This is the first part of a two part post transcribing the thought provoking speeches that Francis Cardinal Arinze gave to the Nigerian Community in Greater Cleveland on July 16th and 17th 2009.
THE ROLE OF THE INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN THE WORLD OF TODAY
(Reflections proposed in the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio, 16 July 2009)
1. Religious Plurality is a Fact.
Religious plurality is a fact. In the world of today, with ever improving means of communication, this reality is more forcefully brought to our notice. There is not only one religion in the world. There are many.
Christians form about 33% of the total world population, with Catholics at 17,4% and all other Christians at 15,6%. Muslims number 19,2%, Hindus 13%, and Buddhists 7%. But there are also Jews, Traditional Religionists, Sikhs,
Jainists, Zoroastrians, Baha’i, Shintoists and others (cf David Barret: World Christian Encyclopaedia, 2001).
These religions are the ways of life of a greater part of humanity. They are the living expressions of the souls of vast groups of people. They carry with them the echo of thousands of years of humanity looking for God. They possess an
impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts and of the assimilated wisdom of peoples and cultures. They have taught generations of people how to pray, how to live, how to die and how to look after their deceased ones (cf Paul VI: Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53).”
Because of the relative facility of travel in our age, of the need of people to live outside their original homes for reasons of study, work or simply tourism, people of differing religions live and work together and meet one another in society more than at any other period in human history. It is, therefore, realistic that we reflect on “The Role of Interreligious Dialogue in the World of Today”.
We shall first make clear what we mean by the term interreligious dialogue. The reasons for it and some of its advantages will them be listed. Answers have to be given to the unpleasant phenomenon of religious extremism. People have the right to ask whether interreligious dialogue does not threaten one’s right to share one’s religious convictions with others and we should provide also an answer to this doubt. We shall close by listing some of the achievements of interreligious dialogue in the last few decades.
2. The Essence of Interreligious Dialogue
Interreligious dialogue is not the same as a study of the various religions and a comparison of them, although such a discipline is important and useful. It is not a debate between the followers of various religions, no matter how friendly. It is not the same as ecumenism, because ecumenism refers to relations between Christians alone. It is not an effort to persuade a person of another religion to embrace one’s own religion, although we should not deny to any believer this right.
Interreligious dialogue is a meeting of people of differing religions, in an 10sphere of freedom and openness, to listen to one another, to try to understand better the religion of the other, and hopefully to seek possibilities of working together.
Four forms of dialogue are generally identified by the experts. There is first the dialogue of life by which people live and interact at the level of daily life without generally or necessarily discussing religion. This can happen in the family, school, place of work or cultural contact, village-meetings, or politics.
A second form is the dialogue of social action. By this, Christians and other believers can join hands to promote human development or liberation projects in all their forms. Examples are running a clinic together, projects to rescue street children or enslaved women, disaster and famine relief, and fighting rigging in elections, bribery and corruption or simply unemployment which faces many young people.
A third form of interreligious dialogue is the dialogue of discourse by which theological experts who are Christians and their counterparts from another religion can meet to exchange information on their respective religious beliefs, heritages and practices. As is clear, this type of dialogue is not open to everyone, only to those who are culturally well prepared and who are able to listen to one another and to discuss without perspiring, or raising their tone or the temperature in the room!
A fourth type of interreligious dialogue is developing. It is the dialogue of religious experience. It refers to persons deeply rooted in their own religious traditions sharing experiences of meditation, contemplation, prayer and ways of reaching for God or for the Absolute. Monks are particularly indicated for this form of dialogue.
As is clear, one form of dialogue does not exclude another, nor can everyone engage in all types. Indeed, for most people, the first two forms, dialogues of life and of joint social action, are the types to be recommended.
3. Reasons for Interreligious Dialogue.
There are many reasons that argue in favor of interreligious relations of some sort. .
Human nature is basically the same in all humans. The desire to understand other believers and to interact with them is good and normal. Believers, while not doubting their own religious identity, can get enriched by friendly encounter with others. They can become better by seeing themselves through the eyes of the other. Prejudices can also thus be reduced or wiped out altogether. Greater harmony between citizens and readier will to cooperate in common projects can be the result.
There are many problems and challenges of society which are best studied, faced and solved by all the citizens joining hands, across religious or ethnic frontiers. There is no separate Catholic drought or hurricane, no Muslim inflation, no Jewish economic downturn, no Hindu bribery and corruption and no Buddhist unemployment! These are social challenges which call on all the citizens to seek solutions together.
The promotion of justice, peace and reconciliation and the abolition of violence and war are clear projects where all believers should work together.
4. Religious Extremism.
Some people may object that in the promotion of harmony, the religions are more part of the problem than part of the solution. They point to religious fanaticism or extremism and to the abuse of religion by some extremists to justify terrorism.
The answer is that genuine religion is about love of God and love of
neighbor. Anyone who engages in terrorism or in the fanatical fighting of the people of other religions is doing the opposite of what religi9n is all about and is not a good member of any religion. It is a contradiction to kill other people as an act of honor to God.
Religious leaders have a serious duty in this matter: to educate their coreligionists in what genuine religion entails.
5. Dialogue and Proclamation.
Some people ask whether the promotion of interreligious good relations does not do damage to one’s right to propagate one’s religion. The answer is that the two activities are not opposed. For example, I consider my Catholic faith my most precious possession on earth. I would like to share it with every single person on earth. I have the right to propose this to everyone. This right is enshrined in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of human rights. But religion is to be proposed. It is not to be imposed. I should propose my faith only to those who freely welcome my proclamation. Otherwise I would be engaging in proselytism. If a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu or a Buddhist declares that he does not want to become a Christian, I can in all honesty and humanity still remain friends with that person. We shall then be able to engage in one or other form of interreligious dialogue. And this is what de facto has been happening.
A necessary conclusion is that one should be well inserted into one’s religious faith and community before daring to meet people of other religions. Otherwise one could be risking one’s faith by such ill-considered encounters.
6. Some Interreligious Initiatives.
To conclude, let us make a list of some interreligious initiatives already taken.
In 1968 the World Conference on Religion and Peace was established by Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Hindus to promote collaboration in favor of peace. It has its headquarters in New York.
In 1986 and again in 2002 Pope John Paul n invited people of many ‘religions to come to Assisi to pray for peace. People of each religion prayed in a separate place. There was no interreligious prayer.
Since 1987 the various religions in Japan organize each year to pray for
peace at a date near the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Since 1987 the Catholic Association called Community of St. Egidio organizes each year the meeting of people of differing religions to reflect on peace and to pray.
The Focolare Catholic Movement has many initiatives that involve people
of many religions, especially Christians and Muslims.
In the United Kingdom, Muslims join Christians to fight against abortion
in the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders strive to promote reconciliation.
In the Philippines, the Silsilah Christian-Muslim Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga has been involved in several projects of education for the poor, building homes for the homeless, protecting the dignity of women and feeding
the hungry. ·
In Nigeria, Christian and Muslim religious leaders join in a national association to persuade their coreligionists to live in harmony and avoid all violence.
In Sierra Leone, Christian and Muslim religious leaders have acted as mediators for reconciliation between the Government and the rebel group.
In 1965 the Second Vatican Council issued a document Nostra Aetate on the promotion of interreligious dialogue. A year before, Pope Paul VI had instituted a new department of the Roman Curia, now called the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, for this activity alone.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have met leaders of other religions many times in Rome and, outside Rome, during their apostolic journeys.
The Religious Congregations of the Little Sisters of Jesus and of the Little Brothers of Jesus were founded by Blessed Charles de Foucauld principally to live among Muslims and show them friendship. The Missionaries for Africa, popularly known as the White Fathers, have traditionally done much for
Christian-Muslim dialogue and ~ an Institute of university status for this in
In September 2007, 138 Muslim leaders from all around the world wrote Pope Benedict XVI to ask for dialogue. Their first meeting with Vatican representatives was held in 2008.
Catholic Dioceses and Catholic Bishops’ Conferences around the world
have developed programs in promotion of interreligious relations.
From all these considerations, it follows that interreligious dialogue has abig role to play in the world of today and tomorrow.
+ Francis Card. Arinze