Dallas Woman Meets with Pope

Scholar, Pontiff seek global harmony through climate action

Dr. Maria Reis Habito has long worked to help bring about a global consensus of peace, unity, and understanding among some of the most diverse populations on the planet.

The philosophy and religious scholar’s most recent interfaith efforts – addressing climate change – prompted a fall 2021 meeting with Pope Francis.

Maria Reis Habito with Hsin Tao, founder of the Museum of World Religions.

Born Catholic in Cologne, Germany, and raised in Saarbrücken, Habito has lived an international and ever-evolving life, working and studying throughout some of the most incredible places in Europe, Asia, and right here in the Park Cities.

Habito has been a Dallas resident since moving to be with her husband Ruben Habito, who was offered a professorship at SMU in 1989.

“I never imagined with all my Asian studies, I’d end up in Texas,” she said. “The SMU and Perkins School of Theology community has provided a place of belonging to us.”

As the international program director for the Museum of World Religions in Taipei, Taiwan, her work spans the globe bringing about a neo-Buddhist concept of encouraging interfaith dialogue to establish understanding and peace.

“The museum really wants people to develop respect, understanding, and love for other religions, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last 20 years,” Habito said.

The MWR was founded by Buddhist monk and Habito’s long-time associate, Master Hsin Tao. Over the years, its mission, rooted in a desire to create a healthier global home for all, has continued to evolve.

“Now, with the environmental crisis, we’re focusing more on respect and love for the earth,” Habito said. “We want to train young people to look at ecology from a spiritual point of view but also from a scientific standpoint as well.”

In her capacity with the MWR, Habito is charged with finding scholars and spiritual leaders from across the globe to facilitate international forums focused on faith, science, and the state of our earth.

The museum’s interests have matched those of Pope Francis, who is appealing for global harmony through immediate climate action.

During the COP26 summit in November, in which the MWR and a vast network of religious leaders participated, Francis warned. “Time is running out. This occasion must not be wasted.”

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