Mary Has Appeal for Other
Lourdes Conference Draws Various Faiths
LOURDES, France, JUNE 12, 2001 (Zenit.org).- 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
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.
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
"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
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.