Reports from Jesuits in:
ALGERIA, CAMBODIA, CROATIA, INDIA, SRI LANKA, TURKEY
At the 34th General Congregation, in the document "Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue" (OMID, 18), the Congregation delegates recommended that Fr. General set up a Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue within the ambit of the Roman Curia. On 29 June 1996, in a letter to the whole Society, the General announced the creation of this secretariat and stated that I would be serving as secretary. It was only in November, 1996, however, that I could be free of my former commitments and come to work at the new Secretariat.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., I am a member of the Indonesia province. My academic background is in Islamic studies and most of my lived experience in dialogue has been with Muslims. After teaching Islamics in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, I worked at the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Office for Islam between 1981 and 1994. Since then, I have been living in Bangkok and acting as interreligious and ecumenical secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences.
I mention this background at the start, because you may discover a "bias," at least in the first issues of this Newsletter. This is a new Secretariat and our first Newsletter, and we are still feeling our way. We wanted to get this first newsletter to you before too much time passed to let you know we exist and are in operation. I see this Newsletter primarily as a channel of sharing information among Jesuits and offering a forum for the sharing of views. The GC34 document stresses the importance for Jesuits to "communicate the fruits of this dialogue to those of the Society engaged in dialogue, in order to help them understand and appreciate its urgency" (OMID, 11).
If the Newsletter is to grow into an effective instrument of communication among Jesuits on matters related to the interreligious dimension of our Jesuit mission and transcend the limitations of our personal backgrounds and experience, much of the burden lies on you - on Jesuits around the world. We need your feedback - your comments and reactions on what articles and features you found worthwhile and thought-provoking, and your suggestions on the kinds of topics you would like to see treated in forthcoming issues of the Newsletter.
Even more, we need your cooperation. Only if Jesuits around the world regularly send us reports of meetings, commissions, and seminars that touch on interreligious themes; interreligious courses, retreats, and prayer meetings; articles they themselves have written or articles by others dealing with theology of religions, other religions, or questions of dialogue that they have found instructive; or accounts of incidents in their respective regions that affect Jesuit apostolate in interreligious situations can the Newsletter help us grow in understanding of the implications of this aspect of our mission in the world.
"Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue" stresses that interreligious dialogue is the responsibility of every Jesuit. Specialists have a special role to play, but the interreligious dimension of our mission is not limited to specialists. Teachers, pastors, and Jesuits in formation also have particular insights that are worthy of communication and reflection. No Jesuit should hesitate to send us any information he considers might be of interest to other Jesuits.
The articles we publish here will often take different approaches on questions of dialogue. We don't expect everyone to agree with everything found in the Newsletter, but we hope that all the views and information presented here will provide food for thought and discussion.
Thomas Michel, S.J., Secretary, JSID
I am embarrassed when I am asked in classrooms and in public forums whether I am an inclusivist or a pluralist. The reason is not that I dismiss the paradigm that gives rise to these categories as wrong, but that I have found myself gradually appropriating a trend in Asia, which adopts a paradigm wherein these categories do not make sense. Our starting point is not the uniqueness of Christ or Christianity, or of any other religion. A fortiori such a concern would never be a hidden agenda in any interreligious dialogue that may engage us. Furthermore, interreligious dialogue itself is not a conscious target pursued as something desirable per se, as it is a luxury which the urgency of the socio-spiritual crisis in Asia would not permit.
What then is this Asian paradigm? I would describe it in terms of three overlapping concerns which do not receive any emphasis in the Western approach. The first is the acknowledgment of a third magisterium, namely that of the poor; the second is the liberational thrust that refines our theology of religions; and finally, the social location of this theology in the basic human communities.
My intention is to present the new paradigm by spelling out the implications of these three concerns.
I. The Third Magisterium
The poor (the destitute, the dispossessed, the displaced and the discriminated) who form the bulk of Asian people, plus their specific brand of cosmic religiosity constitute a school where many Christian activists re-educate themselves in the art of speaking the language of God's reign, which is the language of liberation which God speaks through Jesus. Neither the academic nor the pastoral magisterium is conversant with this evangelical idiom.
We can find seven liberative features from the 'cosmic' religiosity of the poor.
These ingredients of the cosmic religiosity of the poor have somehow or other entered the theological world of Asian Christians, especially among the liberation theologians and feminists. Hence our second concern which determines our theology of religions.
II. The Liberational Thrust
For too long a time we Christians have dialogued exclusively with the metacosmic religions (the so-called higher forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam) and tried to create a theological language to communicate our common experience of the Absolute. The cosmic religiosity (tribal and clannic religions, as well as the popular forms of metacosmic religions, for example, popular Buddhism, popular Hinduism, popular Christianity) was looked down upon as an immature and infantile stage of spiritual development.
This approach has resulted in a distorted view of the Asian religious ethos. One aspect of this distortion is the underestimation of the liberative potential of cosmic religiosity. As I have substantiated elsewhere, many great social transformations in Asia have taken place thanks to the involvement of tribal and other groups known for their cosmic religiosity. Their 'this-worldliness' as well as their faith in a God of justice, far from being an opiate (as some Asian Marxists thought), has often been a stimulant in revolutionary situations whenever it is mobilised in an appropriate way.
Today, we are happy to observe that, in the common struggle against poverty and destitution of the masses, many adherents of metacosmic religions (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians ) have learnt to reinterpret their beliefs according to some of the liberative elements in the cosmic religiosity of their co-believers who belong to the poorer classes. Thus a re-interpretation of the sacred scriptures of metacosmic religions along a liberational thrust is noted among the exponents of various faiths, who have been involved with popular movements, for example, Sulak Sivarakska in Buddhism, Swami Agnivesh in Hinduism, and Ali Asghar Engineer in Islam, to name a few.
Christianity too has begun to appropriate this trend, not in seminaries or in houses of religious orders, but in basic human communities, where the magisterium of the poor is taken seriously. Hence I cannot speak of the liberational thrust that Christianity has received from the cosmic religiosity of the poor without entering into a discussion of the social location of such theologising: these communities.
The Role of the Basic Community
The basic human community is not a group that has come together for interreligious dialogue. Dialogue is not an end in itself. Nor is there any preoccupation about one's religious identity or uniqueness. The origin, the development and the culmination of the activities of the community is, ideally, the total liberation of the non-persons and non-peoples. It is within the process of this on-going liberative praxis that each member discovers the uniqueness of his or her religion. My religious identity is not something I seek and find through academic discussion; it is something that the other religionists impart to me. It is in the process of naming and recognising both sin and liberation as experienced and acted upon by us in the community that we acquire for one another our respective religious uniqueness.
Let me recount a concrete example of something have experienced more than once. In the course of a seminar which I conducted in July 1989 for Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Marxist members of a community (the Christian Workers' Fellowship) I was drawn into a very lively exchange with one of the participants from a Buddhist-Marxist background. We discussed the liberational thrust of the scriptures. He was Sarath Mallika who, nine months later, died a martyr's death at the hands of a Sinhala extremist.
Sarath's interventions centered round what he thought was unique to Biblical Christianity. He acknowledged that the rationalist literature which he had read as a young man had made him see the Bible as a fairy tale . But he pointed out that in their common struggle and their common reflections on each other's religious literature, and in the sharing we had at that seminar, he had discovered that the concept of 'God' which motivates Christians to liberationist activity was so radically different from the concept of God which the Buddha is reported in the Pali Scriptures to have rejected as absurd and chimerical. As a Marxist coming from a Buddhist background, he could not accept the idea of God, but "if I ever have to believe in a God, this is the only one worth believing in," he confessed. I responded: "To believe in any other god, as most Christians do, is idolatry."
The Defence Pact
"This is the first time I have heard of a God who has made a defence Pact with the oppressed," he declared. Christian participants came to realise that what is unique about their religion is that Jesus whom they follow is this pact! We further realise that we Christians tend, unfortunately, to duplicate the institutional aspects of other religions in Asia and thus compete with them rather than preach and practise that which is our unique mission
In the ensuing discussion, it became evident to the Christian members that if they do not confess that Jesus is God's defence pact with the non-persons of the earth, "there will be no eternal life in them"! Thus, this Buddhist-Marxist activist and soon-to-be martyr who had laboured tirelessly for the workers of a sugar factory and had learnt from the 'little ones' of the earth their language of liberation, was eminently capable of capturing the liberative essence of the Gospel for all of us.
This discovery was a recurrent experience in many such encounters in many such groups, so that one begins to see why an Asian theology of liberation proclaims God as the one who is reached only through the mediation of the (mostly ) non-Christian poor, and equally proclaims that Jesus is this mediation. Such a kerygma does not clash with other religions and does not compete with them for adherents. But it does clash with the official catechesis of the Church.
The Credibility Gap
There is a conditio sine qua non for Christians to live out their uniqueness and be recognised as Christians: their credibility. And this depends on how far Christians join other religionists in that which is the only common denominator between religions, namely the spirit of non-acquisitiveness or the renunciation of mammon (which, in theistic terms, amounts to a total reliance on God); it is evangelical poverty proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount as constitutive of discipleship. It is the basic spirituality of God's reign, which is also the spirituality of Jesus who precisely on that account can become at home in most Asian cultures, if only he so appears in the belief and behaviour of his Asian followers!
The much desired Christian credibility, how ever, is threatened by every form of financial and ideological subservience to Euro-ecclesiastical power-bases. Most Asian Churches, consequently, find it difficult to exercise their twofold envangelising role: to experience solidarity with non-Christians by witnessing to the spirituality common to all religions (by practicing the beatitudes) and to reveal their Christian uniqueness to proclaim Jesus as the new covenant (by joining the poor against mammon's principalities and powers that create poverty and oppression).
The Church instead, takes refuge in a more convenient kind of uniqueness which she spells out in terms of the theandric (God-Man Saviour) model which makes no sense in many of our cultures where it often evokes the image of one of the many cosmic forces rather than of a personal and absolute Creator-Redeemer. Moreover, this model, utterly untranslatable into some Asian languages, suffers also from an ontology before which soteriology (concern for liberation) fades out into insignificance.
A Futile Dream?
But the aspiration for a liberator - a God of this life, a God of justice and a God who can transform this earth into the garden of delight it was originally intended to be - such an aspiration of the poor, so clearly expressed in their cosmic religiosity, is spurned as a futile dream by some adherents of metacosmic religions, who propose in its place another kind of 'future world' which coincides with a sort of 'acosmic Absolute'.
Which of these two is purely utopic? As for interreligious dialogue accepted within the ecclesiastical set up, one wonders whether if resonates also with the cosmic religiosity of the poor or only with the metacosmic spirituality of the elite. Are not the Christian ashrams also guilty of this one-sidedness? Finally in terms of its organised charity, does not the church organisation find it more convenient to gain control over the poor than to join them in their struggle for emancipation? These are the questions raised in the basic human communities.
But some communities, too, operate as nongovernment organisations (with Western aid) and thus fail to witness to the common spirituality (opted poverty) so that their struggle with the poor runs the risk of being ineffective in their proclamation of that which is unique to their religion: that Jesus is Good News in so far as he is also Yahweh's irrevocable answer to the cry of Asia's (mostly non-Christian) poor. But wherever the Christian members of basic human communities make themselves one with the poor in their total dependence on God (opted poverty as common spirituality), and thus qualify themselves to proclaim the new covenant between God and the poor (Christian uniqueness), there, Jesus comes out convincingly as God's story in the lives of her covenant partners (the Asian poor) rather than as a subtle combination of natures and persons.
As Marinas de Jong has admitted in the epilogue of his brilliant description of the Early Christian Responses to Jesus (the sub-title of his Christology in context, Philadelphia, 1988), the characteristically Christian way of communicating Jesus to others would continue to be through drama, narrative and poem. This is the idiom of cosmic religiosity. The story of God's public agreement with the poor to embark on the common task of transforming this world into the new heaven and a new earth that God and the poor are dreaming of together, is a story the Asian would never refuse to hear; and it is the story that Christians fear to narrate. And yet that story is Jesus.
Aloys Pieris, S.J.
This article by the Sri Lankan Jesuit, Aloys Pieris, originally appeared in The Month (1993), and was subsequently reprinted in SEDOS Bulletin. Here we present a shortened version.
Most often, one speaks of interreligious dialogue in reference exchanges of views on religious matters between persons of different religions. However, this type of dialogue does not encompass, nor should it, the whole field of interreligious relations. It is common today to broaden the notion to include the dialogue, also interreligious, of life. In the ideal case, one passes from a dialogue of explicit exchanges to another type of dialogue, that of life, in the course of which religious exchanges are implicit.
Here we seek to complete these forms of interreligious dialogue by taking into account that which can be called "interior interreligious dialogue." Here one no longer treats, at least in the first instance, of explicit or implicit dialogue between persons of different religions, but rather the dialogue one holds with oneself, with one's own, and with God on the subject of others and their religion. It is a question of dialogues held concerning others in the silence of one's conscience, in one's intimate circle, and even in the secrecy of conversations with God.
Just as it is important to discern the spiritual attitudes that should hold sway in carrying out explicit or implicit dialogues, it is also necessary to try to discern those which ought to govern the interior dialogue that one has with oneself, with one's intimates, with God on the subject of others and their religion. If it happens that one can sin in words when explicitly in dialogue with others, or in actions towards those with whom one is implicitly in dialogue, it also happens that one can sin in thoughts when one dialogues inwardly with oneself, with one's own people, and with God concerning others.
It might be helpful to consider the ways of expression exchanged in the course of these three types of dialogue. This will allow one to distinguish the spiritual attitudes that ought to govern the use of expressions proper to interior dialogue.
Explicit dialogue takes place between those who belong to different religions: they can be individual persons, qualified representatives, or appointed delegations. The dialogue can be organized or occasional, official or private, public or closed, and it takes places in the form of meetings, colloquia, encounters, and round tables or through letters, articles, brochures, or books. It is worth noting, however, that the mutual exchanges use expressions - words and writings - that bear religious connotations. From the content of these words and writings one is led to judge the spiritual pertinence of attitudes that have led one to pronounce or compose them.
The dialogue of life is religious only implicitly, at least in the sense that it is explicitly religious neither in word or writing. Those involved are people who meet, circles of friends, neighbors, companions, and friends, with whom one has lived without entering into - other than in passing - religious exchanges of a verbalized or written type. People encounter each other in public places, neighborhoods, factories, and offices, in the course of visits, receptions, and invitations, but without entering in any serious way into religious exchanges by way of words or writings. In these cases, the religious exchanges take place implicitly by other signs, those of the deeds and gestures of daily life. One speaks, certainly, but one does not speak about religion. Equally, people write things, but what they write does not directly concern the domain of religion. It is on deeds and gestures that one judges the spiritual attitudes that govern the mutual dialogue of life.
The expressions that characterize interior dialogue are different from either of these. One is no longer dealing with what is said or written, nor with acts and gestures. We are still treating interreligious dialogue, but the expressions are those of intimate thought. They are exchanges no longer with others and their religion, but about them, with oneself, with one's own, with God. They are neither explicit nor implicit exchanges, but rather moments of intimacy - the intimate solitude of conscience in dialogue with oneself, the shared intimacy of dialogue with one's own people, the secret intimacy of dialogue with God.
Words and writings are one thing; deeds and gestures are another; intimate thought (and the exchanges that go on in one's intimate circle concerning others and their religion) is still another. It is this last that will occupy us now.
Truth and Objectivity
Some interreligious relations are founded on the basis of objectivity. Concerning others and their religion, one wishes others well in considering that they should be treated as objects of knowledge. In the case of Muslim-Christian relations, one can thus understand those who are usually called orientalists. To this end, they operate with proven methods: studies on the foundational text and its commentaries in the original languages, elaborations of word-lists, dictionaries and encyclopedias, analyses of cultural and civilizational contexts, presentations of organized syntheses that follow the various approaches of the human sciences, and ways of expounding relevant information that variously study in depth, integrate, compare and even criticize, approving of some things and disapproving of others.
However, in any subject, there is no total objectivity without the author's disclosure, at least implied of his own subjectivity. There is nothing said or written, no deed or undertaking, that does not carry the mark of the author, the subject. Objectivity is inseparable, finally, from the subjectivity of the one who speaks, writes, acts and treats. In this way, objectivity in interreligious dialogue, whether explicit or that of life, necessarily refers back to its hidden side, that interior dialogue about others and their religion that one carries on with oneself, with one's own, with God.
There is a great risk of duplicity. One can be apparently objective when addressing oneself to another, but in fact subjective when, concerning others, one speaks to oneself, to one's own, to God! This duplicity is all the more false since one's intimate thoughts make up an integral part of what we consider objectivity in what we say or write, in our deeds and gestures.
It is not completely abnormal that a certain gap emerges between that which one thinks in private and that which one says, writes, and does in public. Concerning others and their religions, there are things which one thinks to oneself, but out of consideration for others, one should not say to them. Interior dialogue can permit one the freedom of expression and judgment which delicacy prevents one from taking up in an unnuanced way in the presence of partners of another religion.
It is one thing to speak to oneself, to one's own, to God. It is another thing to express oneself on the same subjects to persons of another religion. Interior dialogue can employ a certain spontaneity that could be badly viewed were one not to overcome it, whether in explicit dialogue or in the dialogue of life. To oneself, one must seek to be true and can even be blunt in doing so. One must be just as true with partners of another religion, but without base flattery when one is in agreement with others, nor by denigrating them when one disagrees. On all occasions, what is needed is wise discernment.
By contrast, it would be abnormal if flagrant contradictions were to emerge between that which one thinks in private and that which one says, writes, and does in public. One must not deceive others by expressing views on their religion, nor by behaving towards them in ways radically different from our interiorly held views and attitudes. It is necessary that our explicit dialogue and that of life reflect, in so far as it is possible to do so, our interior dialogues. In interreligious relations, one must avoid duplicity. Even if these have different facets, one must be equally true to oneself and among others.
When I reflect in private, whether alone or with close friends, on the religion of others, I must consider these others as being present as silent observers. When I speak to God about the religion of others and pray for them, it is equally necessary that I consider these others as being present as silent witnesses.
When I speak, write or comport myself openly among others, it is necessary that I have the same spirit, without contradiction, as that which I had in my private reflections and in my prayer. These considerations are even more compelling because, like it or not, our subjective judgments always end up showing themselves clearly in our views and behavior, even when we seek to be objective. Since who we are is, in any case, always displayed in our pursuits, it is better that we be seen as transparent. Nathanael was a man who did not know how to lie. That which he was under the fig tree is exactly the way he was with his friends, with God - and also with others.
Henri Sanson, S.J.
The complete version of this article by the Algerian Jesuit Henri Sanson is due to appear in French in the forthcoming issue of Pro Dialogo, published by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Dialogue can be thought of in many ways. It is not a reality which admits of only one definition. There could be certain circumstances in which the Church finds it very difficult, if not impossible to do any mission work and dialogue could be understood as talking in the spirit with others without any specific aim of sharing our faith in Christ with them. However I do not think that dialogue should be restricted to such a definition. There can be other definitions also which could fit other circumstances.
Ultimately it is the goal, or at least the desire, of all believers in Christ to share their faith with other people. This would seem to be of the essence of the Catholic faith. As Jesus came into the world to tell us about the Father, so too He sent His followers out into to world to tell people about the faith in which they rejoice. "As the Father sent me so I send you." We are a people who have been sent, we have been given the fullness of the spirit precisely in order to take it to others. However perhaps there are conditions in which this is very difficult, if not impossible, and there we should do whatever we can and certainly at least engage in dialogue with others.
There can be many positive results from dialogue even when done in difficult circumstances. If both parties are prepared to deal sympathetically with one another, then both can derive great profit from listening with an open heart to what the other person has to say. God speaks to all people and we can hear the voice of God and of Christ in all people. This is perhaps the basis of all dialogue. We strive to listen carefully to the voice of God in the other. Such work of dialogue is good and profitable for us and we should engage in it to the best of our ability.
However, as believing Christians, I do not think that we can stop there. To the extent that it is possible, we must press ahead and try to share our faith in Christ with other people. I do not think that we can accept dialogue as being the full story. We must have higher apostolic goals than that. To the extent it is possible to implement these higher goals then we should try to do so.
Among the village Hindus it is very difficult if not impossible to preach Christ in the traditional way. Nowadays people are not ready to listen to a message which tells them to leave their traditional religion, Hinduism or Islam, and join a new one, Christianity. Even in the church there does not seem to be much faith in this traditional missionary approach and so we see a falling off in missionary activity. This should be a cause of concern for all of us because a church which no longer has any missionary interest is surely a church which is terminally ill. We have been given the faith in order to share it and when we cease to be interested in that then the question might well be asked as to just how much faith is really there anyway.
Here I would like to speak of a variety of dialogue which can be called "dialogue in mission. In other words we take the religion of the people seriously and try to enter into it as far as we can but we still try to share our faith in Christ with them. We do not stop at a sympathetic understanding of one another's faith but we really believe that we have something to give them and we try to give it, our faith in Christ. However the very way we present Christ is guided by their religion and culture. In other words we are trying to fit together their present religion and our faith into a symbiotic union, a living union from which both derive profit.
Among the village Hindus with whom I have been working for many years, we have tried to put these ideas into practice. We have not spoken of a change of religion. We present Christ as the fulfillment of all the good which they already have. And so they are not being asked to deny what they already have but are asked to go further ahead in that truth with the help of Christ. We were even calling our group the "Nav Hindu Satsang" (the New Hindu Worshipping Community), in order to emphasize that there was no change of religion involved, but a building on the present foundations. The village people are very ready to listen to this approach but they will not listen to the suggestion that they give up their present religion and join a new one.
Basically I think that this was the approach of Christ as we see it in the gospels. He did not tell the Jews to leave their religion but he presented Himself and His teaching within the Hebrew religion. People were asked to advance with Him further into the mystery of God. They were not asked to deny the truth as they knew it but were asked to believe Him and trust what He told them about God. But everything was done within the framework of the Hebrew religion, in the synagogues, during the festivals, according to the prophets and the teaching of the ancients. Christ certainly criticized what He saw as corrupt but basically He accepted the religion and worked within it.
I would see this as being our model for "dialogue within mission." We must enter into the religion of the people with whom we are dealing and by a long and deep dialogue try to find out where they are in relation to God. We should try to understand what it is that God has been saying to them for so many thousands of years. Accepting this, we should then try to see how Christ fits into their picture. We should present Christ as being the answer to the problems which they have, and there are usually so many of them.
Among the Hindus some of the chief problem areas where they can be helped by Christ are:
But dialogue is a two-way process. It is not just a matter of our helping the Hindus but of their helping us. If there is a true dialogue then it will not be only our giving them knowledge of God but of our learning from them also. This would perhaps be a new attitude for the average missionary. In the past we regarded ourselves as the teachers of the people, and the suggestion that we may have something to learn from them might not be acceptable. A certain humility would be required for the acceptance of such an idea. What then might we, the highly educated priests, learn from the simple village people? I suggest merely a few ideas:
Perhaps someone might say that all of this is on the practical level and so is not really "dialogue" which is more on the intellectual level of discussion about God and the life of the spirit. I would beg to differ. As I said in the beginning there should be a recognition of different types of dialogue. I would see it as being a mistake to say that dialogue can be of one type only. When dealing with people who are not educated there cannot be much intellectual discussion, they are just not up to it. Dialogue with such people will be more on the level of lived relationships. It will be a matter of influencing one another by our lives and by our acceptance of one another, as equals.
This perhaps leads us to the key point about what dialogue really is. Dialogue is a meeting of minds and hearts, it is not primarily an intellectual discussion or prayer meeting, no matter how elevated and inspiring such may be. We dialogue with people when we meet them as equals and friends, when we reach out to them in love so that they see that we care for them as people and not just as objects whom we serve because that is our "duty."
The most important thing for dialogue, therefore, is that we are ready to relate to the people with whom we are dealing. If we have any sense of superiority bringing with it a certain contempt for them and for their way of life and their beliefs, we have closed the door in the face of all dialogue. The people will sense our attitude and will respond in similar fashion to us. In place of dialogue we would have a certain friction among people who might come together for some purpose, but who are not really related to one another on the level of love.
Dialogue requires an emptying of oneself. Christ is our model. Though being divine, he came among us as one of us and dealt with us as though we were his equals. He spoke in words which we could understand and used the religious ideas which meant something to the people. Yet through it all He, the eternal Son of God, learnt from us as he grew in age and wisdom.
These reflections might lead us to ask ourselves some rather questions.
Peter Doherty, S.J.
These reflections by Peter Doherty, an Australian Jesuit of Hazaribagh Region, were presented to JEPASA participants at their meeting in Patna, India, in October, 1996.
When speaking about the dialogue of life, we tend to think of communities of people of various religions living together in ways that are mutually enriching. But the dialogue of life can also refer to the testimony of a person's life, the faith and values that a person stands for in his or her life. This can often be seen best when that earthly life is ended, particularly when one has given that life in the cause of service, friendship, and fellowship.
Less than two months apart in late 1996, in widely separated parts of the world - Algeria and Cambodia - three men gave their lives in the service of those of another religion and in the cause of dialogue and friendship among the followers of various religions. One was a Catholic bishop (58 years old), another his 24-year-old Muslim driver, the third a 26-year-old Jesuit scholastic.
Bishop Claverie and Mohamed
The assassination of Bishop Pierre Claverie, O.P., of Oran, Algeria, was given wide publicity around the world. The bishop was a spokesman for Christian-Muslim dialogue, which he had practiced for many years in Algeria before his death. His most recent book, Lettres et Messages d'Algérie, was published only a few months before he was killed. In the Newsletter, we reprint a statement by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, Master of the Dominican Order.
As is the case so often in the assassination of public figures, innocent bystanders and assistants, "little" people who would never have become victims except for their voluntary association with the "targets" of assassination, equally lose their lives. Mrs. Elba Julia Ramos, the cook of the Jesuit community in San Salvador in 1989, and her daughter Celina, who were killed along with the six Jesuits, are a case in point. So often these humble collaborators are passed over in silence; their names are frequently not even mentioned in news accounts of the assassinations.
Who hears their stories? Who learns what they believed in and what they stood for? Following upon the observations of Aloys Pieris about the "third magisterium" - that of learning from the experience of life of the poor, we present this record of Bishop Claverie's driver, Mohamed Bouchikhi, written by a priest of Mohamed's home town in Algeria. It is evident that this man, virtually unknown outside his own circle of family and friends, who was well aware that by associating himself with Bishop Claverie he was placing his own life in danger, was a person of deep religious faith and commitment to fellowship that crossed the boundaries of religious adherence.
Richie Fernando, S.J.
If Mohamed gave his life in fraternal service to a Catholic bishop, Richie Fernando, a Filipino Jesuit scholastic, gave his in the service of handicapped Buddhist students in Cambodia. When one of the students, a former soldier of the Cambodian army, threatened to toss a hand grenade into a classroom of handicapped students, Richie, after having accompanied another group of students to safety outside the building, rushed back into the building to disarm the man. In the struggle, the grenade exploded, killing Richie instantly. Although his body was buried in a Christian liturgy in his native Philippines, his blood, carefully collected from the school floor by the students, was interred, accompanied by Buddhist rites, in Cambodia.
In December, 1996, the Jesuit scholastics of the Assistancy of East Asia and Oceania, held their fourth meeting of Scholastics and Brothers in Formation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The meeting was prepared by the scholastics' themselves who, in national groupings, reflected on the ways that the four types of dialogue mentioned in the GC34 document "Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue" (OMID, 4) were being carried out in their regions. The report of the five scholastics in Cambodia was prepared by Richie and dated six weeks before his death. Because of his heroic death a short time later, this document becomes a kind of testimony of Richie's Jesuit life and commitment seen in the context of interreligious dialogue. The excerpt reproduced here is signed as it was in the original, "richie, s.j."
Thomas Michel, S.J.
Our Dominican brother, Pierre Claverie, the Bishop of Oran, has clearly and consciously given his life for the Church in Algeria, and for peace and brotherhood in that land of his birth. His death is a cause of suffering for his brothers and those who were close to him; nevertheless, his constancy in giving witness for peace and brotherhood is also a source of pride for those who understood the choice he had made. Just like the monks of Tibhirine, he knew the risks he ran, but it was his choice to remain in solidarity with the people of Algeria and with all those who worked for peace.
Some months ago he had spoken of the meaning of this presence:
"The Church accomplishes its calling and its mission when it is present where there is that tearing apart of humanity, that very crucifixion of its flesh. Jesus himself died suspended between heaven and earth, as it were, with arms outstretched so as to gather together the children of God, scattered as they were by sin, isolated indeed and set up one against the other, indeed against God himself. Jesus placed himself at the epicentre of this tragic break-down born of sin. For in Algeria we are on the very seismic faultlines which mark the world: Islam-the West; North-South; rich-poor. This is the right place for us to be, for it is here that the Light of the Resurrection can shine forth."
During a visit to Pierre in Oran some months ago, I was struck both by his determination and his joy. The joy of one who knows he's set the compass of his life on the right path. In the wake of the sacrifice of so many victims in Algeria, Christians and Muslims who are devoted to peace, may the sacrifice of our brother be, like that of Jesus, a source of peace for our violent world. In the name of the Order of St Dominic, I honour Pierre's memory, for the life of our brother Pierre is a source of pride for us. May God and St. Dominic welcome him into Peace.
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe. O.P.
Shortly after the attack which cut short the life of Bp. Claverie and Mohamed Bouchikhi, a reader wrote to the newspaper Ouest France: "Dear chauffeur of the Bishop, Excuse me for addressing you in this way, but no one has mentioned your name. No one has told me, moreover, whether you are Algerian or French, Christian or Muslim. Was a service held for you in a church or in a mosque? Most of all, who is crying or praying for you? Parents, wife, children? You also knew the risks that you were running in accompanying Mons. Claverie. Well, in our parish, we have prayed for you, but you do know that since you are with Him who prefers the humble." The newspaper simply added: "The driver, aged 21, was named Mohamed Bouchikhi. He was replacing the usual driver who was on vacation."
The curiosity of this woman is legitimate; many others, like her, would have liked to know more. Mohamed, born and bred in Sidi-Abdel-Abbčs, is the second of a family of eight children. Immediate neighbor of the rectory and convent, for a long time he liked to offer his services for errands, repairs and a vast number of material tasks. Following on an unhappy family conflict in 1993, the mother and children took refuge one day in the rectory. They remained there for a year and Mohamed naturally became the factotum and driver.
He was so thin that his body seemed to get lost in clothing that was often too big for him. He did not eat, he picked at food. How he kept going was a mystery. It was only in his face and particularly in his eyes in which continually shone his smile, his gentleness, and the greatness of soul and heart. He often stayed home with his mother, whom he worshiped. He would have sacrificed everything for the happiness of his brothers and sisters, friends, and the sisters and priests whom he visited. To all, many times a day whenever he appeared, he posed the question, "Do you need anything?"
He had no wristwatch and did not want one. If he was late for a meeting, he disarmed your impatience with a broad smile. Why did he need a watch since he did not ration his time for others? When, a few minutes before the deadly bomb opened for him the gate of eternity where time no longer counts, he had come to drive the car home from the airport, a nun heard him say to the Bishop, "Let me carry your suitcase; you must be tired." What more is there to say? Nothing but that, after having mixed his blood with that of a Christian, was conducted, according to the Islamic tradition, to the cemetery of Sidi-Abdel-Abbčs by an unexpected crowd of youths, men and women for whom he was only a day before someone unknown.
At this moment of death, Pierre (Claverie) and Mohamed achieved what they took to heart in their daily lives - the gift of themselves so that people recognize each other as brothers despite political, social and, particularly, religious divisions. How can one imagine them at this very moment other than being fraternally united in the presence of God.
They carried with them a secret, one shared in the threat that weighed on them. Those who associated with one or the other in the last months, especially in the final days, could not help think they were living together an "agony," a true silent struggle. Mohamed left an intimate notebook, some notes drawn up phonetically in French during long moments of solitude which he consecrated to prayer. Towards the end of the notebook, there is the only page of the notebook written in Arabic, on which Mohamed says:
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, Peace be with you. I thank the person who is going to read this notebook, and to each of those whom I have known during my life I say a word of thanks. I tell them that they will be rewarded by God on the Last Day. Goodbye to the one who will pardon me on the Day of Judgment. From him whom I have wronged, I ask forgiveness. I ask pardon from him who might have heard any malicious words from my mouth, and I ask all my friends to forgive me by reason of my youth. But, on this day on which I am writing, I remember the good that I have done during my life. May God, in His great power, make me submit [my life] to Him and may He grant me his tenderness."
Rest in peace, Mohamed, and thank you.
A. First Point: Dialogue of Life
Dialogue is a two way process. It involves communication, a process of listening and sharing, a relationship between two persons or groups of people. In Cambodia, to engage in dialogue of life is to live with the people, to be present to them. It is to live as equals with the people, recognizing the fact that we share common interests and concerns. Everybody wants and has the capacity to raise the quality of life, to experience meaning in life, whether it be as individual persons, as families, or as nations. There is a spirit of friendship between us and the Cambodians. We love them as they love us. We are interested to know who they are, e.g., their personal situation, their culture, history, and religion. We respect them for who or what they are. We are also affected, moved to compassion, whenever we see them suffering from poverty, strife, sickness, and so on. This attitude moves us to dispossess ourselves in different ways: materially, emotionally, and even spiritually.
Living a simple lifestyle in Cambodia helps us to be more present and available to the people. The nature of our apostolates, closely working with and for the poor, helps us be more in touch with them. We recognize the importance of learning Khmer language, history, and culture.
B. Dialogue of Action
This is a consequence of our relationship/friendship with the Cambodians. It is a fact that the Cambodians are experiencing difficulty: they are living in poverty; most are still experiencing the physical and psychological wounds of the war during the past two decades. Some Cambodians have developed an attitude that this is their fate, their destiny. They feel condemned for life. When we see the Cambodians living like this, we are moved to help them to experience healing, to be liberated from this feeling of being condemned, to be able to develop as a human person. In Cambodia, our mission aims at the liberation and total development of the people (or of our friends) in Cambodia. In the technical school, disabled people restore their dignity and regain esteem through skills training and pastoral care. In the university, teachers and students are not only able to integrate what they've learned in their lives, they are also able to spread and teach them to fellow Cambodians as well. And in Siem Reap and Battambang, we are able to encourage the rural folk to learn new farming techniques, help build new homes and communities for the internally displaced people, and be in solidarity with disabled people and prisoners. Friendship leads us to be more present to the people, to dispossess ourselves for them.
But we act as friends, or partners. This friendly atmosphere makes common action more effective. We take into account the total development, the different dimensions of the personality of our Cambodian friends. We don't just do welfare work, or give doleouts, we also attend to the spiritual and moral development of the Cambodians. We cooperate with the Cambodians and help them in order that they can help themselves; we avoid the danger of over-dependence.
We recognize the fact that we seem to be in the position of power in Cambodia. We have money and the ability to make things happen, get things done in the mission. That is why we recognize the need to continually encourage our Cambodian friends to share their ideas, rather than we dominating them. We discuss, or even discern together, what needs to be done, and how everyone can contribute to the whole mission. We also recognize the need to carry out the mission in a very simple, discerning manner. The Jesuit Service in Cambodia doesn't boast of our power through new Toyota Land Cruisers, Jeep Cherokees, or a state-of-the-art villa-type office. We don't have grand institutions or multimillion, master-plan projects. But we can say that we are quietly and closely working with and for the people.
There is the tendency among NGOs and missionary groups to see themselves as the messiahs of Cambodia. We hope to avoid this tendency by two things: First, by being realistic with the situation and by being humble enough to accept our limitations; and second, by continually asking the question, "How do the Cambodians, on their part, help us develop totally as persons, and be liberated from everything that enslaves us?" We learn so many things from our Cambodian friends. They also have the power to help us become more human, even more Christian.
C. Dialogue of Religious Experience
Given that "religious experience" is always accompanied by "moral experience", dialogue of religious experience happens through the way we give witness to our Christian/Gospel values, and to our Jesuit vocation. Our Cambodian friends are usually curious about our views and attitudes on moral issues such as sexuality, poverty, war, etc. They are also curious about our identities as "Christian monks". We are also interested to know their attitudes about moral issues and concerns.
The experience of being with each other, as friends or partners, leads us to celebrate together, whether it be a simple meal or gathering or a big celebration like a wedding or a funeral. We celebrate together, using Buddhist rituals or methods of prayer when they act as hosts, or Christian rituals or methods of prayer when we are the hosts.
Some of us experience some difficulty in talking about dialogue of religious experience. First, most people are still occupied with the more immediate and basic concern, which is survival. We find it somehow embarrassing to talk about religion when the people are concerned about where or how to get their next meal. Another difficulty is language; to be interested in the Cambodian Buddhist tradition and prayer means learning a new language almost different from ordinary Khmer. The Pol Pot regime, which massacred many Buddhist monks and destroyed religious temples and artifacts, also stunted the spiritual and religious development of the nation.
The challenge for us is to recognize that the Cambodians do have religion, spiritual, and religious experience. Another challenge is to take notice or listen to the "religious" experience of the ordinary Cambodian people. Through the years, religion, religious, and spiritual had been the domain of the priests, the monks, and the scholars. But the experience of the divine, or of the other world, is universal. The ordinary person, or the laity, do contribute a lot, not just in articulating and shaping his/her own faith, but also of the community.
D. Dialogue of Theological Exchange
We even experienced greater difficulty on this point: firstly, we are not theologians and are not so aware of the theological grounds of our faith; secondly, Cambodians, monks and ordinary people alike, experience great difficulty in explaining when asked about their faith or different traditions. It seems that the Pol Pot years have not only stunted, but almost annihilated the religious development of the country. There is so much uncovering and recovering to do in order for theological exchange to happen here in Cambodia.
So far, dialogue in this form happens mainly by asking questions, "Why do Buddhists ... ?", even though we don't get any clear answers from them. They too end up becoming more confused when we try to explain our Christian faith and tradition to them. The challenge to see things from the other's perspective is not easy. Would you believe, some people here say, perhaps jokingly, that we Jesuits are being true to our identity as "sinners" because we are chaste for life and are not able to use our process of continuous questioning has enabled us to see and appreciate the diversity of how each person sees his/her religious experience. Although many cambodians belong to one big Buddhist tradition, things become so varied when we ask each ordinary Cambodian, who has his/her own personal and cultural heritage. Like us five Jesuit scholastics here in Cambodia. We're all Catholics, even Jesuits. But we understand our faith in different, unique ways.
Bill Heath, S.J., Charles Six, S.J. Mispan Indarjo,
NEW RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS IN CROATIA
The fact that the theme of the seminar on "New Religious Movements" aroused such broad interest shows how much these movements are already present in Croatian spiritual realities. In a seminar held on 15-16 November 1996 at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Zagreb, 15 experts sought to clarify the spiritual climate in which these movements were born and grew. They have presented the characteristics of the movements and their methods of propagation and studied the attitude of the Catholic Church in Croatia in confronting the phenomenon of new religions and sects.
The symposium was evidence of the hunger for information on this theme in Croatia, where few are ready to concern themselves with the phenomenon in a systematic way. The scientific symposium further showed that, as the Church in Croatia begins to reflect on the phenomenon, it discovers in the new religious movements a sign of our times through which God speaks to us on the threshold of the third millennium. Some participants felt that the symposium should be an appeal to polemical confrontation against the proselytizing activity of most of the new movements or sects. Despite the fact that the tone at times tended in that direction, the symposium tried not to be a "call to arms." It was organized with the aim of coming to know better the new religious movements and to prepare for dialogue with them, to the extent and where such dialogue might be possible. The speakers and participants sought to find in this sign of the time a response towards the Church itself in order to create a climate able to satisfy the faithful who desire a deepened experience of faith and better pastoral care of their communities.
The Catholic Church in Croatia is not yet disturbed by the phenomenon of religious movements and sects to the point of seeking dramatic defense mechanisms. It considers itself still the master in the field of the spiritual. However, there is an urgent need to perceive the cracks already existing in ecclesial structures, theology and communities so that the necessities of the circles in which we live can be met with suitable programs. In any case, in this symposium the Church in Croatia has demonstrated a spirit of lively watchfulness towards new spiritual needs. The Holy Spirit will not fail to do the rest.
P. Ton i Trstenjak, S.J.
The acronym JEPASA stands for "Jesuit Pastors of South Asia." The goals of the organization, as described in the Catalogue of the Common Works of the south Asian Assistancy, are to "build an integrated, fully alive, interfaith human community in order to actualize the reign of God. This service would generally start with the local Christian community and eventually, in and through that community, reach out to the larger community." It has been, since 1989, a project of the South Asian Assistancy, with a coordinator in each province and region of the assistancy. Between 14-16 October 1996, JEPASA representatives met in Patna in order to study the question of interreligious dialogue in parish ministry. We present here the conclusions of the meeting:
The GC34 Challenge.
"Pastoral service will prepare our Christian communities for dialogue. We must be concerned with people beyond the limits of the Christian community and help them experience God's compassionate love in their lives. We are all children of God and we must all work together in harmony for the mutual benefit of all. The Church is a community on pilgrimage journeying with peoples of all faiths towards the Kingdom that is to come. In this process, she is called to be the voice of the voiceless, in particular of the young, women, and the poor" (OMID 9.9).
As the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India noted in February, 1996, the Church should have structures by which she can listen to God speaking through agents outside her boundaries. These structures will have to be set up not only on the national level, but on the regional, diocesan and parish level. The Jesuit pastors of South Asia should strive to build basic human communities open to other religions and cultures.
For about ten years there has been a regular academic exchange programme between Ankara University and the Gregorian University Consortium. As part of this programme, for the last four years I have been teaching every year for 1-2 months on Christian themes at the Ilahiyat Fakültesi, the Divinity Faculty, of the University of Ankara. In exchange we have had various professors from that Faculty teaching on Muslim themes at the Gregorian University in Rome.
This academic year I had asked for themes on which the Faculty would like me to teach. I was sent a list of nine topics on which I was going to hold seminars to groups of doctoral and higher licentiate students from different sections of the Faculty, mainly that of 'History of Religions' and 'Religious pedagogy'. The topics were the following:
I prepared each of these topics, producing an English text of 10-15 pages. Well in advance of the seminar, these texts were given to the professors and through them to the students. The person who would help with translation into Turkish and the students themselves - many of whom can read English - were thus able to prepare themselves.
Each session lasted about 2 hours, with ample time for questions. The discussions were mostly held in Turkish. Although I personally never considered Turkish to be an easy language, I have learned enough of the language in order to understand and answer questions in Turkish.
Once I had begun teaching the seminars listed, other lecturers invited me to hold sessions for their licentiate and doctoral students in the context of the courses they were teaching at that moment. So I spoke, e.g., to students of systematic theology on 'Religious pluralism and truth' and about 'The question of salvation outside Islam according to various Muslim thinkers', coming finally to parallel considerations in the context of Christian theology. To a group of doctoral students of philosophy, I spoke on 'Vatican II and the question of religious freedom'. At the end of my five-week stay I went for a few days to the Ilahiyat Fakültesi of Izmir where I had contacted in advance the Dean, the philosopher of religion Mehmet Aydin, who already knew about me through his colleagues in Turkey and abroad, and was familiar with some of my writings. When he heard that I was planning to come toIzmir, he invited me to speak at the Faculty. He left it to me to choose the topics. Thus I gave two seminars to an audience of about 200 students and professors, one on 'Inner-Muslim discussions on the concept of religion among South Asian Muslims', the other on 'The Vatican II Declaration Dignitatis humanae'. The atmosphere at the Izmir Faculty was very open, friendly and academically serious. I plan to give a two-week course there next year. As a basis, I probably shall take Tom Michel's little introduction to Christian Theology, of which there exists a Turkish translation, and try to explain and deepen the themes of this booklet with the students. Also, hopefully soon there will be available the Trukish translation of a short history of the Catholic Church, and I plan to produce, together with a Turkish colleague in Ankara, a Turkish adaptation of an anthology of key theological texts from early apostolic times to today.
In Turkey, there are Theology Faculties in about 20 state universities. Most are hasty creations, poorly equipped as to staffing and library resources. But at least a handful of theological faculties are fully developed. These have a large, well-trained body of teachers and a considerable number of students. In 1995, for example, the Ankara Faculty had 16 professors, 17 assistant professors (docent), 15 assistant docents, 13 lecturers, 34 research assistants, and 1 expert. It has 881 undergraduates - 128 female and 643 male - and something like two hundred postgraduate students. Marmara University in Istanbul and the 9th of September University in Izmir have at least as many students.
At various points in their general studies, the Turkish university students of Muslim theology student need to know about the Bible and the Biblical religions and about later developments in Judaism and Christianity, as well as the so-called Western civilization which has been shaped by these traditions. When I am in Turkey, Muslim students constantly approach me to help them in dealing with a comparative topic they must deal with as part of their licenciate theses or doctoral work. Also, a number of the younger lecturers often ask for time to discuss theological and related questions. On this trip, for example, I had discussions of this kind about the Christian understanding of revelation, inspiration and prophethood, the question of state and church in various Western countries, and the question of salvation outside the visible Church. Such persons expressed their regret that the Christians or the Churches do not make an effort, say in Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir, to make accessible to students a minimum of books and documents on Christianity, together with the help of a person with
whom scholars and students could discuss their work insofar as it relates to one or the other aspect of Christianity or comparative religion at large. Also, there is no periodical publication by way of documentation which would inform the educated public, especially journalists, politicians, religious leaders, and teachers and students of religion and culture, about important statements, developments, discussions in the Catholic and other Christian Churches.
It would be surprising if there were not also professors and students who are suspicious of my presence and the contacts it leads to, especially when I reappear every year at their Faculty and thus have become a regular feature. However, on the whole, I find myself every year better accepted as a guest colleague. Once I arrive and begin to be present regularly for lunch in the staff canteen, colleagues, especially the younger ones, begin to approach me, and within a short period I receive more invitations than I can cope with, to teach classes here and there and to discuss religious and theological matters privately.
We need Christians prepared and willing to join as academic colleagues and as friends of the Muslim teachers and students of theology in Turkey. Needless to say, scholarships are needed for Turkish students intent upon studying Christian theology in Christian faculties of theology, in the mutual effort to learn and exchange in the field of religious study and research.
Christian W. Troll, S.J.
tel. (39-6) 689.77.568; fax: 687.5101; email: email@example.com