As the delegate for ecumenical and interfaith affairs for the Diocese of Cleveland, Father Joseph Hilinski works to overcome religious stereotypes and to build bridges among the different religious communities in the eight-county diocese.
In this role, he is assisting Bishop Nelson Perez in efforts to open a more meaningful dialogue and to improve relationships with leaders of other faiths. The faith leaders are committed to regular meetings.
Father Hilinski, who is pastor of St. Barbara Parish in Cleveland, has taught at Notre Dame and Ursuline Colleges. He also provides expertise for Catholic clergy and other Catholic pastoral ministers in dealing with ecumenical situations of worship and interfaith marriage, as well as coordinating and sponsoring colloquia, forums and programs enabling people of various Christian and religious traditions to dialogue and grow in appreciation of what they share.
He addressed the First Friday Forum of Lorain County on June 1, speaking on “Christians, Jews, Muslims: Searching for One God.”
While there are distinct differences among Christianity, Judaism and the Muslims who follow Islam, Father Hilinski explained that there also are some common themes. The Catholic Church sees itself as Christian, “the full exposition of Christianity,” he said, adding, “the riddle of our human existence for us is explained in the teaching, the life and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
He showed a side-by-side comparison that pointed out all three faiths believe there is one God. However, the concept of God differs. Christians and Muslims also believe in Mary, the virgin birth and that she is the mother of Jesus.
“But while the Muslim community affirms the virgin birth of Jesus, a dogma we hold in Christianity, they (Muslims) do not believe in the divinity of Jesus,” Father Hilinski said. In addition, “Muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet of God, but not divine. They believe that there is but one God and Muhammed is his prophet.”
Several other historical references from the early days of Christianity mirror Muslim beliefs, Father Hilinski added.
He also discussed the differences between Eastern and Western religions, pointing out that Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the three major Western faiths, are oriented toward history; conceive of divine power as personal; place great emphasis on time; believe the world and man are created, not eternal; tend to be exclusive; have a strong interest in clearly defined doctrine; trend toward a duality of reality and exalt individual will.
Eastern faiths, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, are oriented toward nature; conceive of divine power as impersonal; place little emphasis on time; believe truth is not bound to particular persons; tend to be exclusive; have little interest in clearly defined doctrine and downgrade individual will.
“Those who follow Islam believe in a day of judgment, reward of God following resurrection of the dead and they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, almsgiving and fasting,” Father Hilinski said.
Catholics recite the creed at Mass, affirming that “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” Father said, which is similar to what those who follow Islam believe.
In addition, Catholics believe fasting and almsgiving are important as a remedy for sin, he added, which also is similar to what Muslims believe.
During a visit to Turkey, Father Hilinski said he spent time with some Turkish Muslims who also were concerned about the needs of people throughout the world and felt that they couldn’t turn their backs on those in the West – that there is a need for dialogue with the West. These beliefs tend to be embraced by prominent business people and academics who were disillusioned by the secular movement in Turkey, he said. They established a university where English was the required language. They also built a hospital in Rwanda, which few Muslims use.
Historic conflicts between Christians and Muslims also have been affected by political factors like empires and colonialism; geographic and religious issues for centuries, Father Hilinski said, adding, “It is important that we try to build bridges.”
He said there always will be a special relationship between Christians and Jews, “like no other religion in the world,” something that may make some Muslims uncomfortable. Much of that relationship is derived from Mosaic Law, which has its foundation in the Ten Commandments. One point of friction between Christians and Jews is the belief that the Jewish people may be responsible for the death of Jesus.
Father said that neither the Jews at the time of Jesus or those today can be charged with crimes committed during Jesus’ passion, even though they pressed for his death. He said there is a continuing need for dialogue among the religions and he offered three important conclusions concerning the Catholic Church and religions of the world:
- The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men and women (Golden Rule).
- Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.
- Christians are urged to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religious. The Catholic Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, color, condition of life or religion.
He said by embracing these points, we are better able to engage in dialogue. “God does not just make us and leave us to be. His grace and spirit are at work in us, so much so that when any of us dialogue, we are hopefully amplifying as well as purifying each other in understanding our relationship to God and to each other that is why the definition of the Church as sacrament – sign and instrument – communion with God and unity of the entire human race,” Father Hilinski said.