October 7, 1995
Non-Catholic Leaders Join Pope
NEW YORK (AP) -- Pope John Paul II brought together representatives of the nation's Christian right and left Saturday and met with Muslim leaders.
The Rev. Joan Campbell, secretary general of the National Council of Churches, said it was the first time that she'd met Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, even though the two often disagree vehemently in print.
" Now that I've met you, I'll have more trouble saying those things," Campbell quoted Robertson as saying to her.
She said they arranged to meet again. Campbell said she told Robertson:
"We will have some major disagreements, but we might -- having met -- be able to discuss them."
"It's very interesting that the Christian right and the Christian left got a chance to talk to each other, and enjoyed it,"
said the Rev. James Loughran, director of ecumenical and religious affairs for the New York Archdiocese.
"It was because the pope was here."
Cardinal John O'Connor arranged the evening meeting, which included five Muslim leaders and 27 representatives of Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant churches. The group spent hours together Saturday during the pope's public services, then had a half-hour with John Paul at O'Connor's residence. The pope spoke with each of them individually for a minute or two.
He later held a separate meeting with Jewish leaders.
Campbell said the pope told her the mingling of the faiths was "intentional."
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Robertson said he told the pope:
"I thought the American people loved him, which is an understatement." He added: "He's got great humility and spirituality; that's what people admire about him."
For Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, a black representative of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, the meeting was a recognition of the place black Muslims hold in America's religious tapestry.
"The Muslim community as a whole in America is very misunderstood," Abdur-Rashid said. "I was very honored to be part of the leadership."
"The values of Pope John Paul -- those are not just Catholic values," he said. "Those are universal. His voice, a rather large voice, helps magnify what the rest of us are saying. It's a mutual strengthening."
Several of the older members of the clergy marveled at how communication between the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths had increased in recent years.
"There's been a transformation of relationships,"
Methodist Bishop James Mathews said. In the old days, he said,
"we were more or less not supposed to like Roman Catholics and they weren't supposed to like us either."
Campbell, the only woman at the meeting, said she did "yearn for the day" when women would play a larger role in the Roman Catholic Church. But she said she felt the pope respected her, and that the Vatican had begun to expand -- albeit slightly -- the roles women may play in the church.
Afterward, five of the leaders who had been at the meeting were given a lift in the pope's limousine to a hotel where they spoke with reporters. Their mood was one of giddy unity.
"The imam was the only one in the back seat dressed in white," Mathews said.
"They thought I was the pope," joked Abdur-Rashid. "I was leaning out the window and waving."
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