By Michael H. Brown

What would you say if someone you knew kissed a Koran, met with an animistic African "priest," received a blessing from a Hindu, prayed at a synagogue -- or accepted an Indian "holy feather"?

No doubt many of us would castigate such a person. We would toss him out of our group, or prayer circle. We'd suspect everything such a person did. In short, we'd give such a person the boot as an unworthy and suspect Catholic.

Yet the person we're speaking of above is Pope John Paul II. He has done all these things, and it's certainly not because he's a heretic!

It's because John Paul II loves (the most important trait of a Christian) and is reaching out to others. He has charity, and it's charity more than dogma or doctrine or theology that will bring Christ to others and get us into heaven. 

More than anything, we will be judged on our love.

This is the message of the Pope's interaction with other faiths and why he will be known one day as "John Paul the Great." Don't get us wrong: we're in no hurry to have a Hindu bless us, and we wouldn't recommend hanging around an Indian shaman. Many times, occult energies manifest in such religions, and can rub off. We're always on the lookout for that; we've published volumes about the dangers of the New Age, Eastern religions, and occultism. 

But we believe the Pope has special spiritual protection (as well as a special mission), and that these actions speak both to other religions and to Catholics. The Pope is our leader; he's our example; he is the closest we have to Christ Himself; and like Jesus his example is that we should not condemn nor exclude others -- that the world will be saved not through the letter of the law so much as by humble love.

This is a good lesson to take with us this Christmas season, when the country is in the midst of a conflict born of religious intolerance. We have seen all too close the militancy of fanatical Muslims, which was so stunningly clear in the Bin Laden tape. This is where religious extremism can lead, but more often it's in the simple condemnation of others. We live at a time when there is rampant spiritual pride. I was saddened to note a major Christian site criticizing the Pope last week for declaring a special day of fasting in union with Muslims on the last day of Ramadan, and there are Catholics sites that take the Pope to task for the acts I have listed above. Sadly enough, one of them publishes an excellent booklet about an appearance of the Virgin in South America, a booklet that would get much more circulation if it wasn't tied with such extreme views.

In communicating with others -- and praying with them, and especially for them -- we're not compromising our faith but affirming it. Christ did the same -- and healed on a Sunday despite the condemnation of the Pharisees (who were more concerned with the letter of their law than with the law of love).

Mother Teresa is another example. As we previously reported, during a visit to Yemen, this future saint once asked a wealthy man to build a mosque so the people could be closer to God. Naturally, she would have preferred a church that was Catholic, but her main concern was not dogma so much as allowing folks to pray to the One Who rules over all religions as a sovereign.

All religions are not equal, and we would like to point out that it is the Catholic Church that is literally built on the "rock" of Peter. That apostle's hard, ossified remains are under the Vatican. Those who want to literally interpret the Bible can match what it says in Matthew 16:18 with archeology.

But that doesn't mean we Catholics are haughty, nor that we condemn others. We're all in this test of life, and unless we love with all our hearts and look for the best in others we may be surprised at who gets to heaven before us.  

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