Leaders from various faith traditions around the globe are backing the union of a man and woman as an inherently complimentary human reality that transcends even the difference of religion. “It's very interesting that we have people from all kinds of religious traditions — even some that I have never encountered before — all from their different perspectives saying: it does matter, and it matters very much that a marriage is between a man and a woman,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher told CNA. And it matters, he said, because “it brings together these two ways of being human as one and unites them as one flesh in a unity that is fertile (and) which is the basis for family.” Archbishop Fisher, who leads the archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, gave his remarks on Nov. 17 at the opening of a three-day international, interfaith colloquium titled “The Complementarity of Man and Woman,” currently underway in the Vatican. Referred to as the “Humanum” conference, the gathering is being sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. Despite the different theological and philosophical approaches to the issue of marriage, all religions gathered have agreed on the essential point that marriage is important, and it’s important that it’s between a man and a woman, the archbishop observed. Among the different faith traditions represented at the conference are Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism. It's important to bring different voices to the modern dialogue on marriage, because “around the world right now there is a gradual confusion about what marriage is and about the underlying anthropology,” Archbishop Fisher said. Questions that arise out of this confusion, he said, zero-in what it means to be human, whether sexual differences between men and women really matter and whether or not these differences are genuine or mere social constructs. This confusion is played out in several ways, including the current debates surrounding same-sex “marriage,” polygamy and the concept of marriage as a lifelong commitment, the archbishop noted. If we work together from different spiritual traditions, “we can bring some real strengths to this which each of us individually don’t have (and) we can have more influence on our culture and on our politics if we stand together on issues like this one.” Topics such as marriage can also serve as a means of positive inter-religious dialogue, he said, because rather than being a high point of theological or philosophical discussion, it’s something that everyone can relate to. “Something like marriage is very real for ordinary people,” Archbishop Fisher said, adding that if you can find specific areas to work together, there might still be points of diversion, but “we’ll find a much closer relationship with people of other faiths.” Also present at the opening day of the colloquium discussions was Monsignor Steven Lobes, an official with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In a Nov. 17 interview with CNA the priest explained that in light of the rich teachings on marriage by St. John Paul II, the Church is looking for “a new way to speak about marriage in a global context.” By witnessing the different expressions, theologies and philosophies of proclaiming marriage and proclaiming it as a complimentary unity of a man and a woman, the Vatican congregation sensed that it was not merely a Catholic issue, but a human issue. The main goal of the conference, Msgr. Lobes said, is to bring the “wisdom” of the world’s different religious traditions to “as wide of an audience as possible” given the current state of contemporary culture. “So we have Jewish, Christian and Muslim figures, Jains, Hindus, Sikhs, really all witnessing to that fundamental reality of marriage as something written on the human soul as a complimentary union between man and woman.” Archbishop Fisher also spoke on Pope Francis recent announcement that he will attend next year's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. Falling directly between last month’s extraordinary synod on the family and next year’s ordinary synod on the same topic, the encounter of families will be something that grabs the public eye, he said. “People are interested, it’s on the front page of the newspapers. You don’t normally get that with Catholic issues…I think we could have a real, common discussion and a passionate discussion about marriage.” He said that the Pope's presence at the event would, of course, add something “very special” to the discussions set to take place.
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