Mary Has Appeal for Other Religions

Lourdes Conference Draws Various Faiths

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LOURDES, France, JUNE 12, 2001 ( The Blessed Virgin Mary is a starting point for presenting the Christian message to believers of other religions, said a Vatican official returning from an interfaith conference at Lourdes.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, delivered a key address at the conference June 7-8.

In an interview with Vatican Radio in Rome, he noted that Mary was a young Jewess, faithful to the tradition of her fathers. Yet, he said, it is interesting to note that the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, mentions her 34 times «always with great respect. She is regarded as a virgin, full of faith, obedient to God.»

Buddhists do not have a figure that corresponds to the Virgin of Christian faith, but their religiosity appreciates the feminine values proper to Mary, such as compassion, maternity and piety, something that can help them understand her witness, Cardinal Arinze explained.

In Indian religions, there is also an image of feminine cult that includes femininity, maternity, fertility and piety, the cardinal added.

The conference at Lourdes was organized by the local diocese in cooperation with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It gathered experts to study Mary´s role in ecumenical dialogue and in relations among religions.

On the first day, the sessions focused on Mary in ecumenical dialogue. The debate centered on «The Virgin and the Call to Christian Unity,» as well as the importance of icons for the Oriental Churches and their message.

Participants in the debates included Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran representatives and theologians, as well as those of other Christian confessions of various countries, the majority European.

The choice of Lourdes for this type of debate, a shrine of Catholic popular piety and pilgrimage, might seem paradoxical. Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, organizer of the event, told ZENIT that since 1984 there has been a pavilion for the service «of Christian unity» in the shrine.

Bishop Perrier said he believes that this type of ecumenical initiative takes nothing away from the «Catholic specificity» of Marian devotion.

«The Catholic specificity in Lourdes is manifested not only in Marian devotion but also in the sacraments celebrated here, and the bishops and priests who exercise their ministry,» he explained.

The meeting served to underline the importance of the Dombes document, a revolutionary declaration written by Catholic and Protestant theologians, which gives Mary her «full place» and «no more than her place.» The document concludes that Mary is not a problem for the ecumenical dialogue (see Groupe des Dombes, «Marie dans le dessein de Dieu et la communion des saints,» Bayard Éditions-Centurion, 1999).

«If the colloquium served to make this document known, we think we did not waste time or spend our energy in vain,» Bishop Perrier added.

On the second day, the debated focused on Mary and relations among religions. The debate was opened by Rabbi Michel Serfaty, who spoke on the «Image of a Jewish Mother at the Dawn of Our Era,» offering a thoughtful human profile of Myriam of Nazareth, as the Virgin´s original name was in Hebrew.

Two testimonies followed on Mary as seen by other religions. Jean-Jacques Rouchi gave the Muslim perspective and Chow-Ching-Lie the Buddhist. Cardinal Arinze spoke of Mary as «a sign for the third millennium.»

In his Vatican Radio interview, the cardinal noted that since other religions do not recognize the Trinity, they cannot recognize Christ as the Son of God, and Mary as the Mother of God.

«Yet, we must thank God for the positive connotations that Mary has for the other religions,» which make Mary a bridge with other believers, he said.

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