Last week I went to the third Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue titled ‘Building Bridges’.
I have been astounded at some people’s reactions when I said I would be attending this conference, and their implications that I should stay away.
New Zealand has been active in the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue (IFD), which met first in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in December 2004, and subsequently in Cebu, the Philippines, in March 2006.
The regional IFD brings together faith and community leaders, experts and other civil society representatives from 15 countries of the Asia-Pacific to discuss and promote means of enhancing mutual understanding, tolerance and peaceful co-existence among the region’s faiths and communities – and in so doing to address some of the potential causes of religious conflict and extremism in the region. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – http://www.mfat.govt.nz/Foreign-Relations/1-Global-Issues/Security/Interfaith-Dialogue.php)
It is important to think about how we relate to people of other Christian denominations and about what we are doing individually and as parish communities to bring about the prayer of Jesus ‘May they all be one’. (John 17:21).
We must also reflect on how we relate to people of other faiths, whether they are Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists. When we meet people of other faiths, we see someone created in the image and likeness of God.
We expect others to meet us and respect us as individual human beings; surely we owe that to others as well. Remember we are a Church that looks to the good and the dignity of every human being.
Papal call to work together
Just a few days ago (18 May) Pope Benedict spoke of Christian-Muslim collaboration in order to promote justice and peace, and said that collaboration is possible and therefore necessary.
Surprisingly, not many seem to know about the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Declaration of the Church on the Relation to Non-Christian Religions’ [ Nostra Aetate].
‘In our day, when people are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened, the church examines more carefully its relations with non-Christian religions. Ever aware of its duty to foster unity and charity among individuals, and even among nations, it reflects at the outset on what people have in common and what tends to bring them together’ ( Nostra Aetate 1).
Conversation the key to truth
This document spoke of how people of different religions look for answers to the unsolved riddles of human existence – questions such as, ‘What is humanity?’ ‘What is the meaning and purpose of life?’ ‘Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve?’ ‘How can genuine happiness be found?’ ‘What happens at death?’
David Tracy, a Professor of Theology and the Philosophy of Religion, University of Chicago, wrote, ‘Conversation is our only hope. Truth manifests itself in conversation.’
When we have the courage to enter into conversation or dialogue, and to meet another human being as another person rather than as an abstract religion, then we turn fear into possibility, doubt into courage and despair into hope. That’s what the Church asks of us.
Forty-two years ago Nostra Aetate said:
The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from its own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women. Yet it proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth and the life (Jn 1:6).
Over the centuries many quarrels and dissensions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The sacred council now pleads with all to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding for the benefit of all, let them together preserve and promote peace, liberty, social justice and moral values.
Perhaps the most telling and challenging part, of that brief document is what follows:
Therefore, the church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against people or any harassment of them on the basis of their race, colour, condition in life or religion. Accordingly, following the footsteps of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, the sacred council earnestly begs the Christian faithful to “conduct themselves well among the Gentiles” (1Pet 2:12) and if possible, as far as depends on them, to be at peace with all people (see Rom 12:18) and in that way to be true daughters and sons of the Father who is in heaven (see Mt 5:45). Nostra Aetate 5
Our gift to the world
The richness and wisdom of our Church is its instruction to enter into conversation regardless of colour, condition in life or religion. This is the gift you and I can bring to our world and to the people around us whatever faith they profess.
Archbishop John A Dew