A Muslim extends a warm welcome to Pope John Paul II in the name of Allah. Jewish leaders praise the pope for improving his church's understanding of Judaism. Lutherans say they believe his trip to Baltimore can unify Christians. Mormons say they share his family values.
These are some of the 800 messages being compiled in three leather-bound volumes for presentation to the pontiff on Oct. 23. The greetings from Marylanders come not only from outside the Roman Catholic Church but even from people who disagree with the pope on fundamental religious questions. Admiration for John Paul is wide as well as deep.
The interfaith nature of the gift was the idea of Baltimore Archbishop William H. Keeler.
"Archbishop Keeler wanted to include as many people of faith in as many ways as possible for the pope's visit, and that's how the Book of Greetings came to life," said Donna Guba, a Greater Baltimore Committee staffer helping with the project.
Thousands of cream-colored vellum sheets were distributed last month. Of those that came back, some were in the form of artistic displays of calligraphy; others are accompanied by drawings or water colors.
"We sent the blank pages to more than a dozen different faith communities -- from Mennonites, Muslims and Methodists to Lutherans, Baptists and, of course, Catholics," explained the Rev. Stephen D. Gosnell. "We asked interfaith leaders in Maryland to distribute them, and from there word of mouth took over."
Father Gosnell, pastor of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Edgewood, was deputized by the archbishop to see the project to completion.
The greetings will be stitched between white leather covers by a small hand-bindery, a family business in Street, Harford County. The plan is to present the gift to the pope during an afternoon prayer service at Baltimore's Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, to be attended by an ecumenical group of local religious leaders.
More unusual than the sentiments of Catholics are those expressed by religious people who do not share the pope's faith. In some cases, they disagree sharply with his theological views but nevertheless respect his leadership.
Among these is the Rev. Herbert D. Valentine, the liberal Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, whose strong advocacy of abortion rights and a female clergy puts him at odds with the pope. Yet, Dr. Valentine was able to write for the Book of Greetings, "We are inspired by your presence in our midst."
Extending his welcome to the pontiff on behalf of 23,000 Presbyterians, Dr. Valentine said he rejoices in the "irenic spirit of the Roman Catholic clergy, the religious and the laity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore." He singled out for praise both Archbishop Keeler and retired Archbishop William D. Borders.
The Rev. Errol G. Smith, pastor of Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, the "mother congregation" of Methodism in America, and Mary Ann Saar, a lay woman there, addressed the pope as a world leader "who, by your very presence, makes all of us aware of the fundamental importance of being people of faith, of goodwill, understanding, love and compassion."
Bishop George Paul Mocko of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was joined by 12 members of his staff in telling Pope John Paul, "Your visit to Baltimore has provided an opportunity for a witness to the unity we have in Christ, which is deeper than those divisions so apparent."
Rabbi Joel H. Zaiman, president of the Baltimore Jewish Council, and Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, welcomed the pope "with great joy," noting that his "reassessment of the relationship between our faiths has opened the opportunity for dialogue as never before."
While "the weight of the past lies heavily on all our shoulders," the rabbis wrote, "your welcome to Jewish theologians and Jewish thought has already changed the landscape of faith in our lifetime."
Imam M. Bashar Arafat, director of the An-Nur Institute for Islamic Studies and Arabic Language, wrote to the pope "in the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful," that "one of the most beautiful things in this life is to see the children of Jesus with the children of Mohammad standing together, following the teachings of their respected prophets."
The Muslim spokesman told the Catholic pontiff that "our unity and cooperation will repel the devil and the enemies of the religious values which preserve and protect the family, the society and the individual," and which can insure "social peace" and "global peace."
Mormon leaders also expressed unity with the pope over "strong family values." Speaking for 44 temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints throughout the world, they wrote, "In spite of trials, family relationships can be a satisfying part of life and we unite with Pope John Paul II to meet these challenges."
The Rev. Constantine M. Monios, dean of Baltimore's Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, and the Rev. Louis K. Noplos, his assistant, told John Paul, "The message of Jesus Christ, with which your presence, words and activities will radiate, shall brighten the flame of Christian hope and dispel the darkness."
Referring to the ancient tensions between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity, the two Greek Orthodox leaders expressed their hope that "the two great sister churches, East and West, will make every effort to work together for Christian unity."
Copies of the three volumes will be on public view during an interfaith service at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field Oct. 22, the evening before John Paul's one-day visit.