Vatican, major religions dialogue on pandemic
Whatever the cosmic cause of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it is God’s punishment or a divine warning, the world’s major religions agree that humanity needs “healing” and must change for the better.
This is the consensus of representatives of the world’s major religious traditions in the latest issue of Pro Dialogo, the journal of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the Vatican dicastery that promotes interreligious dialogue. The theme is “Rising Again: Multi-Religious Responses to the Challenge of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Taking on St. John Paul II’s favorite theme of solidarity, Pope Francis asserts that the global health crisis underscores human interdependence: “Therefore, to come out of this crisis better than before, we have to do so together… all of us, in solidarity.”
Islamic scholar Ahmed Nagi writes that “many religious voices” initially saw the epidemic as “an affliction God sends to punish some societies,” particularly China, where the virus originated, for its “violations against Uyghur Muslims.” But since it has spread to Muslim societies, it is now seen as “a warning message from God because of the deviations committed by nations and the state of denial in modern civilization for moral values and religions.”
Chaojan Chang from Taiwan says that Daoism believes in the so-called “12 plague gods,” the Daoist version of the Greek Furies, cosmic avengers of crimes. “Because people do not believe in the Dao, insult Heaven and Earth, engage in flattery or distort facts for personal benefit, or even commit crimes, these celestial emissaries visit the human realm, carrying detailed records of people’s misdeeds, and there release pestilent vapors to administer justice,” says Chang. “Those who intend to mend their ways and turn towards the Dao may hire a Daoist priest to… conduct a ritual,” similar to the exorcism of the Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Daoist exorcism has been performed during the pandemic in coordination with government, with quarantine protocols in place such as “limited… number of participants… online methods of participation… open-air, well-ventilated area… all staff wear(ing) masks or face-covering… safe social-distance… (and) meals (changed) from the traditional Chinese communal style to… bento boxes.”
The Hindu perspective, based on Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami’s paper, is similar to the Catholic Church’s: Health emergencies show the universality of suffering, human interdependence, and the need to preserve the integrity of creation.
“All too often we have learned to divide ourselves on the basis of one or other pretext,” writes Goswami. “COVID-19 has made us realize that suffering is universal; hence we shall have to face it together… The various faith traditions and religious institutions need to pool their resources and use their spiritual wisdom to guide… civil society (and apply) the dharmika values of sharing, compassion and charity.”
Jainism, which comparative religion scholar A.C. Bouquet said “represents the theological mean between Hinduism and Buddhism,” looks at the pandemic as “inauspicious karma.” “The suffering is merely the soul bearing the consequences, in this life, of karma previously bound in… previous lives,” writes Mehool H. Sanghrajka. “Unless we act promptly to tackle extreme poverty, to establish harmony with the animal kingdom and to protect the environment, this will only be one of many such pandemics in the future.”
Buddhist A.T. Ariyaratne says the pandemic “is one of those very mild occurrences compared to the endless suffering we are subjected to as long as we are in this cycle of births and deaths.” Western progress and science and technology are materialist-driven and spiritually bereft. “COVID-19 is a clear result of the ignorant nature of human beings controlled by governments craving for power and possession.”
Sikhism, which Bouquet described as “a genuine blend of Hindu theism with Islam,” looks at the pandemic as an occasion for “Seva,” or selfless service. The pandemic “originates from the failure to resolve this antagonism between ego and life,” writes Kiranjot Kaur. “Thus, the Sikh contribution to mankind… (is) its churning of vividly pulsating Seva setting aside factional and divisive instincts of man that unfortunately continue… in this hour of catastrophic calamity.”
Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, head of the PCID, says the major religions seek to “inject the world the values that spread (what Pope Francis calls as) the ‘contagion of hope.’” “There is an urgent need for followers of all religions,” the Spanish Comboni missionary adds, “to go beyond their borders to unite in building an ecologically responsible social order based on shared values.”
Lito B. Zulueta ([email protected]) is a long-time journalist-editor who has covered the Vatican and the Holy Land. He teaches at the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Santo Tomas.
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