalium animos. Explaining why Catholics were prohibited from participating in non-Catholic “assemblies,” Pius XI wrote:
The union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it.