Why Interreligious Dialogue?

Commission for Interreligious Dialogue

In 2017, the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa (CAM) introduced a new commission for interreligious dialogue. This may give the impression that CAM was never active in matters of Interreligious dialogue before the creation of this commission. Well, do not be misled; CAM has been an active member of Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CICC) which brings on board members of various religions to work together and CAM still remains an active member of CICC.

CICC training

Why IRD in CAM?

The context and reality of evangelization in Coast region in terms of the composition of culture, faith and race are all pluralistic. It is this multi-cultural and multi-religious context that necessitates the need for the Church ministering in such a context to find the appropriate and best approaches to accomplish her mission. In her evangelization mission, the Church has to be relevant to the needs of the people. This is exactly why the first paragraph of Nostra Aetate gives the importance of interreligious dialogue by asserting that “in our day, when people are drawing more closely together and the bonds of friendship between different peoples are being strengthened, the church examines more carefully its relations with non-Christian religions,” Nostra Aetate, 1965.

According to Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), Dialogue is a two-way communication. It implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving, for mutual growth and enrichment. It includes witness to one’s own faith as well as an openness to that of the other.”Therefore dialogue becomes one way of fulfilling the Church’s mission first and foremost within the Church, intra-dialogue whereby members of the same faith/creed speak and listen to each other before going out to do the same with the people of different religions which becomes inter-religious dialogue.

The importance of dialogue in the mission of the Church is clearly seen in the various documents that the Church has given over the years. For instance, in 1984 PCID released a document entitled “Dialogue and Mission” which stated that as the core mandate of the Church is evangelization; and that evangelization itself is a complex process comprising of various processes one of which is inter-religious dialogue. Consequently, interreligious dialogue according to PCID, “is not a betrayal of mission of the Church, nor is it a new method of conversion to Christianity” as some of us may think. In our contemporary life, today people move from various parts of the world to settle in other parts of the world and they come along with their religion expecting as well that their freedom of worship will be upheld. The concept of the world becoming a global village is more real than ever; religions encounter each other That is why I totally agree with Gulen when he says that “interfaith dialogue is a must today, and the first step in establishing it is forgetting the past, ignoring polemical arguments, and giving precedence to common points, which far outnumber polemical ones” (Fethullah Gulen).

CAM initiating IRD Commission is very much within her mandate as a Church ministering in a heterogeneous religious society. Embracing IRD as a way of mission in the Catholic Church came very much clear with the Vatican II Council which was convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962. Starting with Vatican II Council document itself, the Church has produced a number of documents to support the work of IRD for instance, Nostra AetateDeclaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions-1965,Evangelii Nuntiandi-1975, Dialogue and Mission-1984, Redemptoris Missio-1990, Dialogue and Proclamation-1991 etc.

Second Vatican Council

What is IRD?

Interreligious dialogue, also referred to as interfaith dialogue, is about people of different faiths coming to a mutual understanding and respect that allows them to live and cooperate with each other in spite of their differences. The term refers to positive and constructive relations between people of different religious traditions, (i.e. “faiths”) at both the individual and institutional level. Each party remains true to their own beliefs while respecting the right of the other to practise their faith freely (Confer: Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue & World Council of Churches). Therefore, IRD should not just remain at the level of words and talks; but rather go beyond words and talks to an action oriented efforts that can be productive and of mutual benefits to all the members.

There are those who do not believe in the efforts being made by the Church in dialoguing with other religions and see the whole concept of IRD as a waste of time; they believe that the mission of the Church should remain in making more disciples.  However, such people only miss the fact that IRD does not aim at converting people neither at synchronising religions.   Hence in Ad Gentes it is explicitly states that “The Church strictly forbids forcing anyone to embrace the Faith, or alluring or enticing people by worrisome wiles. By the same token, she also strongly insists on this right, that no one be frightened away from the Faith by unjust vexations on the part of others” (Ad Gentes, no13). The Church further advocates for religious liberty which is supported by a declaration of religious freedom by the Church in 1965 through Dignitatis Humanae.   

What is the basis of IRD?

Swami says that “the moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him – that moment I am free from bondage, everything that binds vanishes, and I am free,” Swami Vivekananda. This is no doubt the most precise and concise way of looking at the ‘other person’ not belonging to my religion. This concept further sets a standard by which people of different religions can relate. For Christians, this speaks more directly to them when it’s brought in the light of Genesis 1: 27; ‘accepting that each and every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God irrespective of one’s religion.’

The second point that forms the foundation of IRD is the acceptance and acknowledgement that ‘there is something good in each religion’ which we must be open to see. Seeing something good in every religion is only possible when we encounter individuals from those religions, relate with them and let them share their deepest experiences with us. In the words of Cilliers “the fact that religions, which usually have at their core a promotion of tolerance and peace, have been exploited to carry out violence clearly indicates that individuals and groups have not discovered the true “peace message” that is inherent in almost every religion. (By Cilliers, Chap. 3, p.55― David R. Smock, Interfaith Dialogue and Peacebuilding)

Conclusion

Our reality today in living with people who belong to other religions cannot be ignored. We have families, couples, colleagues, friends and neighbours who may belong to other religions, and the question is, how do we relate with them? Do we exclude people of different religion from our social and religious life? Are our matters of religious practice a no go zone whenever we meet people who belong to a different religion? Supressing or ignoring religious diversity can only create more tension, suspicion and fear among members of various religions. On the other hand when religions dialogue, there will be more understanding, building of trust among the members and prevention of possible conflict of religious identity.   

Finally, Fr. Hans Kung says that, “there will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions and no peace among the religions without dialogue” (Fr. Hans Kung). For a long lasting peace that our society needs, religions must be able to dialogue and create trust among themselves in order to live harmoniously with each other.    

Samuel Minyaho Odida

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