Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear Readers:

Welcome to January 2013 issue of Salaam.
Thanks for your encouragement and support.
Pushpa Anbu SVD editor
Victor Edwin SJ managing editor


1.    Hizmat Movement: A modern miracle! (Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ)
2.    A Christian Visits Turkey (Dr Herman Roborgh SJ)
3.    The Best Things in Life are Free (Bob McCahill)
4.    We have a similar dream, which is to create prosperity and peace in our country: Jesuits and Madrasa students reflect together (Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ)
5.    'I know you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me (Dr Samuel Packiam)
6.    Pakistan and India Friendship Forum (Joe Kalathil SJ)
7.    A Pilgrimage to Akbar’s Tomb (Victor Edwin SJ)
8.    Trappist nuns in Azeir, a sign of hope for Syria at war (Asia News)


Two centuries ago Lord Stanhope said that tolerance was once sought as a favor and then demanded as a right, and that “a time will come when it will be spurned as an insult.” The time has come that we should move beyond the level of tolerance to the level of genuine rejoicing at the tremendous enrichment that understanding and appreciation of the myriad differences among our faiths and styles of life. When we reach this level of celebration, we really are in dialogue with others. Chiara Lubich, the founder of Focolare Movement said: Dialogue goes beyond just tolerating others. It means profoundly respecting them, welcoming them, welcoming their different ideas and discussing them in the light of our own, and above all, building a relationship as in a true family.” True dialogue finds a place in your heart for the other.

The Turkish thinker and Muslim theologian Fatehullah Gülen has sown the seeds of dialogue in fertile soil: in the heart and minds of his followers. He taught them that the world is faced with three evils: poverty, illiteracy and violence. He asked his followers to work against these social evils with definite commitment towards promoting peace and education for the wellbeing of all people. He emphasized that their work be marked with a dimension of self sacrifice. The followers of Gülen live and work in more than 100 nations. In the first two articles Tom Kunnunkal and Herman Roborgh share their experiences with the members of this movement in Turkey. Tom does not hesitate to call the movement a human miracle.
The next essay is from Bob McCahill, a missioner working among Muslims in Bangladesh. He explains how privileged he is to live among the poor sharing their lot. His main mission is to accompany them to the hospitals and getting the needed medical help from doctors at the government medical facilities.    Billy Aryo Nugroho an Indonesian Jesuit in his article narrates how Jesuit scholastics and madrasa students share their dream for a peaceful and prosperous Nation. 

In the next article Samuel Packiam, designated to be the Director of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderabad tell the interviewer that Christians and Muslims should build relationships through common study, work, prayer and silence. We should do things together – through servicing, witnessing, peace-making. The next is a beautiful narrative of Joe Kalathil about his visit to Pakistan and his continuing effort to build peace among people of different communities.

In the next essay, Pilgrimage to Akbar’s tomb, Victor Edwin explains the familiarity with which emperor Akbar related with the Jesuits and his patience with some intolerant attitude of Jesuits who were in Akbar’s court. He suggests that everyone who is interested in dialogue with Muslims should visit the tomb of Akbar who was a model for dialogue in the 16th century. The final story that appeared in the Asia News “Trappist nuns in Azeir, a sign of hope for Syria at war”, tell us how these nuns remain a symbol of peace amidst people who are devastated by war and violence. Their work and prayer brings hope to the war ravaged nation.  We wish all the readers a peaceful new year 2013.

Hizmat Movement: A modern miracle!
Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ

Thomas V Kunnunkal SJ, the President of Islamic Studies Association, was recently invited to go to Turkey to meet the members of the Hizmat (Gülen) Movement. Here he shares his experiences during this visit: 

I must say that I was very happily surprised by all that is connected to the Hizmat or Gülen Movement. Turkey, whose population is 99% Muslim, presents a unique picture of Islam. It is a very strongly secular State, so secular that it will not allow any teaching of Islam in the school during school hours. Nor has it any Madarsa. Yet they are very devout Muslims and keenly follow the Muslim faith practices and rayers. In the famous Blue Mosque, it was inspiring to see the young, the old, the ordinary and well off people all flocking to join in the namaz.

Sayyid Nursi had the vision of using the power and strength of the Islamic faith to find practical solutions to deal with the harsh realities affecting the wellness of society. He identified three major issues affecting the world society: poverty, ignorance and disunity. Fetullah Gulen followed it up and propagated the vision, by talking to persons and through his writings. He invited his listeners to open schools and boarding houses to educate students in Turkey as well as in other places. He motivated them to add a personal sacrificial dimension to their work. Many internalized the vision and new paradigm and then acted on it. 

It felt so good to meet several Muslims in Turkey who had been evangelized by this vision and were ready to act on it. To cite one of several such experiences: we had one Mustafa, who is a well-todo businessman, who found it possible to accompany us for a week. Normally business people may make a car available for our use. But Mustafa personally drove his BMW, whether to take us to the airport at 5 a.m. or to reach us back near midnight to the hotel. All that was done with a smile all the time! It was such a joy to meet several such beautiful Muslims. 

We visited a couple of Gülen Schools and two universities. I asked why there was no mention of Gülen or of his vision in the school bulletin boards. The secular character of the Government forbids this. Yet what I saw was a remarkable application of faith getting converted to works. There is no central organization nor is there any central fund raising, even though Gülen has now service institutions, like schools, colleges and clinics in 142 countries. The schools and universities that we saw were of high standard, and had national standing and recognition. Without any centralized structure it works through persons motivated and powered by the vision of Gülen to serve humanity. Individual Muslims make contributions to buy land, donate money for construction and persons so energized by this vision run these institutions. 

Gülen movement sounded like a fairy tale until we saw them walk the talk and do so much It is indeed a modern miracle! I asked myself: how does this happen? The only answer I could find is the spiritual power firing the motivational cylinders of these persons. Their approach to dialogue has a lot to teach all those involved in interreligious dialogue. The major or almost exclusive emphasis in the Gülen movement is on dialogue of life, dialogue in action. We were told that several students at the school or university stage do imbibe the vision of Gülen and carry it into their adult years.

What can we learn from the followers of Gülen movement? Any movement is powered by an ideal, an ideology, a value frame. In other words, the inner is driving the outer action. The gift of Jesus to us was an invitation for an attitude revolution, and not another religion, with a new set of rituals, prescriptions and practices. We have hundreds and thousands of transformations brought about by Christians over the centuries. 

What I increasingly find is that there are so many, from other faith-traditions and ideologies - Muslims, Buddhists or others - who are also actively engaged in ushering love, peace and unity into our battered world. For us Christians, gradually the outer seems to have taken over from the inner and what we see now is the over dominance of the outer. When that takes place, necessarily much deterioration results, Values inspired by faith die. Efforts to re-kindle the dying embers and to start the fire again is the challenge. 

Having a personal sense of mission and responding to that call is a constituent part of the Christian mystery. Mere efficiency, though necessary for our institutions, is lethal, if it is not combined with values and principles. A life devoid of values is destroying nations, religions and our humanity. If we get even a few people in various walks of life energized and motivated - whether priests, religious or lay persons who then pass it on to others, - then we will have started a multiplication process. They must become Kingdom builders, who will contribute to build human communities across physical and pshychological borders that presently divide us and make us less and less human.

A Christian Visits Turkey
Dr Herman Roborgh SJ

Affinity Intercultural Association is a group of Muslims living in Australia who seek to promote the understanding and integration of the Muslim community in Australian society.  In October this year, I was invited by this group to join a “study-tour” to Turkey together with ten other interested Australians.   We spent about ten days travelling from one major city to another, visiting city councils, educational institutions and TV stations as well as other places of historical and cultural interest.

Most of the people we encountered in Turkey were connected in some way or other with the Gulen movement.  Fethullah Gulen (born in1941) is a Muslim scholar from Turkey now living in the United States, who has inspired countless Muslims throughout the world by his speeches and writings.  He reminds Muslims that their Islamic faith should stimulate them to be involved in society by contributing to human welfare in one way or another such as by becoming active in education and the social media.  Besides performing the normal religious duties of prayer and fasting, believing Muslims should build a society in which all persons belonging to whatever group or religious conviction are respected and cared for.  This vision has motivated Muslim believers in many countries throughout the world to collaborate and to put the vision into action. 

Turkey is one of the many countries in which people inspired by the Gulen movement have opened schools to instill the values of respect for human dignity and social harmony.  We visited TV channels and publishing houses, which were promoting the ideas of Fethullah Gulen.  Since interfaith dialogue and intercultural understanding have now become a condition for world peace, the Gulen movement is a beacon of hope for people who seek to collaborate across religious and cultural boundaries to work for universal peace and harmony.

Society in Turkey has been visibly expanding socially and economically since the AKP (Justice Party) government came into power in 2007.  Cities are smart and clean.  Everywhere there are parks and gardens.  Education is available for more and more children, though the need for facilities for higher education is a pressing concern. The market places of the small towns and villages are gradually vanishing and rows and rows of apartment buildings are taking their place.  However, the huge influx of people from the villages into the cities has put strains on the social infrastructure. 

We visited several universities with impressive- looking buildings and facilities.  Our hosts at these universities told us that the university accepted students from many different countries and also provided scholarships for deserving students.  Scholarships were available in high schools and at tuition centres as well, which catered for young people who had dropped out of formal education and were at risk of becoming radicalized by political dissenters.  At these centres they could further their studies, be mentored by decent role models and have access to recreation and skill-building activities.

Turkey is a modern republic that has inherited the cultural and religious exchanges that have taken place in this part of the world for centuries.  The famous Silk Road ran from ancient Constantinople (present day Istanbul) through the south-eastern part of Turkey into Iran and China.  Various peoples such as the Hittites, the Greeks and the Arabs have lived in what today is modern Turkey and each group has contributed something of its own civilizational skills.  Different methods of making carpets, cloth, ceramics and tiles have been brought to Turkey along this route and developed further by subsequent generations of people. 
The Jews and the Christians brought their religious values to the people of this region for centuries before the Muslims came.  Haghia Sophia was built as a church in the sixth century and stands as a monument to the Christian faith of the period.  It became a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and is now a museum. The Ottomans were remarkable for many things, including their own style of architecture.  The Blue Mosque dominates the skyline of modern Istanbul and is an expression of the strength and beauty of Islamic faith and civilization.

Christians now form a minority group in Turkey.  We saw evidence of their vibrant faith in the cave churches of Cappadocia where, from the 9th century onwards, Christians had worshipped in more than 30 deep caves whose walls are still decorated with their Byzantine religious art.  In the south-eastern part of the country, we were impressed with the efforts that the local government of Mardin was making to restore an ancient monastery dedicated to St. Nicholas.  A community of monks had lived here in the early centuries of Christianity.  The present generation of Muslims now living in this area wants to remember and honor their religious heritage.

There is evidence that Nestorian Christians were worshipping in another city called Diyarbakir in the second century.  Armenian and the Greek Orthodox Churches can be seen in various places throughout the region.  Even today, Catholic and Orthodox churches and monasteries are being used as places of worship throughout the country, especially in the vicinity of Mardin.  One of these has a section for women (nuns) and a section for men (monks), who devote their time to prayer and labor (ora et labora) while passing on the traditions of the Orthodox Church to the younger generation. One young man recited the Lord’s Prayer for us in Aramaic and told us he was making efforts to learn the language.
Another monastery is providing temporary shelter for refugees from nearby Syria. In Ankara, the Jesuits care for a Catholic church frequented by Armenian Orthodox Christians.  A Catholic church in Istanbul welcomes Syrian Orthodox Christians on a regular basis to perform their liturgy because the Orthodox community does not have a church of its own.  Churches and mosques can also be seen in close proximity to one another in the same neighborhood.

Even though Turkey was proclaimed a secular republic when it came into being in 1923, the sense of the sacred has not been lost.  Respect for the sacred wherever it appears and in whichever shape it appears, which is so much part of Islam, is evident among the people of modern Turkey.  Signs of religious faith can be seen not only in the structures of many fine mosques but even more in the gracious courtesy and warm hospitality of the people.  Simple gestures such as the religious expressions of mash Allah (thanks be to God) and insha Allah (if God so wills) have not become a mere social custom without religious meaning.  Readiness to waive the full payment for an article in the marketplace expresses the awareness of God who always observes how human beings behave and relate with one another.

There is an opportunity for dialogue between Muslims and Christians in Turkey – not primarily the dialogue of theological exchange but rather the dialogue of everyday life, which accepts a human person as first and foremost a fellow human being.  Both Islam and Christianity share this conviction, which is rooted in our common faith in God, the Creator of all.  This awareness must find expression in the attitude of Muslims towards the Christian minority population and through their active care for non-Muslims in Turkey.  The challenge for the Christians is to remain true to their faith as disciples of Christ, who came not to win power but to serve one’s neighbor in the spirit of the Gospel. 

The Best Things in Life are Free
Bob McCahill

As I sat reading in the doorway of my hut a neighbor carried Meeteela to see me. I stopped reading in order to elicit a smile from the year old girl whom everybody likes to tote around. Instead of smiling, however, Meeteela pulled back from me. This is not like her, thought I. Her guardian informed me about Meeteela’s fear: “The spectacles you are wearing scare her.” (In this neighborhood I alone wear eyeglasses). I removed the specs from my face and the cap from my head, besides. The accessories having been removed she rewarded me with a smile of her own. The best things in life are free.

Outside the town’s post office on a chilly morning two teenaged girls wearing face and body length veils stepped into my path. Even though it is a public place they had the daring to initiate a conversation. Their religious guides caution girls not to behave so boldly. But these are Bengali Muslims, spontaneously sociable. The lasses” faces were mostly covered, but laughing eyes revealed they were delighted by our meeting. They told me they had once seen me bicycling in their far distant village. They simply wanted me to know they recognized me.

Kookee, a disabled, middle-aged woman who begs door to door to support herself and her mother, was newly returned from making her daily rounds. She sat in the corner tea stall of our bazaar counting the coins people had given her. Counting was difficult; her eyes are bad. Finally she finished. Her day’s income amounted to 16 takas (20 cents U.S.) Then Kookee treated herself to a cup of tea – poured into a saucer to make it easier to soak a small piece of hardened bread. It was both her breakfast and a reward for successful Friday morning begging. Her livelihood depends on one of the five pillars of Islam: almsgiving.
In village Shingbasha a wind and rain storm struck with force prompting me to knock urgently on a farmer’s door to request shelter for myself and bicycle. The storm. I swerved in the nick of time. The elated look on my benefactor’s face expressed what he did not say: The reason I am so happy is I just did something gallant. I saved you.

We were seated in our assigned seats on the fast moving Ekota Express train when it made an unscheduled stop to take on military personnel. The entire 70-seater railcar was swiftly evacuated to make space for the soldiers, except for the four of us. Ashraf, age 6, released that day from a hospital, his grandmother, uncle, and me. Though a soldier browbeat me to leave, I declined, and beseeched my companions to stay put. Later on, the officer in charge of the soldiers invited me to sit with him. Major Naim, a former U.N. Peacekeeper in Sudan, was born in 1976. I came to Bangladesh in 1975. Bengalis respect age and I had seniority.
While visiting the home of Ain Uddin he complained to me of weakness. Ain is diabetic so I urged him to do the exercises which will help control his condition. “I do exercise!” Ain protested. I know the man not to be the energetic type and was skeptical of his claim. “What exercises do you do?” I inquired. “I do my prayers five times daily!” Ritual prayer requires standing, bowing, prostrating, and sitting on one’s legs and ankles. It is exercise, true, but may be not the kind needed to impede diabetes.

One afternoon friendly store owner Probir greeted me warmly and clarified for me the reason for the long red paste mark down the center of his forehead. He spoke of Krishna and that Hindu god’s relevance for his life. We both rejoice in the freedom we share to speak of what and who is meaningful to us. Probir was not preaching to me. He was felicitating me, sharing with me the encouragement he feels from his faith. Won’t it be splendid when we all – Muslims, Hindus, Christians, all – can speak and listen to others explain what inspires us without quarreling about it?

Shaheen and recently returned from a month away in Saudi Arabia, on pilgrimage. “How was the experience?” I asked. Shaheen spoke of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims gathered in one place, of the heat at noonday when pilgrims left their air-conditioned rooms to go for prayer, and of eating camel’s meat. “Are you glad you went?” I asked. “Definitely!” my businessman friend exclaimed. “Did you make any resolutions there, such as to read the Qur’an more regularly?” I queried. “No”, he easily admitted, for the pilgrimage is not a retreat but, rather, a duty. Having fulfilled that duty Shaheen feels spiritual security.

Early in the morning I bicycled to Shawk Darap village through intermittent rainfall. There I wished to notify Sumi and Tara, her auntie, of our impending trip to the hospital. At their broken-down, mud-walled home Sumi and her family came out to meet me. They were embarrassed not to have any food to offer me – especially because it was the week of their grandest Islamic festival, Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid is a time for heightened hospitality which, in Bangladesh, always involves food. Their inability to place a snack in front of me assures me how favored I am by God to be able to serve truly needy families. Indeed, the best things in life are free.

We have a similar dream, which is to create prosperity and peace in our country: Jesuits and Madrasa students reflect together
Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ

In June, a group of Jesuit scholastics and priests spent a week in a Islamic boarding school in East Java, as part of the Indonesian Province’s efforts against religious radicalism, one of three concerns the Province has made a priority. Scholastic Billy Aryo Nugroho SJ recounts his experience.

From June 17 to 23, 16 Jesuit scholastics and two priests lived in Islamic boarding school, pesantren in Indonesia. The pesantren was named “Tebu Ireng” and is located in Jombang, East Java.

The stay in the pesantren is a programme of the Indonesian Province that addresses one of its major concerns, religious radicalism. The other two priority concerns of the Indonesian Province are poverty and environmental damage. The concern around religious radicalism is also confirmed in the documents of the Society of Jesus, particularly during the 35th General Congregation.

We hope that this programme can be a significant contribution to our country, which is now threatened by religious radicalism. We also hope that this programme will help Jesuits in formation to embrace the spirit of religious dialogue. Indonesia is a Moslem-majority country therefore a dialogue with Moslem people is indispensable. 

We were accompanied by two Jesuit priests who have worked in this area for some time - Fr Heru Prakosa SJ and Fr Greg Soetomo SJ. Fr Heru is an Ad Hoc Coordinator for Moslem-Christian Dialogue for the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, while Fr Greg is a coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission in the Indonesian Province.

During this programme, we lived together with the pesantren’s students who are called santri. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was the holiday period for santris so few of them were there. Nevertheless, we did not lose our passion to live together with them.

The interesting activity during our time with them was having philosophical and theological discussions. We discussed influential figures from both our religions. We Jesuits spoke of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a great philosopher and theologian, while the santris told us about Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), also a great philosopher and theologian. The discussion enriched our knowledge of each other.

However, the most memorable experience was our meeting with the chief of this pesantren, Salahuddin Wahid, usually called Gus Sholah, whose father had founded the pesantren. During that meeting, Gus Sholah shared with us some inspiring thoughts. He said, “We have a similar dream, which is to create prosperity and peace in our country.” He wanted us to collaborate to make this dream come true. What a beautiful thought. We are united by the same dream. By this experience, we can simply say that humanity unites all people, regardless of their gender, race or religion. Indeed, it is our great duty to accomplish this and this duty can be realized only by struggling together.

After experiencing this programme, we are optimistic that there is promise and hope to build a prosperous and peaceful country where there is religious tolerance, since we believe that we are not striving alone. One thing that we can learn from this experience is that humanity unites all and inspires all to spread the benefits of humanity itself among other people around us

'I know you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me
Samuel Packiam PhD

Rev Dr Samuel Packiam is an ordained minister of the Church of South India, Tirunelveli Diocese who completed his PhD in Christian Muslim Relations from Westminster College, Oxford. He is presently on deputation to the Interfaith Coalition for Peace, New Delhi. He has also been designated to be the director of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies at Hyderabad. He spoke to Victor Edwin SJ on the status of Christian-Muslim relations in India.

Edwin: Rev Samuel, kindly tell us how you got interested in studying Christian Muslim Relations?
Samuel: My passion for bridging religious differences has been shaped not only by my spiritual connection to the Christian tradition, which promotes striving towards the common good, but also by my upbringing.  As a youth, I was privileged enough to travel to many places as part of the gospel team. Thus I was exposed at a young age to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as introduced to people of various faiths. 
As an undergraduate I studied theology at Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur.  During this time I became interested in early heresy in the Christian Church. As I studied, I began to realize that the understanding of Jesus Christ in some of these instances, such as the Nestorian interpretation, was very similar to the Islamic understanding of Jesus presented in the Quran. The Islamic interpretation of Jesus and Christianity is not far off from the former beliefs of past Christians. After finishing my first degree, I went on to work with the Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad as a Junior staff member and complete my Master’s in Islamic studies. I started looking at Islamic interpretations of Christianity, especially at how Christians are viewed as People of the Book in Muslim society. I wrote a graduate paper on The Status of the Muslim in a Religiously Plural Society. This paper convinced me of the need for education in Islamic Studies, and sparked my interest in educating Indian Christians and Muslims on the need for understanding. I gave a presentation on these issues, and have continued to present this discussion throughout my career. Through my education, I realized I was called to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Muslims. A Muslim is not someone to hate, but rather someone to love. A Muslim is not someone I should hate, but a believer in Jesus, just from a different perspective. I developed a passion for educating my Christian colleagues about Islam and the Muslim identity. We need to promote understanding, and with understanding and grace, we should be able to live together in peace.

Edwin: You have had a lot of good experiences in working with Muslims; kindly tell us something which is deeply etched in your memory?
Samuel: The experiences and insights gained from working together with religious people who are firmly rooted in the faith and teachings of their religions never need to become enemies, even if they are at odds in terms of their communal interests.  Religious community leaders often share the same pastoral concerns, whether they be Muslim or Christian.  Pastors and Muslim leaders from Saharanpur setting up a monthly “fraternal” in which many issues of a theological, pastoral, social and political nature have been discussed and joint action has been taken. Initially these meetings consisted of such topics as “How do we celebrate our festivals and what do they mean to us?” then moved on to “How can we best educate our children in their faith?” before tackling such questions as, “How do we see God?” and “What can we say of the salvation of the other?” There are ups and downs in such a relationship, but persistence and commitment on both sides have seen that we survive for a commendable number of years.

Edwin: You are designated to be the director of Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies? How do you plan to carry forward the wonderful work done by HMI?
Samuel: Over the last few years, there have been all kinds of ideas emerging about the Church, about different faith communities, which I have longed to explore and write up a bit.  So I’m hoping for more space to write and think in that way.  I’m certainly looking forward to being part of an academic community with a open and assertive exchange of ideas, and to the challenges of helping that community to work, which is part of the job of the head of an Institute.  And I think it’s not a million miles away from trying to make the community of the interfaith family work.  But essentially, I believe, you bring to the office who you are, under God.

Edwin: What is the importance of theological dialogue in today's context?
Samuel: Throughout history, people of different religious traditions have encountered one another in a variety of situations. In some instances, representatives of these traditions have been enriched through sharing in one another’s experiences and expressions of faith. In other situations members of these traditions have either withdrawn within the “secure” parameters they have inherited or set themselves, or embarked on discussions from dogmatically determined positions not only as regards their own tradition, but also that of the “other.”
The importance of theological dialogue from an ecumenical, inter-religious, global context should encourage all to move beyond prejudice and bias, be it historical, cultural, social, or theological, in order to cooperate wholeheartedly with all men and women of goodwill in promoting peace, justice, harmony, human rights, and respect for all of God’s creation. This is to be done especially through dialogue with those who are inspired by religious commitment, or those who share a sense of transcendence that opens them to universal values.
Pope John Paul II repeatedly urged we should make inter-religious dialogue an “apostolic priority” for the third millennium. In a world characterized by religious pluralism, a positive relationship with faithful persons from all the world religions is a requirement in order to achieve global peace and the goal of full dignity and justice for all human beings.

Edwin: Are Indian churches adequately interested in dialogue with Islam and Muslims?
Samuel: The Indian Churches have traditionally maintained an ecclesiology that sees it as having a pastoral concern for all people who live within the territory of the parish, diocese or nation. This might be exemplified by the fact that all people who live in a parish have the right to be married in the parish church and to be buried from it even if they are not members of the Church or even Christians. This applies also to members of other faith traditions, who have an equal right to the services of the church. This pastoral concern can be seen in the disposition of Christian schools in India. Like the parish church, traditionally every person who lived in a parish had a right to have their children educated in the parish school and so a Church school has more the self-understanding of a “community school” rather than a “school for church members.” In the recent past, religious communities have concentrated on establishing and building up their own communities. Now the task of the future begins, that is, to draw from the riches of these faith traditions to create a better society. In this society all people, of any faith or none, can live truly respecting the diversity of human values and allowing each other to grow to their full potential.

Edwin: Often we hear that only Christians are interested in dialogue, Muslims are not. How do you see the statements like this?
Samuel: In a middle-class commuter area of the New Delhi live a growing number of Muslim professionals who have formed a Muslim Community Association. This group took the initiative of contacting local Christians with a view to a monthly meeting to discuss topics of mutual interest. This dialogue group is  remarkable in that the number of Muslims far outweighs the number of Christians. The general format of an evening is that there will be a Christian and a Muslim presentation around a set theme, which will be followed by a lengthy period of questions and discussion.
Two interesting observations from this dialogue can be made: first, the Muslim presentation consists of reading a number of passages from the Qur’an with limited comments or acknowledgement of the associated body of scholarship; second, while there are often diverse Christian voices showing the range of such opinion, the Muslim voice is more monolithic, thus prompting that impression of Islam. One difficulty thus exemplified is that there are few Muslim scholars, who are deeply versed in the Islamic sciences, who take part in such discussions. Participants tend to be educated in other disciplines and have pursued limited private Islamic study. This can lead to a somewhat truncated portrayal of Islam.

Edwin: Is there any Islamic organisation that work for the welfare of Christian community in India?
Samuel: Yes, the Zakat Foundation of India (ZFI) helps Christian students to compete in UPSC by facilitating them to get the finest coaching in the esteemed coaching centres in Delhi by financially supporting them annually to the rate of Rs. 2,00,000/-.   In the 2012-13 school year there are 18 Christian students getting their support through this scheme.  The ZFI Fellowship aims to alleviate the lack of Christian representation in the Civil Services, via a merit-based approach.
The Zakat Foundation of India was established in 1997 as a grassroots level organization by concerned residents of New Delhi. It is a Non-Governmental/Non-Profit Organization which collects and utilizes ‘zakat’ or charity for socially beneficial projects in a transparent and organized manner. Their projects include running an orphanage, charitable hospital, providing stipends to widows, micro credit etc.

Edwin: What are the areas of common interest between Muslims and Christians in India?
Samuel: The importance of societal dialogue is obvious in light of the fact that today almost all societies are plural. This calls for a common understanding of basic values, norms and orientations which are verified, accepted and implemented by all groups in the society. One of the basic characteristics of a modern and civilized society is that no group should be marginalized or eliminated for cultural, ethnic, religious, social or other reasons. The possibility to participate in every field of social activity invites people to contribute to the common welfare whatever treasures they have developed in their traditions including social-ethical or spiritual values. The sharing of such values undoubtedly strengthens mutual trust and respect among adherents of different religions.
The teachings of most living religions reject acts of violence, torture, vandalism or terror capable of destroying human life. These are perpetrated by individuals as well as government policies that cultivate injustice, , oppression, exploitation and discrimination., . Opposition to and resistance against them should therefore be the natural and uncompromising answer of all religious people, and the strategy of their actions should be a united one, designed also in a societal dialogue.

Edwin: What can we learn from the long interaction between Christians and Muslims in India?
Samuel: Throughout our lives we continue learning and understanding, thus developing and completing our identity and our perception of ourselves. This process may be hampered whenever we are lacking the right motivation for further investigation. Therefore, such a mutually stimulating encounter may be described as a walking together on a path, rather like the disciples on their way to Emmaus. While realizing our limited ability to understand perfectly, we help each other to deepen our insights by reflecting also on the contributions of the other one. In the course of such a walking, searching or even wrestling together with the same or similar questions of meaning and truth, a deep mutual appreciation or even friendship may develop despite the difference of religion which remains a wound in our human relationships. Mutual trust needs to have been established in order to stimulate each other through inter-religious dialogue to come to more profound and comprehensive insights. The way to such new and dynamic relationships is a long one, and those who stand aside merely watching or theorizing – and not to mention those who are just criticizing – will not be able to grasp what is really going on. We will therefore reflect on the “long march” toward this new approach to dialogue.

Edwin: What do you think that the world at large can learn from Indian experience?
Samuel: Our willingness to build relationships through common study and sometimes through common silence. We may not pray publicly together, for many reasons. Prayer follows conviction. But we can sometimes keep silence together. We can certainly look together at the sacred texts of different traditions. We can watch how other people handle their sacred texts and their rituals and learn from that. And in that process we become able to recognise some kind of integrity and some kind of depth in one another. It doesn't mean I say, 'Oh well, you must be right.' But I can at least say, 'I know you're serious.' And that's dialogue for me – the recognition of the serious. And therefore if we find we can do things together -- in servicing, witnessing, peace-making, then it will come out of depths, not shallows.

Pakistan and India Friendship Forum

 Fr. Joe Kalathil’s beautiful faith-based narrative is the story of an initiative to build Social Capital to bond the peoples of Pakistan and India with the aim to bring union of minds and hearts among the people.

The Present Pakistan and Hindustan together were once a powerful and resourceful country known as United India not so long ago. The two peoples were culturally knit together as one family of a deeply God-fearing people. We struggled together until we achieved independence from the British. Then came the sad division and political compulsions have kept us separate as two inimical nations. The division of the once united God-fearing people was a God- less act done by God-less people in the name of God, for their own vested interests.  This division resulted in the cutting off of connections of  thousands of united families all along the border stretching out to nearly a thousand kilometers. Many of them long to meet each other and to be united, but cannot even make a telephone call, even after 65 years of painful separation.

Therefore, the great challenge before us is make a deliberate and firm ‘choice’ to once again humanize our two peoples. The question we must ask:  
Can’t we ‘humans’, so richly endowed, correct such a ‘human error’?  When will we do it?  The answer I received from the enthusiastic young, middle aged and elderly men and women of Lahore in Pakistan was a determined “ ‘I’ will do it and ‘I’ will begin it ‘Now’ ”.
I am deeply convinced that we can, with the help of  the ‘divine’ grace, enter into this peace and friendship-building initiative. Such a conviction and determination will come from an ‘act of faith’ by both the peoples of India and Pakistan.  Through such an ‘act of faith’ we, both peoples, will develop union of minds and hearts and grow to become more human, even while we keep our cultural and religious diversities, as dreamt by Mahatma Gandhi. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable fire in their mission can alter the course of history This will result is great progress for both the peoples of both the nations.
Let me narrate the story of how it all happened. It began on the 18th of March, 2011. I was called to Jammu by Bishop Peter Celestine O.F.M.Cap for a meeting. With a firm resolve to help Bishop Peter Celestine, the Jammu-Srinagar Diocese and the people of J&K, in whatever way I could, I reached Jammu. The proposed meeting was to be in the Pastoral Centre, Smailpur at 10.30 a.m on 18th of March. Immediately after the breakfast at about 8.30 a.m., Bishop Peter Celestine and Fr. Frederick D’Souza, the then Asst. Director of Caritas India, told me about their very noble vision to establish ‘peace between Pakistan and India’. Their search was for a person who will carry it out.

During the meeting,  the ‘baby’ was passed on to me. Initially it gave me a shock since I could well imagine what it takes to establish ‘peace between Pakistan and Hindustan. The enormity of the mission and my limitations and weakness along with my advancing age flashed through my mind. Soon I began to see this as an ‘opportunity’ for me to surrender myself into the hands of God with a strong conviction that ‘nothing is impossible to  God’. From that very moment, God’s active presence has very tangibly been felt by me. The work was started in Jammu and in R.S.Pura area with unexpected success.

A year went on and the work was satisfactory which was an encouraging experience and everyone was convinced that time had come to go to Pakistan to launch the same work there too. Only then can it be called ‘Cross Border Peace Initiative’ (CBPI). The first time I went to Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to get a visa to go to Pakistan was in March 2012. The first question asked by the man at the counter was: ‘Do you have any relative in Pakistan? My reply was negative and the response from the other side was very definite and decisive : ‘you will not be given a visa to visit Pakistan’.  I returned with a heavy heart. I looked for another opportune time to make the next attempt to request for a visa to visit Pakistan. On 17th of October, to everyone’s surprise, a visa to visit Lahore, Pakistan for fifteen days was handed over to me. God’s ways are mysterious! God’s hand is stronger than any other!

I was born in Kerala in the united British India when the present India and Pakistan were one and therefore, I do feel that Pakistan is also my motherland. I have great admiration for the God-fearing wonderful people of Pakistan. I have very pleasant memories of having some good contact with some of the very hospitable ‘Pakistan Rangers’ posted in Huzainiwala Border of Ferozepur who offered me pleasantries in the early 60s when there was much feelings of brotherhood, peace and understanding between the leaders and people of Pakistan and India.

After much effort and very special Providential support, I received a visa to visit Lahore. But my real worry showed up: ‘After reaching Lahore what to do? Where to go? How to go about? Whom to contact? Will anyone support this move? I do not know anyone in Lahore and for that matter any one in Pakistan.’ My feelings of total helplessness compelled me to put my whole trust in the Lord and to ‘abandon’ myself as well as the ‘friendship mission of CBPI’ completely and totally to God’s providential care. Slowly light started illumining my mind. I gained clarity that ‘people to people contact’ will help mitigate and slowly remove prejudices from our minds and hearts and  that will help us to get closer to one another. With such an insight, the following programmes were drawn up, which were launched in Lahore in collaboration with the Apostolic Carmel Sisters (ACs), the Jesuits, the youth and the some of the priests and Faithful of Lahore Archdiocese with tacit approval of the Bishop of Lahore. In such a short time of 11 days of which 4 were holidays, I addressed over 800 senior students of 7 schools, over 40 teachers and 100 catechists all of whom showed their very encouraging and tremendous enthusiasm for building friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and they assured me of their full support. When I went to Lahore, I took with me 35 letters from the students of four schools and I brought 90 letters from the students of Lahore. The Bishop Sebastian Shaw and the Vicar General Fr. Andrew Ansari of Lahore Archdiocese, knowing what it means to build friendship between Pakistan and India, were very happy to welcome me with such a noble mission, assuring me of their full support. I also met a few NGOs and a couple of trade unions and the Director of Caritas Pakistan. All of them were very happy to hear about the move to build friendship and peace between Pakistan and India. In a meeting with Dr. Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary, Govt of Punjab Pakistan for Youth Affairs, Sports, Archeology & Tourism Department, he expressed his great joy at this initiative and assured me of his full support. I have no adequate words to express the warm welcome, the love and the appreciation which I received from all, especially from the youth group of Lahore.

The concern expressed by some the elderly well-wishers and supporters in Lahore was about the continuity of the work of CBPI in Pakistan after I return to India.  We believe in the insight of the world-renowned anthropologist, Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever happened.”

 A small body of Agents Of Peace (AOP) consisting of Fr.Maria Antony, the former Jesuit Provincial of Srilanka as the convener, Fr.Imran John the only Pakistani Jesuit Priest, Mr.Daniel Parvez Massih and Mr. Shamiel Saleem as members, was formed before I left Lahore to see that this movement is kept going. Fr.Maria Antony would induct a couple of Sisters and few others including some priests into the ‘ad-hoc committee’. The programmes which have been started during those 11 days are: (a)Peace Clubs (PC) in schools; (b)Cross Border Student Contact (CBSC); (c) Cross Border Family/ Faith Contact (CBFC). It has been also proposed to work on: (d)Student Exchange Programme (SEP); (e) Health Care Support (HCS); (f) Educational Support (ES). This small beginning of Peace and Friendship Building was a strong ‘Act of Faith’ as a token of small contribution of the Church in Pakistan as well as Church in India to the ‘Peace Loving’ people of Pakistan as well as to the ‘Peace Loving’ people of India. It may not be possible for ‘man’, but nothing is impossible for God. God’s guidance and His providential hand could be tangibly felt during the process of this small beginning of the great work. Lot more of work has to be done in various levels and the progress will certainly be slow. We need to be prepared to face many obstacles and some opposition also to this initiative. As Fr.Thomas Kunnunkal S.J said: “no good work can be done except at the cost of the one who does it”

When I was in Kerala I spoke to several people and all were very happy and enthusiastic to support this movement. Five men have already agreed to form support groups in different places: Mr.Leo in Thiruvanandapuram, Mr.Jojo in Kollam, Mr.Dev Raj in Alapuzha, Mr. Saleem and Mr.Jobin in Kochi and Mr.Shelly in Gothuruth. I keep in touch with them. Many more support group needs to be formed and this work need to be expanded to the Indo-Pakistan Inter National border areas in Indian side. Bishop Joseph Karikkassery of Kottaapuram diocese was so taken up by this that he promised to talk about this movement in the next CBCI meeting to be held in Velankanny in February, 2013. This movement needs institutional support too. I am confident that many institutions irrespective of any religion or social division will come forward to give their full support to this initiative in every way. Together we will grow in friendship and peace between Pakistan and India and the beneficiaries of this will be ‘WE’ the people of Pakistan and India.

The same challenge faces us today. So I I ask you to consider: If not this, then What? If not now, When?