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Cooperation between world faiths 'vital'

New Asian undersecretary looks to heal divisions, warns against fundamentalism
The new Asian undersecretary, the number three on the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, is convinced that cooperation between the world's faiths is not only necessary for the peaceful coexistence of peoples but a means to delve further into “God's mystery.” Sri Lankan Father Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month. As the council's undersecretary, he will have particular responsibility over the Vatican’s relations with Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. He was born in 1966 in Badulla diocese in central Sri Lanka, where Christians are a minority, living side-by-side with the Buddhist majority and with Hindus and Muslims. His mother, a former Buddhist, converted to Catholicism after her marriage: “I was born and raised amidst interfaith dialogue,” he says. “Hopefully the experiences of my childhood will be a boon for this department.” In 2002, he was sent to Rome to study missiology at Urbaniana University, where he eventually became a professor before his papal appointment. Father Indunil is just getting to grips with his new role and says that it's too early to set out his priorities. But one thing is clear: Interfaith dialogue is an “integral part” of the Church's mission, he says. “Through it, we don't just look for a way of living together. It is not only a dialogue of the mind but of the heart, as through this dialogue we enter into God's mystery.” Interreligious dialogue, he stresses, helps us see “what God is doing in our neighbors, in other religions,” and thus it becomes a “dialogue of salvation.” “We are all pilgrims of truth and peace, as Pope Benedict said in Assisi in 2011.” Today, he says, the main challenge to this shared path is the threat of fundamentalism. Its rise, according to Father Indunil, is strictly connected with two parallel changes of the modern world: the enormous growth of globalization on one side, and the fall of secular ideologies. In this recently created “void,” faced with the runaway inequalities and sweeping cultural changes sparked by “badly managed globalization,” many people have turned to religion in search of an inspiration to “resist” these changes.  In this respect, he notes, Samuel Huntington's controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations, “can be accepted.” But for the Sri Lankan scholar this poses a risk of turning religion into fundamentalism. Religion “loses its universalism, it becomes particular to an ethnic group, or a caste, as it is called to protect those who cannot find a suitable ideology anymore.” For Father Indunil, this experience is painfully familiar. Decades of civil war in Sri Lanka have left deep scars in the country and even the Christian community, he says, has found itself divided along ethnic lines. “After independence, our leaders failed to create a common national identity and divisions sprang up,” fomenting splits along ethnic and religious lines. As for recent tensions between the government and the Catholic Church regarding a UN request for a new investigation into war crimes, the Church “must do its job and speak out against injustice,” says Father Indunil, “but when there are tensions it sometimes gets misunderstood.” “Sometimes we have to pay a price but it contributes to building the Kingdom of God.” The Church in Asia, he said, is still a small minority but “is growing strongly among the oppressed, such as the indigenous peoples or dalits in India.” What matters for the Church in Asia  is its “presence there, not quick growth.”
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