Peter Baekelmans, CICM;
Fr. Andreas Göpfert, M.Afr.; Fr. James D. Redington, SJ;
Bro. Edgar Nicodem, FSC; Sr. Agnes Lanfermann, MMS
and Fr. Victor Roche, SVD.
Missionary Religious Institutes and Christian Witness
Past, Present and Future.
This article has been written by the former Director of SEDOS with the cooperation of some of the SEDOS members at the request of the Pontifical Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and recently published in the book: “Christian Witness in a Multi-religious World”. It gives an update on the situation of efforts in Interreligious Dialogue by SEDOS Members and others in the different continents.
The contribution of Missionary Religious Institutes to the “Christian Witness” in a multi-religious world is in one word immense. Missionary Religious Institutes carry out a great variety of activities in the field of Interreligious Dialogue: education, parish life, social activities, research, theology of religions, specialized studies, centers of dialogue and so on. They are doing their utmost to respond to Vatican II’s invitation to enter into dialogue with other religions. Missionary Religious Institutes are born from the desire to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, and thus also to people of other religions. However, at the same time they are “confronted” with all the good there is in other cultures and religions. This makes their mission more complex, because mission is not a one-way activity, but happens in dialogue with the other people and their culture and religion. And lastly, Missionary Religious Institutes have also evolved from being mainly Western-based institutions to include new members from the whole world and from all cultures. Also new native Missionary Societies and Congregations came into existence. Naturally, these new members bring their own cultural and religious sensitivities to the mission and dialogue of the Church, which at times makes the dialogue even more complex.
The new road of dialogue the Church has chosen with the world, and especially with other religions, since Vatican II is very encouraging, but at the same time also very demanding. As Director of SEDOS, I was invited to join the Vatican Delegation to the 14th Ecumenical Conference on World Mission and Evangelism in Arusha, Tanzania, 8-13 March 2018, organized by the World Council of Churches. Listening to the different contributions at the conference, I noticed a difference between those who are more concerned with Evangelism, the direct preaching of Jesus Christ, and those who set a good example while doing Mission, working for peace, justice, poverty, healthcare and so on, but often forget to preach the Gospel while doing their charitable work. Maintaining the balance between efforts in Evangelization and efforts in Mission requires a constant effort because both – word and action – form part of bearing Christian witness (see document on Christian Witness, “A Basis for Christian Witness”, n. 2).[ The difficulty to keep the balance between interreligious dialogue and the proclamation of the faith can be seen in the different documents issued by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, as e.g. Dialogue and Proclamation (1991), and prior to that in the document on Interreligious Dialogue of Vatican II, Nostrae Aetate, n. 2 (1965). ] However, it is not easy to listen and at the same time be keen to share one’s own faith. Participants in interreligious dialogue tend to sacrifice their own identity and message for the benefit of dialogue. Others are too convinced of their own belief to be open to what is “true and holy”[ Nostra Aetate, n. 2.] in (and for) other religions and refuse to dialogue, or misuse the dialogue for their own hidden agenda.
Missionary Religious Institutes experience the same dilemma. Some missionaries perceive the effort to dialogue as contrary to what mission is about. Mission to them is in the first place Evangeli-zation, which means spreading the Good News through preaching. They fail to see that Interreligious Dialogue is part of the Church’s evangelizing mission (Redemptoris Missio, n. 56). Mission is not exclusively a “Church growth activity” through preaching and baptizing, but it also means building the Kingdom of God through works of charity. Interreligious dialogue makes an essential contribution to peace in the world. What is the place of Interreligious Dialogue then? Is it part of Evangelization (with conversion to values of the Kingdom of God as its aim) or is it part of Mission (with peace as its aim)? It is both! There is no Christian dialogue if there is no “proclamation” of Jesus in it.[ Jan Van Bragt, CICM, “Interreligious Dialogue and Evangelization”, in Japanese Religions, Vol. 25 (1999), 126.] Only by keeping the balance will the dialogue be a true dialogue.
The general opinion of Missionary Religious Institutes is that interreligious dialogue is one of the pillars of global Mission today. This is proven by the different missionary symposia held by SEDOS for (and by) its more than 80-member missionary Congregations, or by the events organized in Rome itself, such as the Interreligious Pilgrimage to the Holy Door in 2016 and the Interfaith Chanting at the Basilica of Santa Cecilia in 2018. The present essay aims to give an idea of how on the different continents this Christian Witness in a multi-religious context has taken shape, how it is today, and what challenges it will face in the future. We will listen to “activists” in the dialogue, active in and for their own Missionary Religious Institute. Their contributions will enlighten us as to how Christian witness is going on in respect for, and in dialogue with, other religions. We will start from my own specialization, Japan and the Asian continent where there has been both a longstanding effort and a profound experience in the dialogue.
Experience from Asia
The Challenge of Continuing the Dialogue
Interreligious dialogue is an indispensable aspect of the mission in Asia where living in harmony is much valued.[ The Federation of Asian Bishops encourages a triple form of dialogue (with the poor, with the culture, and interreligious), and speaks of an Asian theology of religion based on a “Theology of Harmony”. ] Missionary Religious Institutes are doing their best to make a positive contribution in this context while bearing witness to their own religion, not always easy when dealing with old and well-rooted religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, and Shintoism. Whereas before many of these religious traditions were open to the encounter with Christianity, there is now a certain trend of nationalism combined with exclusivism, visible on the level of religion, and a fear of “conversion activities” by Christian missionaries. Also, Christians tend to be more exclusive and conservative in the Asian context, as they are a minority in most Asian countries, except for the Philippines. On the other hand, missionaries from the more Catholic countries do not fear the encounter with other religions so much. Therefore, we sometimes see a tension and discrepancy between the local clergy and the missionary when it comes to interreligious dialogue.
Study of Other Religions
Missionary Religious Institutions make a great effort to study other religions. In Japan, for instance, we have the Center for the Study of Religions and Culture at Nanzan University (SVD), the ORIENS Institute for Religious Research (CICM) where I worked for a couple of years, and the Asian Study Center (XX). They keep the members updated in matters of dialogue and other religions. An interesting evolution was the start a couple of years ago of a twice-yearly meeting of scholars from religion-related religious research centers to discuss the results of their research. The meetings start with a prayer-meditation, and conclude with a visit to a local Buddhist temple, Christian church, or Shinto shrine. However, due to a decrease in the number of missionaries there are fewer missionaries who opt (or are allowed) to engage full-time in the study of other religions. Nevertheless, this kind of missionary is necessary. The mission in China today, for instance, is confronted with a demand from the government for a more “Chinese” Catholicism.[ Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, “Le Sfide della Chiesa in Cina oggi”, in SEDOS Bulletin Vol. 52, 5/6, 22.] This sinization effort can only be made by those who have studied Buddhist compassion, Confucianist ethics, and Taoist mystical thinking.
Experience of Other Religious Practices
Besides the study of other religions, there are Roman-Catholic centers that facilitate the experience of other religious practices. India is a stronghold in this way of doing dialogue. I too experienced, a long time ago, the Benedictine Sacchidananda Ashram in Tiruchirapally where Fr. Bede Griffiths, OSB, celebrated the Eucharist in an Indian way.[ There are other Ashrams too, like Kurisumala Ashram, and other lesser known ones in different parts of India.] We have now got used to an Indian liturgy of the Eucharistic, with its typical fire ritual arati, but this inculturation did not come by itself. Had there not been courageous people to try it out, it would have remained a simple wish. Another example is Shinmeizan Centre of Spirituality and Interreligious Dialogue of the Xaverian Missionaries in Kyushu, Japan, where one can experience Christian monastic life and the liturgy in a Zen-Buddhist way, embedded in Japanese spirituality.
Building a Theology of Religions
Many religious missionaries have specialized in a specific religion and teach it at Roman-Catholic universities and write books about it. These scholarly contributions are not always adequately known, but are slowly building up a Christian theology of religion. I think here for instance of the Benedictine monk Fr. Okumura Ichiro. As a young man he was a Zen Buddhist and wanted to write his thesis for the university on the superiority of Buddhism over Christianity. But later by studying Christianity he was taken with the greatness of its teaching and Tradition, and converted to Christianity, without ever speaking ill of his former belief. Fr. Willem Johnston, SJ, is another great example in Japan of the search to understand the mysticism of other religious traditions. In India, Fathers Jacques Dupuis, Amalopavardass, Antony de Mello, Raimon Panikkar, and Samuel Rayan are some of the best-known theologians who have searched for a happy marriage between Hindu and Christian spirituality.
Contribution to a Lasting Peace
In many Asian countries there is the wish to live peacefully together with their different religions. We find therefore in many dioceses that the effort to “build relationships of respect and trust with people of all religions” (see Recommendation, n. 2 of the Christian Witness document) culminates in the form of a yearly common prayer for peace (see Recommendation, n. 6).[ Most of the dioceses have a dialogue committee and hold interreligious meetings and prayer services on a regular basis.] Sometimes Missionary Religious Institutes have initiated these yearly encounters or continue to support them (e.g. CICM in Tokyo Diocese). During the preparation for these events one gets to know the religious leaders of other religions better and one can build bridges where needed. These events are also ways to show publicly the relevancy of religious institutions and to appeal for freedom of religion in countries where this is needed (see Recommendation, n. 5).
Formation in Dialogue
In the Initial Formation programs of Missionary Religious Institutes one can find visits to, live-in experiences with, and seminars on other religions. Also, the missionary-related schools of theology, such as the Maryhill School of Theology of CICM, where I have been teaching for a while, as well as Mission Seminaries, offer courses on missiology, theology of religions, the study of various religions, and on dialogue. The study of other religions is much needed in Asia. Without a proper education in the field of interreligious dialogue one risks to do more harm to the mission than good (see Recommendation, n. 3). Only together with people of other religions, wherever possible, can one work for a new world in which God’s love becomes visible (see Recommendation, n. 4). (Contribution from Fr. Peter Baekelmans, CICM)[ Fr. Peter Baekelmans, CICM, is Director of SEDOS in Rome, and teaches Buddhism, Hinduism, and Eastern Religions at the Theological Faculty of the Catholic University of Louvain (KU Leuven), Belgium. He has been a missionary for 20 years in Japan. As part of the Ph.D. program in Theology of Religions, he took part in ritual practices of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism and in Zen-meditation training. ]
Experience from Africa
Dialogue with Islam and
African Traditional Religion
Addressing the theme of dialogue, especially inter-religious dialogue in Africa’s context, given its incredible vitality, its geographical, cultural and religious diversity, and the multiple external influences, political, economic and religious, is a challenge in itself! This is especially true when dealing with different historical contexts.
However, this is only one facet of a larger, richer, more diversified reality. In this contribution, we will look at the experience of the Missionaries of Africa, M.Afr., better known as the “White Fathers”. This nickname is significant because Mgr. Lavigerie, the Archbishop of Algiers who founded the Congregation in 1868 in Algeria in the Maghreb context, instructed the White Fathers to be all things to all people, and to dress like the local population, i.e. dressed in a white cloak (gandoura) with red hat (chechia), which eventually became their “religious” habit. Mgr. Lavigerie, a son of his time and of his cultural background, had to revise his view – and that of others – with regard to Islam. He therefore asked the White Fathers and the “White Sisters” (Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, MSOLA, founded in 1869), to learn Arabic and Kabyle and immerse themselves in the dialogue of life with the local population while discovering the treasures of the local culture. Furthermore, the linguistic and cultural research work carried out under the pastoral direction of Fr Henri Marchal, as well as the personal experience and influence of Fr. Charles de Foucauld and Fr. Louis Massignon transformed their perception of the followers of Islam. Together on the journey to God! And, all need to be converted to God! This apostolic approach was mostly lived in mutually respectful dialogue in everyday life and action through the opening of schools, technical and professional institutes, and documentation centres. The Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes, founded in 1921 in Tunis, was established to offer specific education in Islam and to provide a platform for theological exchanges. In 1964, the formation component was transferred to Rome and is known today as the PISAI (Pont. Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies).
The confreres, formed in North Africa in Carthage, were then sent to sub-Saharan Africa, and instructed to learn the languages and religious customs of the people where they lived. An initial six months of language learning was provided everywhere. This explains the establishment of many language learning centres (Faladje, Mali; Guiloungo, Burkina Faso; Kipalapala, Tanzania; Ilondola, Zambia). The emphasis, depending on the context and the time, was more on the African Traditional Religion, than on the relationship with Muslims. It has proven difficult today to enter into dialogue with Muslims in Africa without paying attention to dialogue with the adherents of the African Traditional Religion.
Dialogue with the African Traditional Religion varies according to time,[ Dialogue with Traditional African Religion within the Catholic Church. Please consult: “Pastoral Attention to Followers of African Traditional Religion” (Card. F. Arinze, 1988); “Pastoral Attention to Followers of Traditional Religion” (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican 1993).] place, region, and people. “Tabula rasa”, tolerance, curiosity, respect and appreciation are all present. Research centres and museums to preserve the cultural heritage were opened in Sikasso, Mali and Mua, Malawi.
Many Missionaries of Africa, who trained in Islam, remain at the service of the various diocesan and national commissions and continue to train catechists, teachers, lay people and pastoral workers. The IFIC (Institut de formation Islamo-chrétienne) in Bamako, Mali, and IRDIS (Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and Islamic Studies) in Nairobi, Kenya, also further this goal.
Among the challenges to be met we identify the following:
It is necessary to keep on raising the awareness among the Missionaries of Africa and the candidates in formation that the Encounter and Dialogue in relation to JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) are basic elements of missionary life and not an “extra” at the pastoral level! Already the change in the socio-economic, political-military-religious context clearly requires that pastoral priorities be re-examined.
In Africa, there is the politicisation of religion and the effervescence and omnipresence of religiosity at all levels of life: preaching on public transport; broadcasting of films, video clips and audio; and loudspeakers blaring the preaching. Proselytism (forcing the other to convert at all costs) is widespread.
Confronted with religious radicalisation, fundamentalism, extremism, fanaticism, recourse to violence and hateful generalisations (EG, n. 253) on both sides, living in dialogue with believers who reject violence is indispensable and necessary. The witness of the Blessed Martyrs of Algeria[ A group of nineteen Missionaries slain in Algeria between 1994 and 1996 during the Algerian Civil War. They were religious men and women belonging to religious missionary congregations, including Bishop Pierre Claverie, OP; four Missionaries of Africa; and seven Trappist Cistercian monks.] and of so many Christians together with other believers who live the dialogue of journeying together, enriching each other, deepening their faith by living the values of goodness, charity and peace, is an encouragement to us all.
In the current African context, it is extremely urgent to train pastoral workers “to be true ‘people of dialogue’, to co-operate in building peace, not as intermediaries but as authentic mediators” (Fratelli Tutti, n. 284).
(Contribution from Fr. Andreas Göpfert, M.Afr.)[ Fr. Andreas Göpfert, M.Afr., is a Missionary of Africa. He is the International Coordinator of Encounter-Dialogue and JPIC for his Congregation. He has been a missionary for 20 years in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali. His field covers mainly Peace education and Conflict management and transformation.]
Experience from North America
Supporting the Dialogue
Institutionally speaking, the Society of Jesus’ commitment to and activities in interreligious dialogue can be dated to the fifth decree of its Thirty-Fourth General Congregation in 1995, “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue.” Two quotations may indicate the decree’s flavor:
Some Jesuits . . . are actively engaged. Their own faith has been deepened and shared with others, and their respect for the spirituality of other religions has grown. But given the task ahead, their number is inadequate. (#10)
The contemplation of God laboring in all things helps us to discover the divine spirit in religions and cultures. . .. The Jesuit heritage of creative response to the call of the Spirit in concrete situations of life is an incentive to develop a culture of dialogue in our approach to believers of other religions. This culture of dialogue should become a distinctive characteristic of our Society . . .. (#17)
The Canadian/U.S.A. Provincials therefore asked Fr. Francis X. Clooney, S.J., to organize an Assistancy Committee on Interreligious Dialogue, which he did in 1999. It met yearly for the next fifteen years, with at least one member, Jesuit or lay, from each of the eleven Provinces. Fr. Clooney was succeeded as Coordinator by Dr. John Borelli in 2004, who resigned recently after fifteen years. The meetings fostered strong mutual support, a networking for planned events, and many great ideas.
To speak of present highpoints, institutional and personal, of Jesuit work for dialogue in North America:
Georgetown University: Its now 20-year President John DiGioia made Interreligious Dialogue from the beginning one of his four pillars of Catholic identity at Georgetown. He hired Dr. John Borelli in 2004 as Special Assistant to the President for Catholic Identity and Dialogue (organizing many PCID and other events). And during this time the Theology Department established its first graduate program — the Ph.D. in Religious Pluralism, with reputed Professors such as Fr. Peter Phan, Fr. Daniel Madigan, S.J. (Islam), and Fr. Leo Lefebure (Buddhism).
Boston College: In the Theology Department, Fr. Francis Clooney, S.J. (Ph. D. Hinduism) set up the field of Comparative Theology and established it, with Dr. Catherine Cornille and others, as a very lively Theology Ph.D. option at Boston College. Two of Clooney’s many books are Hindu God, Christian God and His Hiding Place Is Darkness. He is now at Harvard University.
Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University (in Berkeley): Fr. Anh Q. Tran, S.J., and Dr. Thomas Cattoi are outstanding young theologians and experts in dialogue with Buddhism. Dr. Cattoi holds the Dwan Family Chair in Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue.
Toronto: Fr. J.P. Horrigan, S.J., a veteran of the Darjeeling India Mission, has a very active ministry of interfaith and interreligious dialogue, and is the liaison with the Toronto Tamil community.
Philadelphia: In the 1960’s Fr. Donald Clifford, S.J., and his dear Jewish friends started what has developed impressively into the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University. It is very active and highly professional, as well as good-hearted, under the directorship of Theology Professor Philip A. Cunningham.
The Future: A significant number of young Jesuits are interested in Islam. I am not sure about Jesuits studying Hinduism or Buddhism, but there are certainly many lay professors, male and female, from the Jesuit university graduate programs and elsewhere. To help assure this, some funds from the Provincials continue to support the yearly “Engaging Particularities” Conference, run by grad students of the Comparative Theology Program at Boston College (and open to other grad students), and to sponsor a breakfast at the yearly Catholic Theological Society of America meeting for interreligious dialogue, scholars, etc.
Witness: To respond to our theme of ‘witness’, let me report on my most important Hindu-Christian dialogue of this (and every) year. For the past twenty-two years I, as a Christian but also as an expert on Hinduism, have participated, with twenty or so others (half of us are Christian, half Hindu), in a Vaishnava (Hindu)-Christian Dialogue, started by John Borelli and Anuttama Das (Secretary for Communications of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). This year our theme was “Love of God in Union and Separation in Christianity and Hinduism,” and I presented the Christian side, while my friend Rukmini Walker represented the Vaishnava side. I asked everyone to read, in preparation, passages from St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta, while Rukmini sent us passages from the Shri Chaitanya Charitamrita, the Brahma Samhita, and the Ujjvala Nilamani. The two of us then, in turn, carefully presented instances and themes of love of God in union and in separation. The passages were well received, which then led to an open discussion of these topics and examples for 3-4 hours. Since most of us have known each other now for 15-20 years, we go very deep with our questions and comments. We end with a Christian service and a Hindu service, both with enthusiastic singing.
And lastly, I like to quote a thought of Fr. Noel Sheth, S.J., one of the leaders in the Hindu-Christian dialogue in India, relevant to dialogue and witness in North America (and India). He said to me in an email, two years before his untimely death in 2017: “Jim, please make sure you keep the Hindu-Christian dialogue going well in America, since it is more and more difficult these days to do so in India.”
(Contribution from Fr. James D. Redington, SJ)[ James D. Redington, S.J., is Adjunct Professor of Interreligious Dialogue and Hinduism at the University of Scranton, U.S.A. He studied for 3-4 years under a guru in India as part of his Ph.D. program in Hinduism; and spent six years in Zimbabwe, Africa, to be on the founding faculty of Arrupe University in Harare, at which one of his courses was on ‘The Philosophy and Theology of Interreligious Dialogue’.
Experience from South America
From Dialogue to Interreligious Social Action
We find in the South American context a significant multiplicity and diversity of religious expressions. In addition to Catholicism and Protestantism, practically present since the arrival of the European colonizers, there are various other religious expressions originating from Indigenous, African and traditions from other continents that are deeply rooted in our cultures. All this amalgam of interaction constitutes a considerable wealth at the beginning of the 21st century.
Social, cultural, economic and political conflict permeates the life of our South American societies. The various religious confessions are not only affected by, but also play an important role in the configuration of societies in their most diverse expressions. Not always do the construction of citizenship processes that value human dignity and respect for cultural and religious diversity, characterize our societies. Sometimes the conflict between religious denominations, mixed with antagonistic political perspectives, influences, fosters dissent and hinders harmonious and constructive relationships in society.
Another phenomenon in the region is the Neo-Pentecostal groups. They appear almost from nowhere, grow rapidly, and normally rely on a fairly traditional theology, occupying significant areas in the social media. They tend to respond to immediate expectations (healing, financial success, and others). They are usually locked in their world with little availability for interreligious dialogue. Countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia have high concentrations of Indigenous people who are evangelicals.
There are innumerable popular religious manifestations that exceed the borders of instituted religiosity. For example, in Brazil the celebration of Our Lady of the Navigators (February 2) is also celebrated by Afro-Brazilian cults as the Feast of Iemanjá. It is interesting to observe in the same procession devotees of Iemanjá and Nuestra Señora de los Navegantes in Porto Alegre participating in the same event. Another example is the Catholics and followers of Candomble washing the steps of the Church of Our Lord of Bonfim, in Salvador (Bahia). How should one evaluate and dialogue with those religious manifestations deeply rooted in popular culture?
In this context, a first and important aspect is to recognize religious diversity and its impact on personal and social life. In a region with a strong predominance of Christian denominations, including Catholicism and Neo-Pentecostalism, it is not always easy to accept religious expressions from Indigenous, African or other cultures. There is still a long way to go to overcome historical preconceptions which may be manifested by intolerance, even reaching forms of violence.
Interreligious dialogue is a challenge to all religious groups. Breaking down barriers and expanding horizons is essential in order to contribute to the construction of a more just, fraternal and supportive society. The problems such as poverty, social inequality and those related to Mother Earth can only be approached, or at least addressed, with the participation and commitment of everyone, including the various religious groups. The important educational processes carried out by various religious confessions and Missionary Religious Institutes, such as the De La Salle Brothers, promote respectful openness, sincere dialogue and recognition of fundamental rights, among which the religious freedom to practice and witness to one’s own religion is foremost.
After having pondered on the subject of religious diversity and interreligious dialogue, I would like to conclude with two concrete examples.
Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue in Chile
Regarding interreligious dialogue in Chile, an interesting evolution can be noted. Since the 19th century it has been customary to celebrate a mass with Te Deum every September 18, the national holiday for Independence. In the Cathedral of Santiago, the President of the Republic attended the Mass with parliamentary and judicial authorities as well as the diplomatic corps. In 1970, the newly elected President Salvador Allende asked the Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, to celebrate Independence Day without mass, retaining the Te Deum but with an ecumenical character. Since then, that tradition has been maintained, with a homily by the Archbishop, a large choir and orchestra. Another change in this act of prayer occurred when the Archbishop began to invite the Chief Rabbi. Shortly afterwards, a Muslim was also invited to pray for Chile. The ceremony went from ecumenical to interreligious.
On 18th of October 2019, a social crisis erupted throughout the country with the simultaneous burning of ten metropolitan railway stations, and the destruction of traffic lights in urban centers, looting of commercial businesses, and the setting fire to temples, churches, rural schools, etc. A Christian and Patriotic campaign emerged to face the social crisis in a peaceful way. Recalling the participation of Jews and Muslims at the Te Deum in the diocesan cathedral, the campaign was called The Interreligious and Patriotic Campaign. Serious social situations have led from interreligious prayer to interreligious social action in Chile.
National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil
The National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC) was founded in 1982 in Porto Alegre. It was the result of a long process of consultation of the Christian Churches of Brazil. Its mission is to strengthen the ecumenical witness of the Churches that compose it, foster interreligious dialogue and promote dialogue with civil society organizations and the government for public advocacy in favor of policies that promote justice and peace. One of the main actions carried out by CONIC is the Ecumenical Fraternity Campaigns which are carried out throughout the country during the Lenten Season. The theme for this year 2021 is “Fraternity and Dialogue: commitment of love” and the motto is “Christ is our peace: from what was divided he made a unity” (cfr. Eph 2:14). Through actions like this, the Council of Christian Churches of Brazil has kept ecumenical and interreligious dialogue alive, taking an active part in the life of the country on fundamental issues for society.
(Contribution from Bro. Edgar Nicodem, FSC)[ Bro. Edgar Nicodem, FSC, is a La Salle Brother. He holds a Master Degree in Theology, has been the Director of Novices, and was till two years ago the Provincial of the La Salle Brazil-Chile Province. He is very interested in JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) and IRD (Interreligious Dialogue) activities.]
Experience from Europe
A Process of Self-Emptying
Part of Global Mission
The Medical Mission Sisters see interreligious relationship as an inherent part of their identity, personally and communally. Dr. Anna Dengel, the Foundress, spoke about a ‘grateful mutuality’ among Christians, Hindus and Muslims. “The more gratefully we honour … in them Christ, and honour in them the work of the Holy Spirit, the more are we able to discover their inner resources”.
From the very beginning their Healing Mission included communication, collaboration and celebration of life and faith with people from all religions and traditions. The goal was and is the transformation of individuals, communities and unjust structures.
Part of Healing Mission (Berlin)
The mentally sick refugees, among whom are Muslims, Hindus and others in hospital, suffer deep traumas when their families are torn apart and their children lost. Where there are no words to communicate with, understanding happens with signs of ‘hands and feet’. One symbol speaks to all religions: lighting a candle in front of Mary, the mother of the Prophet Jesus, who also lost a child.
Turning to the resource of faith eases suffering. Muslims feel ‘at home’ when calling upon “Allah” together. Making room for prayer, letting go and handing over the suffering, enkindles hope, relieves pain and strengthens faith.
Creating Space for Interreligious Dialogue (Frankfurt)
Creating space for interreligious dialogue challenges us to live with the paradoxes and the grey zones of the liminal spaces that open us to transformation and growth. Therefore, interreligious dialogue has the fragility and power of a “sign” of the Kingdom of God in today’s divided, fragmented, and conflictual world.
In the Centre for Christian Meditation people from all religions and world views are welcome. The centre is a diocesan church that has been set aside for this kind of pastoral work. The art of meditation and spirituality is the centre’s main focus.
A pastoral team, including some of our Medical Mission Sisters, work there to encourage the dialogue between Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It organizes among others Zen-meditations, interreligious days of ‘Silence’, exercising Qi Gong, Yoga and Yoga Nidra, meditative archery and traditional meditative dancing.
Here, the journey of faith becomes a process of self-emptying, letting go of what is hindering the dialogue and integrating novel aspects from others in order to give birth to an interreligious culture of dialogue.
Taking Initiatives (Duisburg)
Catholic, Protestant and Muslim women started a Forum for Intercultural Information and Education in Duisburg, called “Women of All Nations Invite You”, to promote honest, direct dialogue for mutual understanding and tolerance across religious and cultural barriers.
Celebrating the Breaking of the Muslim Fast (Ramadan) in a Catholic Parish Hall, followed by sharing information about Christian and Muslim fasting was an initial ‘sacred moment’. The women felt mutually enriched and a deep desire to journey together and to live a common cause as they discovered so many similarities.
Interreligious online-prayers were initiated prior to the Solemnity of the Ascension of Christ on the “Night of Destiny”, when Muslims commemorate the revelation of parts of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammad. Due to the pandemic, the interreligious prayer gathering in the Mosque was not allowed. Thus, the interreligious prayer online brought courage, hope and confidence to the women in distress. The prayers continue.
Getting to know each other: The dialogue of life happens in informal meetings where daily life is shared, people get to know each other and also learn about their prayers and celebrations. The discovery of commonalities and to realise that one’s prejudices are not correct is important.
Living Solidarity: Similar values and concerns can lead to joint activities. Personal and communal commitments help to live worldwide solidarity. During the “World Day of the Poor”, which took place during the Muslim Fast, the women undertook to cook for homeless and disadvantaged people at a Christian-based centre once a week.
Praying together: In the past, Christians, Jews and Muslims said their prayers one after the other. During the pandemic, the Muslim women asked for an interfaith prayer as “our common interreligious” prayer. Here prayers and texts – prepared carefully by one person from each tradition – were recited by all the women.
Disturbances: Political conflicts in the countries of origin do not stop at the national borders and can hinder co-operation in interreligious dialogue or peace prayers where there are tensions. Sensitivity is required as well as compassion, patience and forgiveness born of a long loving look at all partners.
(Contribution from Sr. Agnes Lanfermann, MMS)[ Sr. Agnes Lanfermann, MMS, is the former Superior General of the Medical Mission Sisters. At present, she is consultant for consecrated life in the Diocese of Limburg, Germany.]
Experience from Oceania
Dialogue among Christian Churches
Oceania, the so-called ‘liquid continent’, includes Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and seventeen other small countries. The people in Australia and New Zealand are mostly migrants from other countries but the first citizens are Aboriginals in Australia and Maoris in New Zealand. Most of the people of the other countries in the Pacific are indigenous people.
The Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) was founded in 1966 and it includes most of the countries of Oceania. The Catholic Episcopal Conference of Pacific (CECP) and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (CBC-PNGSI) are also full members of the Pacific Conference of Churches. Australia and New Zealand have an ecumenical desk and inter-religious dialogue commissions in their own respective Conferences of Catholic Bishops.
The Pacific Conference of Churches has 27-member churches in 17 island states and its offices are in Suva, Fiji. The basic principles of the Pacific Conference of Churches aim at the ecumenical unity not only of the churches, but also of the people of the Pacific; promotion of justice, peace and the integrity of creation; the respect of equality between men and women and equal sharing of resources. The Assembly of the Pacific Conference of Churches’ members takes place every five years. The writer was privileged to attend two of those Assemblies.
The Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC), which was founded in 1965, has the seven mainline churches as its members. Its mission is: “as members of the one family of God and by witnessing together we are proclaiming the unity to which God calls us”. Ecumenical unity was not very easy in the early years. After Independence in 1975, many Pentecostal churches and local churches started springing up like mushrooms. “Sheep-stealing” has become very common in Papua New Guinea, which is 96% Christian.
In 2004, the Australian Government established the Australian Aid Partnership with Churches in Papua New Guinea called Church Partnership Program (CPP) recognizing the role the churches play in the development of the local communities especially in sustainable livelihoods, employment training, education and health. The Australian Government gives funding for the development program through the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches. This has proven to be helping the communities directly. Indirectly, it has helped the churches in Papua New Guinea to work together; ecumenical unity is becoming real and alive through this Church Partnership Program.
The Melanesian Institute for research in Melanesian culture was established by the some of the leaders of the Missionary Religious Institutes, such as SVD, MSC, and SM, in Goroka in 1970. In the same year the Wantok Newspaper in Pidgin language was published in Papua New Guinea by Fr. Frank Mihalic, SVD, which later became an ecumenical project of four churches: Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and United Church. The Melanesian countries are: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, West Papua and New Caledonia. Most of the people in Melanesia were animists until Christianity came 150-200 years ago. In primeval cultures it is difficult to separate religion from culture. “The Melanesians believed in what we would class as miracles, in things they saw in dreams, in visions seen while awake, in magic, in witchcraft, in good and bad spirits…. Belief in some kind of high or supreme spirit or god, could be present in the culture, but was not central to it”.[ Fr. Franco Zocca, SVD, Melanesia and its Churches, 2007, p. 35.] The Melanesian Institute’s main purpose is to engage in fostering the Gospel values found within the context of this Melanesian cultural world-view and within the tradition and teaching of the member churches.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has a Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue and it holds meetings with the leaders from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism although they are very small in number in PNG. In the past 20 years there has been an increase in the number of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists in PNG. Radical Muslims are a threat in PNG too. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of PNGSI has a Commission for Inter-religious Dialogue and it has three meetings a year with the leaders of the Catholic, Lutheran, United, Anglican Churches, and of the Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist and Judaic traditions.
(Contribution from Fr. Victor Roche, SVD)[ Fr. Victor Roche, SVD, has been working in Papua New Guinea for the past 40 years and as the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands (PNGSI) for eight years (2010-2018). In this contribution, he writes of his experience in Inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue in PNGSI and Melanesia, which includes most of the countries in Oceania.]
Summarizing all the efforts for dialogue made by the Religious Missionary Institutes is an impossible task, but the above contributions give us a glimpse of the current trends in dialogue: in Asia there is the effort to keep the fire burning; in Europe and North America there is the challenge to enter into dialogue with modern spiritualities that are mostly based on Eastern religious traditions; in South America the surge of Pentecostal movements makes a long-lasting engagement difficult; in Africa the dialogue with Traditional African Religion, and in Oceania with the Aboriginal tradition, has started. The different contributions show that Missionary Religious Institutes are doing their best to dialogue with other religions according to the Recommendations in the document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue that we are celebrating here with this publication: Ten Years Since “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct”, Looking Back, Looking Ahead.
(Ref.: Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K. (ed.), Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, pp. 141-157).
(Fr. Dr. Peter Baekelmans, CICM, former Director of SEDOS, has recently published a book on the concept of god within Buddhism. It is based on his long experience in the dialogue with and the study of Buddhism. The Hidden “God”, Towards a Christian Theology of Buddhism, Angelico Press, 2022 (See, Amazon.com).
Oliver Aquilina, SDC
Summary of the SEDOS Residential Seminar 2022
Monday, 9 May 2022
At the Opening Session, the participants who were present in person gathered outside the hall, in front of the Lake of Albano, to exchange greetings, pray and reflect on our call as fishers of men. A little boat was made to symbolize our journey as missionaries, from the time of formation to becoming a formator ourselves, and serving in different liturgical situations.
Sharing during the opening ceremony
Afterwards, all those present (about 40) and those on-line (about 120) were addressed by SEDOS President Fr. Tesfaye T. Gebresilasie, MCCJ, and welcomed and oriented by SEDOS Executive Director, Peter Baekelmans, CICM. The tone was set and the participants were ushered, without delay, to the theme of the Seminar, “Formation for Mission”. Then, the week unfolded as the Speakers gave their insightful lectures full of experience and wisdom, with the prayers, group discussions, and the Eucharistic celebrations. Everything was shared in an informal manner and that made this a truly inspirational Seminar, one which sent us forth to our communities – but more especially, to our Formation Houses – encouraged and full of zeal.
The opening lecture was given by Prof. Rev. Luca Pandolfi, entitled, “Intercultural Competence in Missionary Formation”. He immediately highlighted the fact that we sometimes tend to mix inter-culturality with multi-culturalism. In the latter case, one can take people from different backgrounds living together in the same community (multi-culturality/ interculturality) to refer to the relationship of the members of these communities (inter-culturality), the process of interaction and integration, and how their diversity can enrich the other. The best form of formation in this respect is that based on cooperation and experience, in which thoughts and culture are shared, actions/projects chosen, lived and realized together.
Tuesday, 10 May 2022
This day started with Sr. Nicole Houinato, OLA, Sr. Nirmala Arul, IBVM, Fr. Juan Gabriel Corona Estévez, MSC, and Mr. Oliver Aquilina, SDC, sharing on the theme, “What helped me in becoming a missionary, and what sustained my vocation”. The four participants took us all back to their experiences in the past, the experience that made an impact on their missionary call. One way or another, they referred to their relationship with God, their personal prayer life, a particular verse in Holy Scripture that seemed written for them, how they grew up in their families, their contact with other missionaries from a young age. The main sources of sustenance for the four Speakers were their daily loyalty to the Call, the importance of prayer without ceasing as they became “fishers of men/women”, and the blessing of healthy communities that accompanied them faithfully.
In the following lecture, Fr Antonio Pernia, SVD, talked to us about “The Importance of fostering the Missionary Spirit”. First, Fr Antonio explored the nuances contained in the expression “missionary spirit”, namely, the person of the missionary, missionary spirituality, and “missio Spiritus”, or the mission of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of mission. In the second part, Fr Antonio indicated some of the fundamental characteristics of the missionary spirit, taking into consideration the implications of today’s mission paradigm, i.e. the understanding of mission as “missio Dei”, or God’s mission. Here he elaborated upon contemplation, dialogue, humility, cooperation and joy as the attitudes required of the missionary.
Later in the afternoon, we focused on the Gospels, and Prof. Em. Sr. Maria Ha Fong Ko, FMA, shared an edifying reflection as she tackled the question: “How did Jesus form his disciples to become missionaries?” The missionary spirit can be seen in Jesus who regularly invites people to – come, stay, go, — while making use of metaphors to describe the workers as he saw them during his time and beyond farmer, fisherman, shepherd. Jesus instructed his disciples, a community of twelve men with different characters, whom he entrusted with the great mission. He does the same thing with us today, and he knows that if we are faithful to him, living in unity, this diversity contributes to communities that are more beautiful, enriched, dynamic, that probably reap more fruit through their mission.
Wednesday, 11 May 2022
After Morning Prayer, the first reflection of the day was on, “Growth in Educational Mission Through the Lens of the Formation for Mission Framework”, which Bro. Rey Mejias, FSC, gave. Based on his personal experience, he sees formation as a process that unfolds in the course of one’s response to the on-going action of God in one’s life. Here, formation helps one to take responsibility for such a process, and it encompasses five domains/steps:
1) seeing with the eyes of faith,
2) initiation in prayer,
3) formation in freedom,
4) formation in association, friendship and
5) care for the world.
He suggested that one should regard one’s life as a process of on-going formation with God as the principal “Formator”. God addresses the trainees through the needs and challenges of daily life, inviting them to grow as they cooperate with his Saving Plan.
In the second lecture, “Interculture as a sine qua non in Formation”, Prof. Severino Elias Ngoenha, said that “interculturalism” is
neither assimilation, nor acculturation/
multiculturalism, and that it goes beyond co-existing with some indifference. Using the metaphors of two knitting needles and that of an orchestra, Prof. Ngoenha compared the
work of the formator for mission today to a knitted fabric that results in a beautiful sweater, or the variety of instruments in an orchestra that create a wonderful symphony.
In the following lecture later, Prof. Sr. Enrica Ottone, FMA, spoke about “Inter-culturality in Multicultural Formation Communities”. Inter-culturality was thus treated further. As Prof. Ottone outlined her research on the topic and its results, she once more stressed the difference between multi-culturalism and inter-culturality, and acknowledged the challenges that formators face. She made some suggestions, such as: attentive listening, developing an integral vision of intercultural competences, organizing workshops to promote the ability to manage emotions, stereotypes and prejudices, promoting critical knowledge and skills to comprehend one’s own culture and that of others, as well as spending time in formal, non-formal and informal activities to encourage exchanges and interaction.
In the last lecture of the day, Mary L. Gautier talked to us about, “Lessons taken from International Sisters in the United States”. This was based on a study held in 2015 and 2016 among 4,000 international sisters in the US, to learn about the challenges and rewards of their experience. The study underlined the challenges the international Sisters face, such as food, weather and unfamiliar customs. But the international Sisters’ story is not one only of difficulties encountered and challenges overcome. They enrich the Church in the U.S. as they bring an international awareness to Sisters, who have been for too long inward-looking and culturally closed off, through diversity in prayer and worship styles, and the gift of intercultural understanding.
Thursday, 12 May 2022
After Morning Prayer, the day continued with a sharing from a panel made up of Fr. Leo Laurence Maria Joseph, MSC, Jean-Jacques Mukanga, SMA, Sr. Jesmin Fernando, SFB, Brigitte Muanda, ICM, on the theme, “What did you learn while being a formator?” Among other things, the members of the panel mentioned the vitality of self-knowledge and of coming to know God, the importance of a sound prayer life, silence and reflection, the good that there is in every person, the benefits of a healthy community, and how the Holy Spirit can be more creative than we think as he works in our trainees.
In the following lecture on “Formation and Accompaniment of Formators,” Fr. Dr. Len Kofler, MHM, stressed the importance of faith and self-awareness as we learn to live in process, to take Pope Francis’ statement about “smelling the sheep” seriously, and that in formation it is not only the intellect that is being formed, but also the heart. Fr Len also mentioned the contrast between the values of our society and those of the Gospel, the aspect of forgiveness, and the great benefits of emotional intelligence (EQ), spiritual intelligence (SQ) and caring accompaniment in formation.
The last lecture was given by Sr. Emma Paloma, ICM, on “Ongoing formation for formators who are already long on the job”, in which she focused on three levels of movement. In the first, the formator is growing towards one’s Real Self, blossoming to one’s potential, learning to humbly accept one’s limitations, and gratitude for being God’s Beloved. The second movement involves growing in the Communal, Social and Ecclesial realities of the World, whereby the formator is required to trust, believe and support the young religious’ hopes and dreams. In the third movement, the formator comes to a new understanding and experience of self, a new understanding of Creation, a new understanding and way of responding to God, a new understanding and experiencing of the Eucharist, and a deeper awareness of the unity and interconnectedness of all.
During the festive evening there was a local choir who sang Gospel Songs in the chapel.
Friday, 13 May 2022
This day started with prayers as well, and afterwards, every group (five from the participants in person and five from the participants on-line) shared a short but creative presentation which highlighted what we had learned and reflected upon during the week, both during the lectures and even during our group-work.
In the morning lecture the medical doctor and General Secretary of the Comboni Missionaries, Brother Daniele Giusti, MCCJ, talked about “What did we learn as missionaries from the Covid-19 crisis?”. He shared several touching personal experiences he had had during the crisis, and the lessons he had learned, such as, the sacrifices the missionary has to make, together with humiliation, failure and helplessness. He referred to his relationship with his confreres, and the level of “hygiene of the heart”; whether his heart and gaze are pure, or tainted by prejudice. In his conclusion, Brother Daniele said that in a time of uncertainty made up of pandemics, war, food and power shortages, we need to go back to the essential. Every day he was challenged and tempted to give up, but at the same time he was sustained day after day by the presence of the Lord, our Redeemer, who is at work, tirelessly, to make everything new.
The SEDOS President and Vice-President
thanking Fr. Peter Baekelmans, CICM,
for his excellent work as Director of SEDOS.
The closing address was given by Fr. Tesfaye T. Gebresilasie, MCCJ, SEDOS President. He introduced the new Director of
SEDOS, Fr. John Paul Herman, SVD, thanked the out-going Director Fr. Peter Baekelmans, CICM, and announced other changes in the Membership of the Executive Committee. He will end his term as President of SEDOS and he will be followed by Sr. Mary Baron, OLA. Words of thanks were expressed to all, a final Eucharistic celebration followed, and an encouraging sending ceremony at the end. Those who participated in person were delighted and enlightened by the Seminar and went home happily. The participants on-line also expressed their content.