Pope John Paul II, challenging the leaders of four major non-Christian religions Wednesday, said their faiths could work together for peace, justice and human rights without setting aside their distinctive beliefs or reaching a religious consensus.
Responding to brief addresses by local representatives of the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim faiths, the pontiff--in his only Los Angeles meeting with leaders of non-Catholic religions--told them that conscience draws all world religions together in common concern for truth, compassionate service and peace.
Concern With Inequalities
"The fragile gift of peace will survive only if there is a concerted effort on the part of all to be concerned with the glaring inequalities not merely in the enjoyment of possessions but even more in the exercise of power," the pontiff said in his 20-minute speech to about 800 guests filling the Japan American Theater of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo.
The hourlong session Wednesday afternoon included 100 guests from each of the four faiths and was called "Nostra Aetate Alive," a reference to the Second Vatican Council document on the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to non-Christian religions. It calls for "a whole new attitude of respect for the other great religions of the world" on the part of Catholics, according to Msgr. Royale Vadakin, the Los Angeles Archdiocese organizer of the event.
The Pope did not mention the recent Jewish disappointment over his June 25 audience with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations general secretary who has denied charges of complicity in Nazi war crimes while serving as an officer with the German army in World War II.
Several Jewish groups asserted that the Pope had not addressed that issue to their satisfaction before beginning his 10-day pastoral visit to the United States. Thus, they decided to boycott the interfaith meeting with John Paul here.
Rabbi Alfred Wolf, speaking to the Pope for the Southern California Jewish community, stressed the importance of interfaith cooperation.
But Wolf, 71, rabbi emeritus of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and director of the Skirball Institute of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles, asked the Pope to help Jews in "our continuing struggles against anti-Semitism, . . . to fight with us" for freedom of worship and immigration for Jews in the Soviet Union, and to aid in obtaining "peace within secure borders" for Jews in Israel. Wolf also asked the Pope for "full recognition in the family of nations" for Israel.
In his message, the Pope did not speak about the Vatican granting Israel full diplomatic recognition, a persistent and thorny issue in Jewish-Catholic relations. But the pontiff did speak appreciatively of Roman Catholicism's heritage and indebtedness to Judaism.
And, he said: "With you, I oppose every form of anti-Semitism. May we work for the day when all peoples and nations may enjoy security, harmony and peace."
Swami Swahananda, 66, head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California and a member of the Ramakrishna Order of India, stressed in his three-minute talk to the Pope that world peace is often blocked by political interference.
"Politics is based on a struggle for power and, therefore, is often unable to bring peace," he said, adding that "politics merely promotes more competition and rivalry," but religion "has a more basic appeal, for it speaks of self-sacrifice and love."
Dr. Maher Hathout, 52, an Egyptian-born Pasadena physician who is former chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California, darkly warned in his message to the Pope that "in these stormy times when the candle flickers . . . glimpses of hope" are desperately needed:
"Half of the world denies God, and most of the other half disobeys him; when the future of our race and our environment are hostage to decisions of fallible men and the touch of a button; when people are dying from overeating while their brethren starve; when we cannot count the victims of war, and are not allowed to count the prisoners of conscience. . . .
"We, together, are those glimpses of hope," Hathout said.
'Vigorous Voice' for Peace
The spokesman for the nine Asian Buddhist traditions in Southern California was Havanpola Ratanasara, 67, a native of Sri Lanka and president of the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California. He urged that interreligious forces speak out for peace "with a more vigorous voice," actions and speed.
The Pope singled out and acknowledged religious and humanitarian contributions of each of the four religions represented at the interfaith meeting, saying that "profoundly spiritual questions . . . shared to some degree by all religions, also draw us together in a common concern for man's earthly welfare, especially world peace."