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Interreligious Dialogue Continues As Vatican Restores Dialogue Office

Updated: July 11, 2007 05:00 PM GMT
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During the 15-month period when the Vatican´s office for interreligious dialogue lost and then regained its independent status, Church groups in India never ceased reaching out to people of other faiths.

On June 26, Pope Benedict XVI named Cardinal Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, thereby reversing a decision he made on March 11, 2006, to merge the council with the Pontifical Council for Culture, under the presidency of the latter.

All the while, Indian Church initiatives for interreligious dialogue carried on a process the Catholic Church in India inaugurated after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). A permanent commission for interreligious dialogue that the Indian bishops set up in 1973 still conducts seminars and workshops all year long to help religions understand and appreciate each other.

Father M.D. Thomas, the commission secretary, recently told UCA News that its journal Fellowship has more than 9,000 subscribers of various religions.

The dialogue intensifies at the grassroots, as shown by some seminarians in Goa, western India, who have organized regular interreligious dialogues for the past five years.

Father Seby Mascarenhas, rector of Pilar Major Seminary, told UCA News that his fourth-year theology students visit 10 colleges in the state and invite people of other religions to explain their religious tenets. Father Ivan Almeida, who leads the seminarians, added that people attending such sessions do not pray to any specific God, but "if needed, names of all gods are used."

To the north, Bombay archdiocese´s interreligious commission organizes regular meetings with leaders of other religions. Father S. M. Michael, the archdiocesan commission secretary, told UCA News this helps maintain goodwill.

The Divine Word priest said other religious leaders claim that all religions are the same, but he insists they differ. To make dialogue meaningful, he said he wants the dialogue to address each religion´s distinguishing tenets.

Vasai, a suffragan diocese within the Church province led by Bombay archdiocese, has set up committees with members from various religions.

Father Michael Rosario, head of Vasai diocese´s interreligious dialogue commission, told UCA News the committees have fostered "good relations" among Christians, Hindus and Muslims, and spared the region from sectarian violence.

Good interreligious relations have grown in eastern India´s Bihar state, where a Church-inspired interfaith forum has been active since 1998. It is based at Bodh Gaya, 1,030 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, where Buddhists believe Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. The forum was established with the Dalai Lama as patron and local leaders of various religions as members.

One member, Jesuit Father Jose Kariakatt, told UCA News that associating with the Dalai Lama has made the forum "really viable and widely embracing." The Tibetan spiritual leader has attended some of its programs and funds its activities. Such interest from the Dalai Lama has made the forum "one of the most respectable organizations here," said the Jesuit, who heads the dialogue center called Jeevan Sangam (confluence of life).

Venerable Priyapal, a Buddhist monk who is vice president of the forum, pointed out to UCA News that local religious leaders seldom interacted before the forum began. The inspiration came from Jesuit priests, he said.

The monk admitted that many of his confreres had been skeptical when the Jesuits opened Jeevan Sangam, but now Buddhist monks from overseas appreciate the forum and promise to set up similar groups in their countries.

An all-religion peace festival, first organized by Franciscan-run Assisi Shanti Kendra (peace center) in 2002, is now an annual event in Karukutty, a village in Kerala, southern India. The one-day program, which promotes peace, justice and harmony, allows people of various religions to pray and celebrate together, Franciscan Father Leo Payyappilly explained to UCA News.

For the past three decades, a Jesuit center in Bangalore, capital of neighboring Karnataka state, has gathered people on the second and last Sunday of each month for sharings. About 100 Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims and Sikhs people normally attend the meeting that Ashirvad (blessing) organizes. The program includes interreligious praying and discussion on various topics.

A Carmelite theological college in the same city recently opened a department to conduct research on interreligious dialogue and now offers master´s degrees in religious studies.

Mangalore diocese in Karnataka state has opened interreligious dialogue units in its schools, to help teachers and students learn about various religions and appreciate them. Father John Fernandes, who launched the units, explained to UCA News that "harmony has to grow as a culture and get integrated in people´s life." In his view, dialogue never threatens others, but only helps people understand and cooperate with one other.


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