(Vatican Radio) Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan is in Japan this week to receive the 34th Niwano Peace Prize for his tireless interfaith work in the Middle East and around the world.
A ceremony takes place in Tokyo on Thursday to present the award, which was established by the Niwano Peace Foundation to honour and encourage individuals and organizations that have contributed significantly to inter-religious cooperation. Recipients are drawn from countries across the globe and from all different faith communities.
In announcing the award, the Foundation cited the Lutheran leader’s “perseverance and compassion in his work to encourage dialogue between interreligious groups in the Holy Land”.
During his visit to Tokyo, Bishop Younan, former president of the Lutheran World Federation, also met on Monday with local Catholic and Lutheran communities to speak about his most recent meeting with Pope Francis last October. Their encounter came during a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in the Swedish cities of Lund and Malmo.
Philippa Hitchen spoke with Bishop Younan about his ecumenical and interfaith efforts…
The Lutheran leader notes that the award is one of the most prestigious prizes that was first presented to Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Helder Camara.
He says if his own work has contributed to building bridges with Muslim, Jewish and other communities, he believes this is a good example for others to understand that “what we need today, in order to combat extremism, is education and interreligious dialogue” based on the search for “common values of justice, peace, living together, reconciliation".
Dialogue to combat extremism
Bishop Younan quotes another recipient of the award, Swiss Catholic theologian and author Fr Hans Kung, who said “there cannot be peace in the world without peace among religions” and to achieve that we must “dig to the deep foundations” of our religions – that is loving God and loving our neighbour”.
Positive ecumenical energy of Lund
Speaking of the joint commemoration of the Reformation, co-hosted by Pope Francis and by the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Younan says he is encouraging local Catholics and Lutherans in Japan “that the positive ecumenical energy that Lund has created should be built on". It should not only remain on the level of the Vatican and the LWF, he says, but should "infiltrate into Churches, in order - as Jesus said - that we may be one, so that the world may believe”.
Church's strength in witness, not numbers
Commenting on the small number of Christians in Japan, the Lutheran leader notes that Christians are also a tiny minority in the Middle East, but he insists the number of Christians “will never determine their witness of forgiveness, of resilience in their faith, of being bridge builders in the society”.
He adds that since World War II, Christians in Japan have worked hard together to develop the idea of forgiveness and non-violence in the wake of the atomic bomb attack in Hiroshima. Although it’s hard to measure the impact of this work, he concludes: “ I see the strength of the Church is never in its number, but in its active witness in the Church and society”.