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.
"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 hour-long session included 100 chosen representatives from each of the four faiths, plus an equal number of guests and Southland Christian leaders.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 18, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
A story that appeared in Thursday's editions of The Times incorrectly reported the content of petitions circulated by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center. Actually, the petitions call on the Vatican to grant diplomatic recognition to Israel.
A program highlighting the cultures of the four participating faiths, scheduled to precede the interfaith dialogue, was ended prematurely when the Pope arrived a few minutes early--one of the few times that he has been ahead of schedule during his whirlwind tour of nine U.S. cities.
The interfaith event was called "Nostra Aetate Alive," a reference to a 22-year-old Second Vatican Council document on the relationship of the Roman Catholic Church to non-Christian religions. The paper 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 meeting.
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.
Among those declining to attend the largely ceremonial meeting were the two chief rabbis of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish organization claiming to represent a membership of 361,000 families.
Several other invited Orthodox rabbis and laymen did not attend, but their seats were filled by other Jewish representatives.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, who watched the interfaith session on television, said afterward that he largely dismissed the Pope's comments as "nothing new . . . (they) didn't touch on anything concrete."
Now that the Los Angeles meeting is over, he said, he plans to send petitions bearing 250,000 names to the Vatican to further indicate Jewish displeasure over the Waldheim audience.
However, Rabbi Alfred Wolf, the Jewish spokesman at the interfaith meeting, said in an interview afterward: "I believe that those of us of the Jewish community who were there represented the vast, vast majority of our people. The people who were headlined by the press had their right to differ, but they were the minority."
Wolf, 71, rabbi emeritus of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple and director of the Skirball Institute of the American Jewish Committee in Los Angeles, stressed in his talk to John Paul the importance of interfaith cooperation.
He 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, "including complete diplomatic relations and an exchange of ambassadors with the Vatican."
The Pope, responding to the presentations, did not speak about the Vatican granting Israel full diplomatic recognition, a persistent and thorny issue in Jewish-Catholic relations. But the pontiff affirmed 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 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 "the basis of the struggle is man's selfishness and feeling of competition and hatred."
But religion "has a more basic appeal, for it speaks of self-sacrifice and love," he added.