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Catholic Bishop John C. Wester urges interfaith love, understanding

OREM — Speaking to a group of nearly 1,000 young Mormons at Utah Valley University’s LDS Institute of Religion, the Most Reverend John C. Wester, Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, said he believes “that we in Utah can be a model of how our faiths can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another in honoring each other’s traditions and in standing for good.”

“I believe that here in Utah, more than any other state, religions and faith are honored and respected,” Bishop Wester told the interfaith devotional audience, which included University President Matthew Holland, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the LDS Church’s Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Steven Lund of the Seventy. “Although all of us occasionally struggle with how we relate to each other within the context of our frame of reference, what we’re doing here today is the kind of thing that will help us be open to the way God acts in our lives and in our different religions.”

The interfaith devotional, which was sponsored by the Orem Institute and the Latter-day Saint Student Association Interfaith Committee, was open to the entire university community, the vast majority of which are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Bishop Wester said he saw it as “a wonderful sign of the ongoing collaboration and friendship” between Utah Catholics and Mormons, and an indication of “our mutual desire to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as we give witness to Jesus Christ as his disciples.”

“At a time when there are so many who are at odds with each other over religion, what we are doing here today is extremely important in my view,” Bishop Wester said. “Learning about each other — how we are different, and how we are alike — is an important step that must be taken before the marathon of interfaith relations can be run.”

And that is precisely what Bishop Wester did for most of the time allotted to him during the devotional. He introduced his mostly Mormon audience to the Catholic Church, giving them a glimpse of what it means to be Catholic even though, he said, “it is difficult to summarize my faith.”

“The fundamental principle of Catholic belief is that we are created to be one with God forever,” Bishop Wester said. “The whole thrust of life is to move into God’s heavenly kingdom. We must never lose sight of that priority.”

Catholics, he said, are called upon to live their beliefs.

“We have a moral imperative to live out the faith,” he continued. “There is an ethic, a moral responsibility, a way of living as a Catholic, that is rooted in scripture, and rooted in Jesus Christ.”

Therefore, he said, “each Catholic is called to be holy.”

He also spoke about Catholic sacraments and saints, and the church’s profound efforts to protect religious freedom around the world.

“There are some who would cleverly, in my view, switch that language to ‘freedom of worship,’ so it sounds pretty much like ‘religious freedom,’” he said. “But that language relegates us to our temples and our churches. It says, ‘You can worship however you want, but stay out of our lives. We’ve gone beyond you. We don’t need you.’ That’s the message that I perceive.

“Our contention,” he continued, “is this country is founded on religious freedom, and everybody has the right to speak in the public square. We can say that for us, marriage is sacred, and that we believe marriage is between a man and a woman. That is something we proclaim. There are many in our society who choose not to believe that, but we reserve the right to proclaim it.”

Bishop Wester also spoke specifically about some ways in which the Catholic Church and the LDS Church are different.

“We have different points of view on a number of issues,” he said. “We can certainly respect what each other is saying, but each of us would have a different belief.”

He mentioned the Trinity, the notion of ongoing revelation, the Mormon belief in a “great apostasy,” the infallibility of the Catholic Church and the universality of salvation as doctrinal areas in which Catholics and Mormons differ.

“Our anthropologies differ,” he observed. “Latter-day Saints have a very optimistic notion of human nature. We believe that Christ provides grace beyond our natural being. We don’t believe that we become divine, but we believe that we become more like him.”

Bishop Wester also focused on the things Mormons and Catholics have in common, including “the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the centrality of Jesus Christ” in church teachings, as well as “adherence to the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.”

He spoke of Catholics and Mormons sharing “a call to social justice and our love for the poor,” mentioning how Catholic Community Services are “greatly helped” by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spoke of his personal relationship with LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and “his desire to work with us in helping the poor and the needy.”

He also mentioned shared beliefs like respect for the dignity of human life, the importance of family life and Christian marriage, the desire to be faithful and good stewards of creation, the belief in an afterlife and the efficacy of prayer.

“These are all areas of tremendous cooperation and agreement and accord,” he said. “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with one another in honoring each other’s faith traditions.”

After the devotional, Bishop Wester, President Holland and Elder Lund met with members of UVU’s Interfaith Student Council, where they responded to a number of questions from council members. During that session, Bishop Wester reconfirmed his message about the helpful spirit that exists between Utah’s Catholic and LDS communities.

“We respect the LDS faith because they are faithful to their creeds and covenants,” he said. “My experience has been that you feel the same way about us.”

And he encouraged President Holland to continue to lead UVU in its pursuit of intellectual honesty and truth.

“The truth is never the enemy,” Bishop Wester said. “Truth is the companion of faith. The more faithful you are to the truth, then you are serving religion and giving religious people a way to inform their faith.

“I think truth and faith go hand in hand,” he continued. “The university does a great service to religion by using the truth to enlighten us.”