Our Universal Church

The Feast of the Epiphany is a perfect time to reflect on a universality of faith.

Jan 06, 2019

By Fr Herb Weber
The small plane flew to the Atlantic coast of Panama, stopping on a land-ing strip at water’s edge. I was on that plane with my sister and brother-in-law,visiting the Kuna people of the San Blas Archipelago.

Although the people were very friendly,they were shy and retiring, reluctant about having pictures taken. When a group of women, however, learned that I was a Cath-olic priest, they became engaged. All of the members of this particular group are Catholic. They walked me to their unpainted wood-framed church, which they proudly displayed to me. They were even willing to have a photo taken with me, hon-ouring the occasion of my visit.

My sister later accused me of playingthe priest card to in gratiate myself with the Kuna. Of course, I denied it, but what I did was to let them know that, North Americanor Central American, we share the com-monality of faith.

It inspired them and trulyreminded me of the universality of our faith and Church.

The Feast of the Epiphany is a perfect time to reflect on a universality of faith. In light of everyday news about immigrants and refugees, there is a need to reflect prayerfully on a humanitarian response tothose leaving their home countries for safe-ty purposes.That, however, requires people to reflecton the common bond that all humans have,regardless of point of origin, language or ethnicity.

The response for the Mass on the Feastof Epiphany is, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you,” taken from Psalm 72. This not only expresses the universal manifestation of God’s salvation to allpeople of the world. It also depicts all na-tions finding the same awareness of God’s goodness and love.

Put another way, it means that we adore God who loves all people. As such, we need to love and show respect for all people. Perhaps the Kuna women warmed up tome because they discovered that bond of the Catholic faith. The same “warming up” hasto be present regardless of faith, denomi-nation or religion.

All people are loved by God. People of all nations are to praise God. And, perhaps most important, we need to realise we are bonded with everyone. Understanding a universality of humanity— that human bond — leads to two seem-ingly opposite thoughts. First of all, people have to discover similarities with others.

Admitting that peopleof other back grounds have something incommon with us is a major step towards bringing people together. I feel I have been blessed not only in travelling to other countries, but also to have known immigrants personally.

When Miguel fled El Salvador during that coun-try’s civil war, he resided with me for more than a year. After the war ended, he was fearful about returning to his home.

Consequently, I offered to go with him,spending more than a week in his remote village that can hardly be found on a map.When Miguel was at my parish in Ohio,he was accepted and loved. I felt the same thing with the people in the mountains of El Salvador: the oneness of our humanity. I witnessed that Miguel and his family had the same love for each other that I hadexperienced growing up.

And when I celebrated Sunday Mass with the community, something that was rare for the people, I also knew that God’s grace does not stop at national borders. Sadly, as one studies various genocides that have taken place through out the world,one side is often coaxed into believing that members of the other side are less than human.

In her book, Left to Tell, Immaculee Ilibagiza writes about the Rwandan genocideand how she, as a Tutsi, was saved by a Hutu pastor who hid her and other women in a bathroom.

The genocide was characterized by Tutsis being referred to as cockroache sand vermin, as opposed to being human. Such terms or attitudes are not uncommonin war as people feel a need to dehumanise others. The common bond of humanity among all people is forgotten.

The second necessary step in accepting universality is to know that, although similar in needs, humans are different. This dif-ference, moreover, is a source of strength, not weakness. Universality does not mean uniformity. People have differences in backgrounds and various ways of looking at life.

In accepting differences, people can go beyond themselves and know they don’t have all the answers. A devout Muslim family invited me totheir house along with other Christians and Jews for a sunset dinner.

The Muslims were mostly immigrants but had come from various countries in the Middle East and Africa. There was warmth in the room as each person shared some aspect of faith. As I listened, it became incredibly clear to me that our differences did not need to drive us apart.

In diversity, there is also unity, a unity of understanding. That dinner reflected Psalm 72 and how every nation in different ways can live in God’s loveand adore God’s majesty. --CNS

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