The Messages of the Buddha and God Are One - Meetings with Pope John Paul II
In February 1979, Founder Niwano met His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the first time. After attending the International Executive Committee meeting of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) in Princeton, New Jersey, Rev. Niwano flew to Rome and visited the pope in the Vatican.
The temperature in Princeton was 20 degrees Celsius below zero (4 degrees Fahrenheit below zero). On the Hudson River, big blocks of floating ice could be seen. In Rome, by contrast, it was very warm. And the welcome of Pope John Paul II was even warmer than the temperature. Putting both of his hands into those of Rev. Niwano, the pope said, "I know that Buddhism is a religion of deep spirituality." Rev. Niwano responded with a smile, saying, "I think the messages of the Buddha and God are one."
When the conversation turned to the WCRP, the pope asked Rev. Niwano where and when the next World Assembly was to be held. When asked if he would attend, Pope John Paul II replied only, "I will see."
When the founder was leaving, he later recalled, the pope said with a warm look: "I live in Rome. Rome is my home. Whenever you come to Rome, please do visit me."
However, the second opportunity for a meeting was not in Rome. In 1981 the pope visited Japan for the first such papal visit in the history of the Roman Catholic church. On February 24, Rev. Niwano attended a meeting with representatives of non-Christian religions held at the Apostolic Nunciature in Tokyo.
Through an exchange of talks between the pope and Japanese religious leaders, the founder came to feel that ties of the Vatican with other faiths on interreligious cooperation were becoming stronger. At the time he said, "From the Vatican, a state which has no military forces, to Japan, which has a war-renouncing constitution and wishes to be a nation of peace, the pope came as an apostle of peace. The importance of this visit is very great. All religious people should strengthen their efforts at interreligious cooperation and make greater efforts for peace in the world."
The third encounter of Rev. Niwano with the present pope was on the day that something which has long been desired by the founder and many other religious leaders was realized. That was the presence of the pope at a WCRP Assembly. The day before the opening of the Sixth World Assembly of the WCRP in Rome, Rev. Niwano paid homage at the grave where Pope Paul VI rests in peace, thanking him for his positive regard for the WCRP and praying for the success of the assembly. Recalling the late pope, Rev. Niwano told the reporters accompanying him, "I still vividly remember the pope's warm hands and his saying that this was not the time for religious people to disagree among themselves, but to engage in dialogue and cooperate for peace.
"How important it was that I attended the Second Vatican Council and was able to meet and talk with the pope has become clearer as the religious leaders of the world have become more cooperative and are earnestly making efforts for peace through WCRP activities."
On November 3, 1994, the Opening Session of WCRP VI took place in the Synod Hall of the Vatican. Over seven hundred religious leaders of the various faiths of the world attended. Pope John Paul II and Founder Niwano were seated side by side at the center of the platform. It had been twenty-nine years since Rev. Niwano attended the Second Vatican Council and twenty-four years since on behalf of the WCRP he invited Pope Paul VI to attend a WCRP World Assembly. Rev. Niwano began his opening address in this humble way, "To be able to stand here before you is an extremely moving experience."
After briefly introducing the process which had made the day possible, he said with deep emotion, "We who are here convening WCRP VI at the Vatican are deeply honored by the presence of His Holiness Pope John Paul II, whose message we shall soon receive."
Pope John Paul II spoke next: "The Holy See has participated in previous assemblies and continues to follow with interest your efforts to work together for peace in ways suited to men and women of deep religious conviction. I thank the Reverend Nikkyo Niwano for his kind remarks regarding the relationship between the Holy See and your organization from its beginnings." He continued, "It is our common task and duty to make better known the relation between religion and peace. This commitment is inscribed in your own identity as an association." He spoke clearly about continuing cooperation with the WCRP.
It was at this assembly that President Nichiko Niwano, following in the footsteps of the founder, became deeply committed to the WCRP and that the commitment of Rissho Kosei-kai to the WCRP became broader and stronger. The handshake between Pope John Paul II and Founder Niwano at this assembly signified "the promise of the future."
This series of articles was originally published in Japanese in 2000 under the title Kaiso Zuimonki: Egao no Ushirosugata.
Copyright © 2008 by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.