Text of Address by Bishop Francis R. Reiss

Text of Address by Bishop Francis R. Reiss


On April 9, 2008, Most Rev. Francis R. Reiss, Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Detroit, addressed the Muslim Catholic Alliance gathering in celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of Rochester's Muslim Catholic Agreement, at the Turkish Society of Rochester.


The text of Bishop Reiss's presentation is set out below.


Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

Parish Support Ministries
Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester
1150 Buffalo Road
Rochester NY 14624
585.328.3228 ext. 1318


Rochester New York
5th Anniversary of entering into a Solemn Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation


First of all I want to thank the organizers of this evening’s event for the opportunity of being here with you. I especially want to thank Bishop Matthew Clark, Deacon John Brasley, and Imam Muhammad Shafiq. The leadership that you have given to both encouraging inter-faith dialogue and inter-faith Cooperation is a hall mark for all faith based communities and churches.


I am not the ecumenical officer of the Archdiocese of Detroit that responsibility belongs to Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny of the Archdiocese. But my personal involvement in Catholic Muslim dialogue began when I was asked to serve as co-chair of the Midwest Catholic Muslim Dialogue sponsored and directed by the United States Catholic Conference. But my association with members of the Muslim faith began some 50 years ago, when my “aunt” asked me to work at her grocery store. My “aunt” had married a Lebanese Muslim, whose son had bought the store but she and her husband were working it. It was there that I experienced first hand, Muslim family values, Muslim faith in God, and through our daily interaction, the fact that collaboration is a vehicle of hope.


I would like to begin my reflection with you by recounting two stories. The first I am stealing from Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He was giving a talk at Notre Dame; recently he began with this story. He tells us that origin of the story is that it is an ancient Middle Eastern story. It tells of a traveler in a desert who at a certain point notices at a distance a horrible and violent monster making its way toward him. He is frightened.


As the monster gets closer the traveler being able to see him clearer, notices that it is not a monster but a man: an ugly man but a man nonetheless.


After a while the traveler begins to notice him better and realizes in the end that man is not that ugly at all.


Finally when he looks into his eyes, he recognizes that he’s his brother.


The second story is a true story about an incident that took place in Detroit. I was told the story by one of the people involved in the incident, Sr. Mary Finn HVM. She said that one day she was returning to the seminary, and she noticed a black man sitting on the steps. She went up to him and asked him if she could be of assistance. He immediately told her that his grandmother was in the hospital, and that he was waiting for one of the priests to go there and pray with her. Sister Mary said, she would go with him, he was satisfied, and they went off to Deaconess Hospital. They went to the ward where his grandmother was in bed, and she asked the grandmother if she wanted to pray and immediately the lady began praying the psalms from memory. Well they prayed together and talked for a while, until the lady said to Sister Mary, if you want to help someone who really needs prayer, go across the room to that lady, no one ever visits her. So Sister Mary went to the other lady and asked her if she wanted to pray. All she could do was nod her head. So Sister Mary began to pray. Finally she was about to end with the Our Father, and looked at the Lady - she had a smile on her face. But she had died.


I wanted to start with these two stories because I think they can put flesh and blood on what we are trying to accomplish. We want to overcome fear and we want to be the instruments of God, People of the Book.


Clearly the Catholic Church, in the last forty years has been very much involved, officially, through its universal and local teaching documents in Ecumenical and Inter-faith Dialogue. Our documents as you know clearly identify this work as essential to the character of Catholic identity.


The translation of these documents into real life has not always been seen as so essential and real life dialogue and collaboration has been happening in very varying degrees across the country.


To be honest, I think the first story talks to us of human nature and tell us why. There is an initial fear or distrust, a fear that can only be dissipated by looking into the eyes of all of those brought into our sphere of vision. Theologically since we believe that God is our Father, every person whom he brings into being is my brother or sister. And like our flesh and blood brothers and sisters we have no control over who they are.


Secondly we are involved in inter-faith dialogue and collaboration because we are people of faith. As people of faith we believe in God’s presence in our lives, and as our sacred book teaches us, we are his hands, feet and voice in the world. Sister Mary was clearly God’s feet and hands and voice when she visited that sick person. But more importantly, this story points out to me that events that we are prone so view only as coincidence, can really be the Providence of God, God acting through us, and this can happen only if we act in faith and use the grace/help that God gives us.


This type of spiritual journey through life was brought to international attention when Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said in response to the initial 138 Muslim Leaders who presented to the Christian world the document “A Common Work Between Us and You” and I quote, “this document comes from Shia and Sunni Muslims…this is a spiritual approach to inter-religious dialogue…a dialogue of spirituality.”


You and I know that true dialogue always has positive outcomes. If our statistics are accurate half of the population of believers around the world is comprised of Catholics and Muslims. Our coexistence and collaboration must be seen as having the greatest spiritual potential for peace among people and justice for all God’s children.


As Catholics the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions is the foundation for all that we do. It calls upon us to “acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among men and women as well as the values in their societies and cultures.”


One of my brothers priests from Detroit, now Archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Alex Brunett in speaking to the West Coast Catholic Muslim Dialogue in 2001 said:


There are some who think inter-religious dialogues are like other dialogues – for example, negotiations between countries, bargaining between labor and management or any attempts to find middle ground between disputing parties. This is not the case. Dialogue in Society involves compromise. Our American political system gets things done by using compromise, and that can be good. Compromise often makes a family get along better. Labor and Management have to compromise or planes don’t fly or cars don’t get build, goods are not delivered, phones are not serviced, etc. Compromise is a way for these things to happen.


But when people of faith talk to one another, they are not attempting any compromise. Our goal in inter-religious dialogue is not to construct one religion for the whole world, but to share and learn from one another. Inter-religious dialogue is both a process of spiritual growth and a set of experiences that can have a transforming effect on those engaged in it. Inter religious dialogue is the art of spiritual communication (to quote Pope Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam) and can be described as “among the best manifestations of human activity and culture.” End of quote.


When our spiritual journey contains spiritual communication, which of its very nature must be honest and truthful communication, we can begin to experience the beauty of a relationship. It can be akin to the experience of a couple growing in love with one another. Besides the obvious effect of eliminating the hesitation and fear that some people experience on first encounters, an honest relationship allows for an exchange that helps us to understand ourselves better because we have the honest reflective experience of another help us better understand what we communicate about ourselves to others. So besides the effect of mutual understanding that opens the door to collaboration, a very important effect of honest truthful dialogue is that we understand much better who we are as individuals and as a faith community. This effect was referred to by Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, when he said in 1998, “What is required, however, is reverence for the other’s belief, along with the willingness to seek truth in what I find alien – a truth that concerns me and that can correct me and lead me further….I must be willing to let my narrow understanding of truth be broken open, to learn my own beliefs better by understanding the other , and I this way to let myself be furthered on the path to God, who is greater – in the certainty that I never wholly possess the truth about God and am always a learner before it, a pilgrim whose way to it is never at an end.” I would add, we never wholly possess the truth about ourselves, but in honest dialogue we come to know more and more.


These two effects alone should be motivation enough for us to continue to exert as much energy as we can in our collaborative and dialogic process. Pope Benedict XVI gives us another when he said, last April to the delegates of Churches and Christian Communities: “The church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions, in order to seek the true good of every person and of society as a whole.”


We in the United States, live in a nation where the atmosphere for dialogue is unfettered. When he received the credentials of the new Ambassador [Mary Ann Glendon (2-29-2008)] to the Vatican from the United States, Pope Benedict said, “I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking. The Holy See is convinced of the great spiritual potential represented by such dialogue.” That was the second time we as Catholics were reminded of this “spiritual journey.


  • May we, in a country that freely supports our efforts, a blessing from God, continue to dialogue “eye to eye”.
  • May we continue to be open to being the instruments of God’s providence, which is not coincidence but real.
  • May we be his hands and feet and voice as a positive force for peace making.
  • And may we continue to deepen our own faith, to understand more clearly our own faith, and honestly share that faith with one another.


We are clearly on a very special spiritual journey. May peace be upon us all.




Most Reverend Francis R. Reiss, M.Ed., M.Div., J.C.L., D.D.


The Most Rev. Francis R. Reiss D.D.
Titular Bishop of Remesiana Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit
1400 Sherwood Ct., Dearborn, Michigan 48124