Counteracting an insurrection
A Catholic scholar of Buddhism reflects on the need for dialogue to heal
By Don Mitchell
How can we recover the spirit of unity that heals the divisions that reached the extreme of January 6? A violent mob entered the Capitol in Washington, occupied the Senate chambers, vandalized offices and endangered the lives of several leading members of Congress who were forced to hide. A police officer was killed, as well as an intruder.
This was an extreme and unacceptable example of the many divisions between people in our country today.
It makes all of us think about what can be done to restore trust, care, and unity. Indeed, Pope Francis has been calling us to seek “fraternity,” to live as brothers and sisters for the common good of all persons.
Focolare founder Chiara Lubich gives us guidance in her writings about unity and politics. She begins by turning to the principles of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity.
Note that liberty and equality are cornerstones in our Declaration of Independence, leading to our own revolutionary war. In fact it states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Yet Lubich goes on to say that without fraternity, the other two — liberty and equality — cannot stand. Universal fraternity, as Pope Francis says, is living with and caring for all persons as brothers and sisters. Without it, liberty can be distorted into the freedom to do whatever one wants to do, with no regard to others. This we saw on January 6.
And without fraternity, equality can be denied to others — as we see in racism. Only when we have truly caring relationships of brotherhood and sisterhood can we really be free to affirm the “unalienable rights” of all citizens. Lubich says that fraternity generates a caring unity among all citizens, which creates more fraternally respectful forms of politics and economics, as well as social and cultural life.
This is what we have lost in our divided America. How can we restore America to its civil foundations, which have been broken?
Lubich proposes dialogue, one that does not exclude anyone, that shows respect to persons of other convictions, that goes beyond feelings in order to hear other persons, that listens with an open heart to the views of the other and feels what the other feels. This dialogue of caring can help persons put themselves in the other persons’ shoes.
Fraternal dialogue may not produce full agreement, but it can produce mutual respect and collegiality in civil life. Lubich says that dialogue can help people and groups to rediscover the profound value of each person, and a nation’s well-being requires the caring cooperation of all its members.
I can share a personal experience of this kind of dialogue. It took place in 1995. St. Pope John Paul II wrote a book in which one chapter depicted Buddhism in a way that was incorrect. This led to an outcry around the world. Subsequently, he went to Sri Lanka, a Buddhist country, where he expected to meet with Buddhist leaders. But they boycotted his visit.
Returning to Rome, the pope called for a dialogue summit to address the concerns of the Buddhist world. It was held in Taiwan and included Buddhists from many countries, as well as Catholic leaders in the field of dialogue. I was one of them.
Each day, we would dialogue about a topic, looking at the issue from both a Buddhist and a Catholic point of view. We broke up into small groups to build fraternal relationships. I found that the dialogue was not only of the mind, but also of the heart. There was mutual respect that created a dialogue of fraternity.
A statement that addressed the issues to be clarified was written and accepted by all the Buddhists and Catholics. The church said that this joint document would be the foundation for future Buddhist-Catholic relations and dialogues. The press in all the Asian countries wrote stories about the dialogue, and it spread the spirit of fraternity to many others — both Buddhist and Catholic.
This is an example of how a dialogue of fraternity can address and overcome a serious division between persons of different convictions. Both sides cared enough to search for healing and reconciliation, leading to mutual understanding, trust and unity as brothers and sisters.
I hope that in this darkness of racial hatred, civil strife, intolerance and a lack of respect for the foundations of our democracy, the examples of Chiara Lubich, St. Pope John Paul II and now Pope Francis will give us light.
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