Back around 1987 this author ran across a pamphlet written by one “Reverend Salamander” of “The Church of God Within.” The one memorable statement was this: “Since there is only One True God, there can be no ‘one true religion.’ Each of the world’s faiths is a different cultural expression of the same fundamental truths.” In other words, “God” (what and/or whoever you conceive that to be) only appears different when reflected and filtered through a given cultural perspective – but underneath, remains the same.
It is something that scholars, philosophers and humanists have long recognized. Stripped of external dogma, all faiths are about the same basic moral and ethical concepts. For example, Jesus of Nazareth reportedly said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Five hundred years earlier, Gautama Buddha said the same thing: “Consider others as yourself.” Several hundred years later, the Prophet Mohammed re-iterated the same principle: “None of you have faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.”
In a world and at a time in which people are increasingly at odds over issues of god concepts and skin color, His Holiness is striving to be a uniting influence through action as well as words. On numerous occasions, he has called for religious freedom and open, meaningful dialogue between people of various faiths.
When it comes to his own beliefs, Pope Francis has been very private. He chooses his words carefully on this issue. A recent demonstration of this was seen during the pontiff’s recent trip to Turin, Italy, home of the famous Shroud.
The Shroud of Turin has long been an object of debate and controversy. The image stained into its centuries-old fabric depicts the body of a man who had been crucified. While associated with the Roman Empire, it actually originated with the ancient Persians. The practice continued well into 20th Century. Horrifyingly, it has been reportedly used as recently as 2013 in Saudi Arabia.
The main issue surrounding the Shroud of Turin is whether the image on it is actually the 1st Century rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth, or a forgery manufactured over 1,400 years later. The Shroud has been studied as closely as its age and condition will permit, but results have been inconclusive.
To Pope Francis, it is not important whether or not the Shroud is “authentic.” He describes it as an “icon of love.” While acknowledging that people are drawn to “the tormented face and body of Jesus,” he adds that the image “directs [people] toward the face of every suffering and unjustly persecuted person.”
Some in the media accuse the pontiff of dodging the issue. But as thoughtful and open-minded people know, these things are rarely cut-and-dried. To this author and many others, His Holiness has attempted to relate the symbolism of this relic to all of us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, animists and even atheists, agnostics and humanists.
Suffering and injustice knows no boundaries.
Whether the Shroud of Turin is the actual burial shroud of Jesus is immaterial. Its true significance lies in how it brings people together. It is no more nor less important in this regard than the City of Mecca, Buddhist shrines, the River Ganges or an American Indian Nation’s Sacred Ground.
As long as dogmas are curbed and kept on their leashes, holy relics and places present opportunities for all of us to come together – even non-believers – in common humanity.