Saturday, April 13, 2013


From the desk of the president of ISA Fr Tom Kunnunkal SJ

We live in a multi-cultural and multi-religious world.

We live in a world that makes us feel good. We also live in a world that is not at ease. Many, in our world, experience a lot of tension and fear about what could happen that would cause them injury, even serious injury or death. We live in a modern world created through knowledge and technology and has a great deal of abundance. Side by side, we also find many, both the rich and the poor, experiencing lack or absence of inner peace and hence a scarcity mentality. Adding more items to the many items we already have will not help us to find a solution. We need a new mindset, a new relationship, a new connection, a new way of being human. God in his wisdom has created a beautiful world. One great reason that the world is so beautiful is it is so diverse. We see it well illustrated in Nature. We see it in every human being, so uniquely different from any other, with no duplicates. It does not take much imagination to realize how quickly we will get totally bored with a world and its peoples if everything and everyone looked the same. That will be an insufferable hell on earth. So we thank God for diversity. We thank God for the diverse, multi-religious and multi-cultural India we have. Each community and its peoples have made many significant contributions to create the beautiful India we have. This is the strength of India alsoTherefore, inter-faith dialogue must remain a non-negotiable constituent of the new India we want to build together. See Dialogue as a planned effort to sustain and take forward this beautiful India. That is why we need to resist strongly any attempt to make India mono-cultural, mono-religious.

What are the stumbling blocks?
Religions were meant to promote togetherness and communion and not to divide people. I find a fundamental cause for division in the three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which share a common Abrahamic spiritual foundation. Each makes the claim that they have the truth and the whole truth and that God has made a special revelation to them alone.  God’s salvific presence in the world and the way God reveals Self to humans is a mystery. God is beyond any borders that we humans create. Can truth be proprietary to any one group or religious tradition? Obviously, only God can claim to be the sole and ultimate proprietor of all truth. But God shares His truth with all of us.  We are all pilgrims and seekers. The invitation is that we join hands and travel together as fellow pilgrims.   
Call to partner in restoring the integrity of God’s world

Christians believe that God, who has so uniquely fashioned each one of us and sent us into this world, has also a mission for us, both personal and collective. Over the centuries, the integrity and wholeness of creation has deteriorated greatly, mostly due to the rank abuse of freedom and human greed. In that process, the human race, the great and wonderful creation of God, has become less and less human and more and more hostile to one another, mirroring the behaviour we see in ‘Animal Planet’.

It is a joint venture, by persons of all religious traditions

In the divine plan, the restoration of creation and the building of an alternate universe can only be possible thorough a joint venture. How do we know this? Such a huge cosmic project cannot be successfully achieved, by any single group. ButChristians and Muslims, forming nearly 40 percent of the world population, have a major share of that responsibility.

Faith is the gift of Jesus, not a new religion

The Gospel tells us that the single point agenda of Jesus, namely His Mission, was precisely to re-build the world. He invites us to become partners and engage in this process of re-creation of a new human community. Living in a highly divided and stratified society of his time, Jesus found the courage to critique and cross the many borders and walls created by prejudices, stereotypes, ignorance and religious prescriptions. He called His mission, Kingdom building on earth. His gift to us was not another religion, but Faith. That faith has provided us with a new lens to see who God truly is; see ourselves as beloved of God; and all others as His precious sons and daughters; and has given us a personal and collective mission to re-build our world to its original integrity, through love, forgiveness and service. Jesus was very critical of those who tried to attain holiness of life by a strict observance of man-made rules and prescriptions. Instead, He enabled us to see life as a call, a mission, a great task of re-building the human community here on earth. Can this be done? Yes. Difficult? Surely. Impossible? No.

Dialogue is an effective strategy to recreate God’s beautiful world

The strategic instrument for this re-creation and the fashioning of an alternate universe is Dialogue. If we see dialogue as an opportunity to convince the other of our truth and show them their error, we will surely fail, as we have numerous records of such failures in the past.   
The Church recommends a four-fold dialogue strategy:
Dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, the human problems and their preoccupations.
Dialogue of action where Christians collaborate and work with others for the integral development and liberation of peoples.
Dialogue of religious experience, where, persons rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and searching for God, the Absolute.
Dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to share their understanding of their respective religious heritages and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.
Can interreligious dialogue, under the above four, and in particular under the first three, become an effective instrument for personal change and for  enhancing our wellness of life and witness?

Read the vivid narratives of dialogue in action in this issue
Let us admit it.     We have not been very enthusiastic about engaging in dialogue for personal or societal change. What hinders us from pursuing this path? It is our decision to remain within the small personal comfort zones, within our small personal circle of life and within borders that are defined by our own country, by our own ethnic group, by our own religion, by our own  culture and by the social conditioning we have received. These, like strong RC walls,  have imprisoned us from early childhood.
Can we break free? Yes, when we dare to open a window to a new world, as Sophie Ryan did when she, an Australian, visited India and later Thailand and asked and found new answers for life and living. Or take the case of Franz Magnis-Suseno. His narrative of his readiness to go beyond borders and establish contact with the Muslims in Indonesia, which has 98 Muslim population, provides a good illustration of what ‘dialogue of life and action’ can achieve. Possessing the right kind of knowledge, mindset and attitudes enabled him to find pathways of appreciation and acceptability by his numerous Muslim friends, including those in the political establishment. Paul Jackson writing on ‘Women in Islam’, makes a telling comment: “Muslims are no longer living in a world of their own today” The sooner they realize this, the better for them. Reference to living within a cocoon is obviously applicable to others as well. Next, we meet and appreciate the efforts of a Jesuit community in Ankara, Turkey, with 99% Muslim population but where the Government has adopted a strong secular ethos, described by Jean-Marc Malhan. Though the idea was to find ways of promoting inter-faith dialogue they are now mostly engaged in social and pastoral work. Lucinda Mosher narrates the details of the project of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury  of “Building Bridges” in order to learn from the over 1000 years of Christian-Muslim interaction and the problems and opportunities that each community faces in a pluralistic world. Emmanuel Crowther, a Sri Lankan Jesuit’s entry into dialogue with Muslims provides insights into this relatively new initiative, where later Victor Courtois and others would follow. It heralds a new spring in Christian-Muslim relations in India, says Edwin Victor. Tom Kunnunkal commenting on an inter-faith meeting, titled “Streams of Spirituality” with scholarly inputs from the perspectives of different religions, says that dialogue must be founded on spirituality and hence the focus must shift from religion to spirituality, where we will find much that is common ground. Leo Anand sees Christian-Muslim dialogue as a call to greater solidarity.

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