Interfaith dialogue is well established in this country though fragile, participants in a recent national forum heard.
Wellington was well represented at the Sixth National Interfaith Forum in Auckland February 27 – March 1, 2009 by Nick Borthwick, Rachel Kleinsman, Amy Dawson and Srs Clare O’Connor and Catherine Jones.
In many ways the Forum corresponds to the four main forms of dialogue the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue identifies:
- A dialogue of life: The exchange among friends of the everyday interests and concerns of life and relationships. For Catherine, the opportunity to reconnect with members of the Auckland interfaith council with whom she worked for four years, for Nick and his wife, the chance to share the joy and pride of their 3½-month-old baby, for Amy and Rachel, the chance to meet new people and make new friends.
- A dialogue of works: This was evident in the reports from the local groups, deeply committed to working together on social and civic projects, on environmental issues, on human rights and community building.
- A dialogue of religious experience: It was a deeply moving experience, especially on Friday and Sunday to listen to the faith histories and commitment of people from such different backgrounds. Sr Clare gave her testimony of being a Christian, a Catholic and a Cenacle sister. Through all these different life paths, we recognise the deepest longings of the human heart for communion, for contemplation and for community.
- A dialogue of experts: Well, we know our limits there and will leave to the theologians their task. We were all beginners… some of us are expert in that, too!
- Finally there was an inner dialogue, in the depths of the heart and conscience of each one. There were moments of struggle, of new questions that arise when we meet people of another faith, of the pain of misunderstanding and the peace of taking a small step towards reconciliation.
The Forum was held over three days, with a distinct focus for each day:
On Friday the Baha’i Centre, Manurewa, hosted the Women’s Interfaith Forum. Rachel sums up the day:
At the Women’s forum, we were fortunate enough to be able to learn of the spiritual journeys of seven women—each from a different faith background.
Having had very little previous exposure to the workings of interfaith, I found this experience both informative and inspiring, and the intimate level of faith-sharing forged a bond of mutual respect and understanding between all those present. The enriching experience of engaging with, understanding and having a casual cup of coffee among like-minded women paved the way for a deeper understanding and grappling with the concept of interfaith and encouraged us to participate fully in the Forum days that followed.
That evening we all attended the conference dinner which the Hindu community provided at a venue of the Latter Day Saints.
Saturday was the main Forum event held at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple, Flat Bush, Manukau.
There were reports from seven interfaith councils throughout New Zealand. These showed the creativity and commitment to interfaith work, in response to local situations.
‘The local level is where it happens,’ said keynote speaker Margaret Sier from Scotland.
Professor Paul Morris, the other keynote speaker, highlighted achievements of New Zealand interfaith initiatives:
- Increasing number of people involved,
- Sustained, creative and productive activities in interfaith relations
- Well-established regional groups
- Deepening relationships forged through difficult times and conflict situations
- Positive interfaith relations, yet fragile.
He recommended the setting up of a national body, supported by religious leaders.
Small group discussions indicated wide support for this—now to get it going!
On Sunday morning there was a carefully prepared interfaith service at the Jewish Synagogue, Epsom. This marked the conclusion of the main forum.
The youth forum was held on Sunday afternoon. As was found in the women’s forum on Friday, there is a need for youth to caucus on interfaith issues.