Author: Sekretariat Kepausan Vatikan
Title: Perjumpaan dalam Persahabatan (The Encounter in Friendship)
Publisher: PT Elex Media Komputindo (Kompas Gramedia)
Pages: xii + 155
Reviewer: Fransiskus Borgias M.
At the beginning of February this year I bought a book in Togamas book store at Galeria, Yogyakarta. The book has a very interesting title in Indonesian Language: Perjumpaan dalam Persahabatan (The Encounter in Friendship). Its subtitle gives us the real content of the book: It contains letters from the Holy See (Vatican) to the Muslims Faithful between 1967-2011. As it is indicated in this subtitle, the book is a collection of letters. So there are 43 letters; it should be 44 letters, but in 1970 there was no letter written or sent; we don’t know why there was no letter ever writen or sent at that particular year. There are already a lot of topics that has been dealed with in those letters. In this short critical note, I will categorize them in four great categories according to each decades. In the decades of sixties there are three letters. They talked about the will to establish a new world (1967); in 1968 the letter talked about the will to establish a good friendship. The Letter of 1969, expresses the will to form a united society. I can understand these topics, because of the mondial situation at that time: there was a tension between the East and the West, wellknown for its alias, Cold War.
In the seventies there are nine letters only (minus 1970): Expressing the fact that we all are only the simple witness of the merciful God (1971), we are created by the same God (1972), the summon to prepare the young generation to face the day of tomorrow (1973), the encounter with one another is the very expression of dialogue (1974), the theological statement that there will be no true civilization without faith in God (1975), the expression of religious belief that religion is the source of social responsibility (1976); there is also a statement that the human person is loved by God (1977), the theological belief that the faith in God is the source for establishing a new humanity (1978), and finally the summon to guard the spiritual values (1979).
In the eighties, there are ten letters. It started in 1980 with the theological belief that the belief in God is our common ideal. In 1981, there was a summon to express our mutual respect despite our differences; there was a summon to protect the personal rights (1982). The expression of solidarity with the needy and suffering humanity (1983); in the year 1984 there was a theological statement that God still has the place in the modern time. In 1985 the letter expressed the simple desire to perform the will of God. In 1986, the title and the focus of the letter is peace which is viewed as a universal hope and spiritual value; it is in accordance with the spirit of Assisi initiated by John Paul II in October of that year. In 1987 the letter expressed in its title the fact that prayer can bring us close to God and fellow human being. It is interesting that in 1988 the focus was Mary; she was considered as a model for faithful believers. In the Catholic circle that year is the year of St.Mary. In 1989, the letter express the belief and view that fasting practices should be the real fruit of the Heart’s true metanoia.
In the nineties we saw a different sets of thematic focuses. In 1990 for example, there was an expression of conviction that religious great celebrations are the opportunity to overcome our respective self-convenience. In 1991 the letter express the belief that the way of the believers is the way of peace. In 1992 the letter express the friendship and the mutual confidence. It is also strongly believed that religion is the most steadfast foundation of the love of one another (1993). It also stated that human race is the family of God on this earth (1994). The letter of 1995 express the belief in God the Creator and the care of the creation in the world. The letter of 1996 express that the will that both Christians and Muslims should gobeyong the mere tolerance. It is believed also that those who are belive in God, should also show fidelity toward fellow human being (1997). The letter 1998 express the belief that Christians and Muslims are always together in the hope. Finally the letter of 1999 express the theological statement of being as witness of God’s love and mercy.
Then came the new millenium. There are eleven letters because in 2000 there are two letters. The opening letter for this new millenium was about Jesus; the letter believed that Jesus was a model and the message and also the messanger for humanity (2000). The second letter from the same year concerning the Education in Dialogue which is conceived to be a Task for Christians and Muslims. In 2001 the letter promote the will to promote the human values in the technological era. The next letter express the will to be united between Christians and Muslims in the way toward peace (2002). The letter of 2003 still concern for the effort to establish peace for the present age. The letter of 2004 talked about a new topic; it is about the children; they are considered to be a present (gift) for the future of humanity. The letter of 2005 just in the form of a summon to continue in the way of Dialogue. The letter of 2006 tried to convince the believers that dialogue is the common way to overcome and confront the challenge of our modern world. In 2007 the letter reminds the faithful of the fact that they are called to promote the culture of peace. On the next year they are called to be united to defend the dignity of family life (2008). The next letter in 2009, the faithful are called to be together in relinquinshing the problem of poverty. Finally then came the second decade of this new millenium. The very first letter in this new decade tried to call the faithfull to be united in the effort to solve the violence between various religious believers. The letter of 2011 tries to focus on the common confession of the human dignity.
And here are some of my personal critical notes. First of all, why only a letter for Muslims? There is no letters for the other religious believers; for example, the Jews, the Hindu, Buddhist, Confusians? And how about the indigenous religions? I remember that once there was a letter for the indigenous people. My one final comment: we all know as well that there is no official response at all to those series of letters. So it seems that Vatican only made or establish a one way-communications and dialogue. Maybe the problem is that in Islam there is no center of authority like the magisterium (teaching authority) in the Catholic tradition. There is a center for pilgrimage in Mekkah but there is no holy see like in Rome. In this condition we do understand that there is no authority to answer the question. But still we do hope that those letters will bring to us a good effect for the good relationship between religious believers, at least between Christians and the Muslims. Those letters are written and sent because of the new awareness of the coming and the presence of the religious other (to use the terminology of Paul F.Knitter). The coming and the presence of the other surround us should not be viewed as a threat or enemy. Behind those letters there is a good intention of establishing a good communication and mutual understanding. The others, to use the philosophical language of Emanuel Levinas, are the ethical challenge for us to do good things to them, because their presence are a conditio sine qua non for our own well being in the world.