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Thailand interfaith summit urges dialogue for development

Religious leaders can become 'catalysts for change' by transcending religious and cultural boundaries, says Cardinal Guixot

Pope Francis meets a Buddhist leader in Bangkok during his visit to Thailand in 2019.

Pope Francis meets a Buddhist leader in Bangkok during his visit to Thailand in 2019. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 15, 2023 11:27 AM GMT

Updated: November 15, 2023 11:45 AM GMT

A top Vatican official has called on leaders of various religions to become “catalysts for change” through love and understanding based on interfaith dialogue.

“Together as Christians and Buddhists we can be the catalysts for change showing that love and understanding transcend religious and cultural boundaries,” said Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, the prefect of Vatican’s Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.

The 71-year-old Spanish cardinal made the remarks while inaugurating the Seventh Buddhist-Christian Colloquium themed “Karunā and Agape in Dialogue for Healing a Wounded Humanity and the Earth" on Nov. 13.

The Nov. 13-16 seminar is being held at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University, a public Buddhist university, in the Thai capital Bangkok, Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) reported.

Delegates from various religions from countries including Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom are participating in the seminar.

Phra Brahmapundit, the Buddhist Chief Abbot of Prayurawongsawat temple in Bangkok, and a member of the Buddhist governing body in Thailand delivered the keynote address.

Brahmapundit stressed the four sublime states of mind – loving-kindness, compassion, gladness, and equanimity – which he said could enable “ordinary people to live together in peace and full cooperation.”

Drawing parallels between Buddha and Christ

In his address, Guixot said that many people were unaware of the deep inequalities that surround the weak and oppressed people in society, RVA reported.

“Some endure injustice, exploitation, and poverty, while others remain oblivious to the cries of the marginalized and oppressed,” Guixot said.

“This is further compounded by indifference to the plight of migrants fleeing the consequences of political and economic instability as well as the looming threat of climate change,” Guixot added.

Guixot drew parallels from the teachings of Buddha and Christ and urged the participants to work together to alleviate the suffering faced by the marginalized and the environment.

“Compassion, as taught by the Buddha, urges us to reach out to those who suffer to offer a hand of support and understanding and to alleviate pain wherever we find it,” Guixot said.

“Love as professed by Christ impels us to love our neighbors, to care for the least among us, and to act selflessly for the well-being of all,” Guixot added.

“Rooted in our respective religious traditions let us unite in our commitment to fostering compassion and love and let us work together to heal the ailments that plague our world, to uplift the marginalized, and to protect the environment,” Guixot further added.

Guixot also lamented the disconnect of people who have stopped reading news content in the belief that “contemporary society offers little room for positive news.”

‘A call for unity’

Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, nuncio to Thailand and Cambodia and apostolic delegate to Laos, in his address to the gathering, pointed out that the concepts of karuna (compassion) and Agape (love) were central to Buddhism and Christianity respectively, and warned of the environmental and economic gap today.

“We are living in a time of great challenges. The Earth is facing what may be an unprecedented climate crisis and there is a growing inequality and Injustice in the world. An ever-greater gap between the haves and the have-nots,” Wells said.

Wells called upon the delegates to work together to overcome the social and climate crisis faced by the world.

“I believe, and I assume that most of us gathered here believe, that together we can overcome these challenges if we live work, and actively encourage compassion and love,” Wells added.

Wells called the gathering an “extraordinary opportunity” where Christians and Buddhists could come together and share insights on how they can heal their brother and sisters in the world – their “common home.”

‘A holistic approach’

Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut, president of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Thailand, called for a “holistic” approach to building a more “sustainable, equitable, and compassionate world for humanity and the earth.”

Citing Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All), Sirisut pointed out that the world is one “Human Family,” and as cohabitants of the earth “we are sailing in the same boat where one person's problems are the problems of all.”

“Once more we realize that no one is safe alone we can only be safe together,” Sirisut said.

Sirisut pointed out that the seventh colloquium alluded to the “beautiful relationship between… Buddhists and Christians exemplify the power of dialogue, understanding, and mutual respect.”

He pointed out that Christians and Buddhists “share common ground in emphasizing empathy kindness and the alleviation of suffering.”

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