Few events in recent years have demonstrated as strongly the lasting impact of religion in a supposedly secularized world as the passing away of Pope John Paul II. Every news channel and print media devoted extensive coverage to the event as well as to the election of Benedict XVI. The events affecting the Roman Catholic Church in April have also revealed how much has changed over the recent decades in the field of interfaith relations.
The harshest criticism of the late pope probably had come from American Catholics, while evangelicals expressed a much more positive assessment, observed Ted Olsen on Christianity Today‘s website (April 5, 2005). Olsen quoted a poll of evangelicals conducted by PBS’sReligion and Ethics Newsweekly, which revealed that a higher percentage among evangelicals expressed warm feelings toward John Paul II than toward Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.
John Paul’s championship of pro-life and pro-family stances especially impressed Evangelicals. Several obituaries in Evangelical media described him as an ally against the forces of secularism and theological liberalism. Praise for the late pope came from an even more unexpected corner. According to ISKCON inside sources, some Krishna devotees around the world paid visits to Roman Catholic churches in order to pay hommage to the deceased pope. ISKCON sent a letter of condolence (posted onIskcon.com), describing the passing of John Paul II as a great loss “to all people of faith”. As with the evangelicals, ISKCON representatives praised the Pope’s defence of “the dignity and sanctity of human life.” ISKCON also appreciated John Paul’s call “for dialogue between faiths.”
Although it has been little noticed by outsiders, in 2004 the Oxford-based ISKCON Interfaith Commission published its first document (authorized by the group’s Executive Committee) on interfaith relations. The document recognizes that “no one religion holds a monopoly on truth” and encourages ISKCON’s members to respect “people of faith from other traditions”.
It emphasizes that it is not meant to deny ISKCON’s missionary spirit: but it says that ISKCON’s missionary activities are “not governed by an exclusivist conversion model.” The document also contains guidelines for ISKCON’s members on such issues and responses from people of other faiths.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)