Interreligious Dialogue tour visit with Italian Volunteers

A group of 9 volunteers from Caritas Ambrosiana joined IRD Commission for a visit of different places of worship

Yesterday 7/8/19 IRD Commission accompanied a group of young Italian volunteers from Caritas Ambrosina for a tour concerning interreligious dialogue.

The 9 volunteers guided by Giorgia and Greta, Civil Service Volunteers working in the Archdiocese, and IRD Commission staff, Annica and Chiara, visited three different places of worship in Mombasa: a Hindu Temple, the Catholic Cathedral and a Mosque.
First stop of the visit was the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir; there Mr. Kishore, a leader of the Hindu community and our guide inside the temple, was waiting for us.

The group inside the Temple

Before entering the sacred area it was requested to all of us to remove our shoes; once in the temple, initially the volunteers had the time to look around, admiring the beauty and sacredness of the place, wisely decorated in detail.
Mr. Kishore explained to the group the history of Hindu community in Mombasa, the origin of the temple and the basics of Hindu creed: religious practices, traditions, parties, gods, miracles…
The volunteers were very intrigued and the questions were not lacking.

We understood that month of August is a one of particular devotion for the Hindu community, so we had the fortune to meet many faithful who went to the temple to pray and visit the gods. Observing the gestures and actions they performed to pray, for some aspects very different from ours, for others very similar has been a precious opportunity.

In particular, a young Hindu girl spent time with us, explaining to the volunteers that she came to the temple to pray and that she belongs to a group of young Hindus who meet, usually on Friday, to study their religion. The volunteers were able to ask her questions and it was really nice to see a young woman who was so prepared on her own religion and not afraid to witness her faith in front of other youth.
After a long session of questions the whole group tried one of the ways to pray in the Hindu tradition, walking around the statues of the gods and could also see one of the sacred books for the Hindus.

Thanking our guests for their availability we headed to the Catholic Cathedral, called Holy Ghost Cathedral. Being a group from Caritas and therefore from a Catholic association, visit the Cathedral was a must. Here the volunteers were able to admire the structure of the newly restored Cathedral as well as the cave dedicated to Mary and the gardens.
The stop at the Cathedral has been the perfect time for IRD Commission staff to explain how Christianity came and slowly spread in Kenya.

Volunteers were given a general idea of ​​the work of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and the context in which the Catholic Archdiocese works.
IRD Staff started emphasizing on how social, cultural and therefore religious composition of Mombasa is profoundly varied.
The reasons are both historical and geographical: in fact, Mombasa, a strategic point for travel and commerce for centuries, has always been a destination for travelers, first Arabs, Chinese and Indians then with Colonialism Portuguese and English above all. These communities have brought with them their culture which, mixed with the others, giving as a result the multiform society that today we can find in Mombasa.

This society is the one in which Catholics live every day and for which the Archdiocese works. Hence the need to form within the Archdiocese a commission for Interreligious Dialogue, above all to train the Catholic faithful on other religions creeds, eliminating fear and prejudices. Another need is to gather together leaders from different religions in an attempt to collaborate to face problems and social challenges.

IRD Commission’s mandate is to “promote positive relations between people of different religions and creeds on the coast of Kenya”.
It was then explained to the volunteers, who in the meantime didn’t failed in asking questions and clarifications, the work of the Commission in practice: training on the concept of dialogue, interreligious dialogue, on Catholic perspective of interreligious dialogue; workshops with leaders of other religions, visits to places of worship and ecumenical forums to bring together Chrisitan leaders.

At the end of the session some reflections emerged including the question: how is it possible to eliminate prejudices between different religions or how prevent them? Common reflection was that first, is necessary to start talking about cultural and religious difference as early as possible, starting from the children, in schools, so that diversity is not something that is scary or forbidden but a normal reality. The volunteers shared that this need is also there in Italy, where often society tends to built walls instead of building bridges of knowledge and dialogue.

We ended our morning session in one of the most typical and famous places in Town, Tarboush, a local restaurant where volunteers tasted the most typical dishes of Swhaili cuisine: biriani, shawarma, naan, curry chicken, samosa …
Also here Arab and Indian influence is found.

For the last part of the visit the group moved from Town to ​​Kongowea Market area. In front of the market there is one of the most populated mosque, to which a madrasa (religious based school) also refers.
Here we have been welcomed by two Imams, including Sheikh Mahamoud, a friend and collaborator of the Commission.

They were our guides inside the mosque. As requested, all the women in the group, before entering the mosque, covered their heads and legs with veils and all of us removed our shoes.

The visit was divided into two parts. Before actually entering the mosque, the imams took us to the bathrooms where body’s purification rite was explained: the faithful wash their hands, arms, ears, nose, head, legs and feet, starting from the right and then the left side, making sure water touches and washes each part. After performing the purification rites and reciting a prayer, is possible to enter the mosque. One of the volunteers tried to repeat the actions made by the imam who amused him by helping in remember all the steps.

The group then entered the room dedicated to prayer; here we were told about how to prepare for prayer, what to do and the importance of the imam who guides the faithful in prayer. The volunteers tried to copy the imam with the help of some curious faithful who joined the group.

The group requested to see a Koran written in Arabic and after moving to the upper part of the mosque, the one for women, the Imams answered to volunteers’ questions and explained some rituals such as funeral and marriage.

Imams also had a question for the volunteers: they asked if it was the first time they had entered a mosque.

All the volunteers answered yes. As a response the Imams asked: why have you never visited a mosque in Italy but you waited to come to Kenya to visit one? Ask mosques close to you in Italy, visit them, you will see that also there you will find open doors!
This was a just provocation that made the group think a lot.

At the end of the visit, the oldest Imam of the mosque recited a prayer for us, asking Allah to bless and protect us.

After a beautiful day of dialogue between religions, mutual discovery and collaboration, IRD staff greeted the group thanking them all for their availability and attention shown in every sacred place.

Chiara Gallarini

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