A group of Columban nuns working in Mandalay and nearby towns is building bridges, networking and developing friendships with Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus in an effort to try to increase interaction between the faiths in the mainly Buddhist country. “The way of evangelization for our time is through dialogue according to Church documents,” says Sister Kathleen Geaney from the Missionary Sisters of the Columban. The nuns' first move was to live in a Buddhist monastery in Sagaing, southwest of Mandalay, where they attempted to study the local language and attended some courses in Buddhist teachings at Sitagu Buddhist International Academy. Sr. Kathleen said it was a very valuable time in terms of establishing friendships and increasing their understanding of Buddhist teachings and philosophy. "In class, we shared our Christian perspective on what we were learning," she said. The nuns and monks from the Buddhist Academy were also studying Christianity as part of their course and they asked the Columban nuns questions about it and asked for help with homework. Sr. Kathleen makes weekly visit to the Buddhist nuns in Sagaing, learning about meditation and says that experiencing their cloistered life benefits understanding on both sides. “The Buddhist nuns know and respect me as a Catholic nun and we often share our life experiences. I feel we are growing in understanding among each other.” She said she has faced many challenges since they started in 2007, including her limitations in speaking the local languages when dealing with Myanmar people from other religions, "but especially the Buddhist nuns are open to us and they are very welcoming." “We need to unite and work together for peace in particular, to solve problems of the world such as environmental ones,” said Sr. Kathleen. Matters such as education - teaching English in Buddhist monasteries and church run education centers, for example – are further ways of building the network with Buddhist, Muslims, Hindus and Baptists students, according to another Columban nun, Sr. Margaret Murphy. “When we have personal contact with other faiths, our prejudices fall apart and we can build trust, understanding and a relationship between us,” said Sr. Margaret. A further colleague, Sr. Theresa Kim, says she finds working in a school for poor children run by a Buddhist monk a rewarding experience and facilitates dialogue. Local Church support is also a great help for the Columban nuns in fulfilling their mission. They work together with Fr. Mark Tin Win from Mandalay Archdiocese, secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, giving seminars for seminarians, young people and other nuns. Future plans for the three columban nuns in Mandalay are to establish a local team to take their mission further. Another five Columban nuns work on the ministires of Youth, HIV/AIDS, formation and Biblical Apostolate in Myitkyina and Yangon.
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