Reports from Jesuits in:
Algeria, Britain, Colombia, India, Jerusalem, Poland, Venezuela
In Bulletin no. 4, we reprinted the first part of the talk given by Fr. Kolvenbach at the University of Merida in Venezuela on 2 February 1998. In that excerpt, Fr. General spoke about Jesuit involvement in dialogue with cultures and about the essence and subjects of dialogue. In this issue of Jesuits in Dialogue, we offer the second and concluding part of the General's talk on "The Culture of Dialogue" [Ed.]
The material, the content of this dialogue, will be in the first place the culture itself: the individual ways that each people have to express life and living in this world in relationship with nature, with others, with the divinity.
The discussion encompasses both the more traditional forms of culture -- with their absolute, sacred character, which often tends to close in upon itself -- as well as all the other types of culture, to the extent that they are concrete and proven forms which -- with their successes and limitations -- make life possible.
The cultural forms, which in a certain sense are absolute because they make life possible, are at the same relative, historical, the fruit of human creation and of the meeting and interaction with other cultures. This is the way in which the history of the peoples has developed. This reality is experienced particularly evidently in this country of racial mixtures, which is for this reason -- not only because of its natural landscape -- "a land of grace," as Columbus called it 500 years ago.
The problem then is not purity or cultural non-contamination -- but rather the mutual enrichment between particular cultures, without forced impositions of supremacy, and with the capacity of discernment and selfdetermination for all concerned.
The goal is to achieve a true intercultural dialogue within this dialectic of revelation and faith which we used to speak of before as "the Christian paradigm."
But neither can the content of the dialog prescind from the open discussion of economic, political, or educational realities, of values, aesthetical traditions, styles and beliefs, by which all should walk towards a "civilization of love."
In dialogue towards a more adequate communication of knowledge and technological procedures, and a more just distribution of goods produced, within the complexity of the globalized economies, and based upon the universal right to dignified work, we should include also the option for the earth, which means responsibility for the present quality of life and the possibility of survival for future generations.
Not only unjust poverty and ignorance, but also the exhaustion and degradation of the environment affect especially the poorest people whose survival depends directly and immediately upon their relationship with the environment and upon their not seeing themselves obligated to devastate their natural surroundings to meet the requirements of the centers of power of the world economy. A dialogue in this perspective could help the consumer recognize new life styles which are more participative, inclusive, and lasting.
Politics -- the area of tensions and conflicts between the particular and the common, forms of organization beginning with the family and base communities, through trade unions and intermediate organizations, parties, the state and forms of government, the law and international organizations -- should also be themes taken up by the dialogue, advancing towards cultural forms which are more democratic, inclusive, and participatory.
In the future, power should be the capacity for effective service and not a form of subjection and coercion of other persons, groups and continents. This is one of the areas where the possibilities of fruitful dialogue towards a better future are most easily blocked.
More difficult because of the subtleties involved, and because it involves a living commitment, is the necessity of dialogue and a fluidity of communication in the multiple and pluralistic areas which have to do with human subjectivity, as far as they are constructions and interiorizations which are socially shared: the diverse ethical evaluations, world visions, and artistic forms of the diverse peoples and sectors of social life.
Also essential is dialogue between the diverse traditional religious confessions and with the newer secular and religious bodies, in a world not only growing in its pluralism, but also a fragmenter of persons themselves through the aggresivity of diverse and often contradictory offerings.
The Second Vatican Council exhorted all Catholics to dialogue so that they would "recognize, preserve, and promote the spiritual goods existing in other religions, as well as their sociocultural values" in order to "collaborate with them in the search for a world of peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values."
The Holy Father John Paul II has asked the Society of Jesus repeatedly to make interreligious dialogue an apostolic priority for the third millennium and so to assume the task of dialogue with nonbelievers.
In the context of the divisive, exploitative and conflictual role which the religions and other world visions have played in history, the Jesuits, meeting in Rome in 1995 in its highest-level assembly, endorsed interreligious dialogue as an effective tool for unleashing the great unifying and liberating potential in all of religion and of much of lay humanism, for the construction of human wellbeing, justice and world peace. As members of the same humanity, the common elements of our religious heritages and of our human concerns, force us to tighten our common ties, basing them upon universally accepted ethical values. Dialogue, above all in this area, is an activity with its own motivations, requirements and dignity, and should never be used as a strategy for manipulating or exploiting persons.
The goal of dialogue can be synthesized in an expression often repeated by the last two Roman Pontiffs: dialogue in order to "create a civilization of love." Keeping clear this goal, ideal and always capable of improvement, does not mean to prescind from competence, legitimate autonomy and responsible freedom of the diverse sciences and technologies, but rather on the contrary signifies a greater obligation to master these and put them at the service of this over-all goal.
Investigation, as well as teaching -- and it is good to emphasize this here in the university setting -- along with interdisciplinary dialogue should aim at a more dignified future for women and men, children and elderly of the planet, rather than the fortifying of the forms of wealth and power which are at the basis of the inequalities of our world. Criticisms and alternative proposals require solid knowledge applied to making a future which will be more just for all.
After these considerations some may feel themselves excluded from the dialogue, perhaps because we have placed an excessive number of demands. Still, we have all been invited to this culture of dialogue because there is a place for everyone in this multilateral dialogue, which is required of us as much by the reality of our time as by our Christian inheritance.
In the first place, there is the "dialogue of life," we all of can practice, and in which all persons can make an effort to live with a spirit of openness and good-neighborliness, sharing their joys and sorrows, their problems and human concerns, always open to the other. Next comes the "dialogue of action," in which both Christians and all persons of good will together collaborate in view of integral development and the liberty of all human beings through the initiation of both small community projects of mutual aid as well as ambitious international collaborations, such as the campaign against anti-personnel mines which earned the most recent Nobel Peace Prize.
The next step is the "dialogue of experience," both religious and human, between persons, rooted in their own religious and ethical convictions, for all who share their spiritual riches in the search of an Absolute which is always greater. And finally, the academic, scientific, interdisciplinary dialogue, both in the human sciences as well as in the religious sciences. Without this dialogue there can be no advance in knowledge. It is true that not all are capable of this dialogue. It is a dialogue typical of the university. And its field of action is immense because it looks not only towards themes proper to advanced cultures but also towards the growing knowledge of primitive cultures which not rarely hide treasures of art and humanity.
Our experience in the service of faith and the promotion of justice in the last decades have lead many Jesuits in different parts of the world to strengthen their contacts with persons of many diverse cultures beliefs and world views. This has helped us to grow in respect for pluralism as a human response to the salvific work of God in the different peoples and cultures.
We wish to live trusting that the God of Jesus who desires all humankind to be saved is guiding believers and persons of good will of all nations to the harmony of the Kingdom of God by roads which only He knows. The Spirit of God maintains a continuous dialogue with humanity. ""Dialogue at its deepest level is always a dialogue of salvation because it looks to discover, clarify and understand better the signs of the perennial dialogue which God maintains with humanity."
A dialogue which is open and sincere is our contribution to this dialogue, far beyond any words of our, begun by God with humanity. May these words of mine with you today help all of us to commit ourselves and to grow in this culture of dialogue so that there will be more fraternal and pluralistic life among human beings and in the planet which we desire.
Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J.
The first international congress of Jesuits working in the field of Jewish?Christian relations was held in Krakow, Poland, on 27?31 December 1998, with the theme "Jesuits and Jews: Towards Greater Fraternity and Commitment." The congress brought together 39 Jesuits from all ten assistancies.
For many years, Jesuits in various countries had been working on various aspects of Jewish?Christian relations, but this was the first time that they came together to share their concerns and the results of their research and experience.
At this first meeting, no particular topic could be exhaustively explored, but the main areas of Jesuit interest were presented and discussed. Concerns focused on four areas:
The congress was held near Oswiecim, Poland, the site of the infamous death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. On 30 December, a memorial service to commemorate the Holocaust victims was held on the site of the gas chambers of Birkenau, led by Rabbi Leon Klenicki, peritus for the Congress. In their final Report to Fr. General, the participants raised questions for Jesuits concerning the encounter of Jews and Christians.
In this issue of Jesuits in Dialogue we present Fr. General's opening address to the participants and the Final Report of the Congress to Fr. General.
I am happy to welcome you to this first international encounter of Jesuits engaged in Jewish-Christian relations. The fact that you were willing to leave your communities and homes during this Christmas season to take part in this meeting shows how seriously you take your commitment to build greater love and respect for Jews among Christians and to work for Christian-Jewish harmony and fellowship.
In the coming days, you will discuss the need for coming to a deeper appreciation of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith.
These go beyond the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ, his mother and earliest disciples were all Jews who practiced the Jewish rituals and followed the Law of Moses, of which "not one jot or tittle will be lost." However, the Jewish foundations of Christian faith go much deeper in the Hebrew Scriptures and the thought-world in which Jesus' message of God's Reign was proclaimed. The complex relationship between the Covenant on Sinai and the New Covenant which Christ announced cannot be ignored, even when much theological reflection must yet be done to establish the relationship between the two covenants. This reflection can be greatly enriched if it is done in dialogue with Jewish scholars, whose insights we must not ignore. The observation of St. Paul remains true today: "Do not pride yourself and despise the branches, because you do not support the roots, the roots support you" (Rom. 11:18).
Your reflections must also include a profound study of the first centuries of the Christian era, the period in which the definitive break between Christianity and Judaism, our "elder brother," occurred. Recent sociological research on Palestinian and Roman societies of the New Testament period can enrich our grasp of the religious, social and political environment in which Jesus' message was preached and in which the Church emerged. Here also much fruit can be obtained from some of the recent studies of the life and mission of Jesus produced by Jewish scholars. Jesus' own faith in God unites us, faithful Jews and Christians, even if our faith in Jesus has until now divided us.
Jewish-Christian dialogue today must not be limited to historical and Biblical studies. The primary focus of your work in Jewish-Christian relations must be an open-minded and serious dialogue with contemporary Jewish thinkers and believers. This encounter with "living Jewish thought" can enrich both sides and provide a sound intellectual basis for cooperation on issues of concern to both.
It is important to foster dialogue in our local situations. International issues related to the state of Israel could too easily make us forget the need for dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation for the common good in local contexts where Christians and Jews live together. This call to look to the future of Jewish-Christian relations demands a healing of memory, as the Holy Father has often stressed, and it includes an invitation to the Jewish community not to close itself in a constant lamentation of Christian wrongdoing in the past and go beyond a theology of protest to a deeper insight in the ways of a God who writes history with us on strange and even evil human lines. As the Holy Father said last year at the symposium "The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Milieu": "Erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long" and "contributed to a lulling of many consciences at the time of World War II, so that, while there were Christians who did everything to save Jews who were persecuted, even to the point of risking their own lives, the spiritual resistance of many was not what humanity expected from Christ's disciples" (1.11.97).
The fact that you hold your meeting in Krakow, not far from the shameful death camp of Oswiecim, should indelibly fix in your mind the stark reality of what hatred of Jews has accomplished and what we must seek in every way to prevent in the future. Most of you are educators. It is perhaps in this field that you can make your most important contribution to Jewish-Christian relations. I urge you to use the educational fora available to you to promote a living dialogue with contemporary Jewish thought, as well as to
teach the serious sinfulness of anti-Semitism. At the same time, I encourage you to use the good relations with Jews that you have developed over the years to foster among Jews a study of the riches of Christian faith, not in an attempt at proselytism or to present Judaism as a failed or superseded religion, but so that Jews and Christians together can move beyond the conflicts of the past to a time of fraternal appreciation and esteem.
May this important meeting be a blessing. Let us be guided by the words of John Paul II on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the insurrection of the Warsaw ghetto: "Inasmuch as Christians and Jews follow the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing for the world. This is a common task which awaits us. Thus, it is necessary that we Christians and Jews be first of all a blessing for one another." You have a full agenda these days in Krakow. My prayers will be with you that the Spirit direct your discussions and reflections towards a deep and well-informed commitment to promote mutual understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews.
Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.
We, a group of Jesuits who are educators, theologians, exegetes and pastors, engaged in dialogue with Jews, Jewish religion, thought, culture and history in many different geographical and cultural contexts, have concluded a first meeting in Krakow, Poland. We have gone to Auschwitz and Kazimierz (the ancient Jewish quarter of Krakow). Together they symbolize the complexity of the Jewish experience in the Christian world; from the welcome by Casimir the Great in the 14th century of Jews fleeing persecution in Western Europe to the genocidal extermination of the Jews carried out on Polish soil by the Nazis in the 20th century. Here we have been challenged to re-examine and affirm our commitment as Jesuits to the present reality and future of Jewish-Christian dialogue. In affirming the importance of the dialogue as Jesuits, as Catholics and as Christians, we hope that it finds its proper place among the priorities of the Society of Jesus. We hope to have established here a new forum of dialogue among Jesuits to reflect upon the following questions which were raised.
How do we reflect upon the Jewish roots of Christianity, the presence of Jews in our societies, on their vocation and their understanding of covenant? What do our insights about Jews and their insights about Christians imply for a Christian understanding of religious pluralism?
How we can creatively refer to Scripture and Tradition in order to reform, even revolutionize our conversations and relations with Jews?
How can we renew, in particular, our understanding of the person of Jesus, a first century Galilean Jew, his attitudes to his people and their religion, society and their relation to other peoples?
How we can contribute to a better understanding of what happened in the first and following centuries as Judaism and Christianity parted ways?
How can we respond pastorally to our various situations in which Jewish-Christian neighbourliness create realities of co-responsibility and collaboration in local communities, intermarriage, majority-minority tensions and other forms of interaction?
Do we have a particular Jesuit contribution to make as Jews and Christians seek increasing to share liturgically and spiritually, joint moments of joy and grief? How can we grow in sensitivity in relation to Jewish sensibilities?
How can Jesuits work together with Jews, Christians and others to further the cause of peace and justice? How can we foster the search for peace in the Middle East and in the struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinians Arabs? How should we serve as a bridge to facilitate communication among Jews, Muslims and Christians in full awareness that we have in the past too often failed both Jew and Muslim?
Seeking together to answer these questions, we are profoundly aware of the diverse contexts in which each one of us has contact with Jews and Judaism. This diversity of context can help us, as Jesuits, to serve the Church's search for a new relationship with Jews based on dialogue and respect in the Third Millenium.
In this connection, we would like to renew the appeal of the 34th General Congregation to Father General to consider extending the apostolate of the Jesuit Community in Jerusalem. Ignatius was once called to Jerusalem.
Are we not called to Jerusalem yet again in order to discern a particular Jesuit vocation to friendship with the Jewish people? The first moment in that friendship is a renewed willingness to listen to Jews, their desires and their dreams. In Krakow we were privileged to have had with us Rabbi Leon Klenicki whom we thank for assisting us with his learning and experience.
in the Area of Culture
Cultural-related mistakes can be of different types. The most common one is to look at others through your own cultural glasses and make positive or negative judgements, and be guided solely by your own cultural perceptions. How many missionaries have I seen, zealous and sacrificing in every sense, who are totally impervious to cultural signals! They are victims of ethno-centrism, blind to the limitations that their own cultural perceptions impose on them. How many religious have I seen, newly come into frontline activities from seclusion and institutional services, who, incapable of cultural insertion, are becoming martyrs unto themselves and a burden on the apostolic team, with every limited apostolic fruitfulness! Plunging into struggle the for justice in such a situation is extremely perilous. It may be that we are already paying for such imprudences in different places.
Another mistake is to take on the ways of thinking of the dominant group in a place with whom you are familiar, and evaluate everyone else according to the norms they provide. And a third form of mistake is to carry with you the cultural habits of the community you were working with earlier and annoy everyone else with these cultural trappings. Speaking of the dominant group, culture-related mistakes can be made not only in the context of a parish or an institution. The temptation to impose the views and tastes and spiritualities of the dominant group is more common in novitiates and houses of formation. For example, in the name of 'Indianisation' how many alien things have been imposed on minority groups, e.g. tribals and dalits, whose psyches resent many things having Brahmical associations. Lord Acton once said that oppression by a majority was worse than by a minority, since in the former case there was 'no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason'.
Community living becomes more strenuous (inter-regionally, inter-culturally) when one form of being 'Indian' is considered absolute by a majority. Details of etiquette which are thought by many as practical ways of inculturating seem unpleasant and disgusting to others. Do we have sensitivity to the unexpressed feelings of minority groups and even of 'micro-minorities' (just one or two members of ethnic groups different from the majority) ?
What strains they have to go through to be true to their calling! How many cynical remarks, jokes, and humiliations they have to stand to perservere, with no one to share with and no one who can understand the logic of their inner world!
These unexpressed feelings will express themselves in various ways in due time: sudden outburst, protest in other areas of life which may seem to have nothing to do with the cultural issue, sudden departures, sometimes together.
It is interesting to note how religious perceptions and apostolic priorities change when the ethnic composition of the leadership and/or membership changes in religious houses and provinces. What used to be a great concern ceases to be. What was thought of us a marginal issue moves to the centre. Grievances change.
New theological perceptions take over. Studies have revealed such a change taking place among religious groups in the U.S. as the membership is shifting in favour of Blacks, Hispanics and Asian "Ethnically distinct discontent groups" feel their culture to be not unwelcome, but generally unrecognised...the research suggests that mains tream orders' prevalent discendent with pious practices, authority and discipline is not their concern.
Their faith structure, ecclesiology, female and male relationships, understanding of the vows, and relationship to the church present a very different dynamic as a function of a different culture" (David J. Nygren and Miriam D. Ukeritis).
Similarly you may notice a change of theological, religious, and disciplinary perceptions when the ethnic composition in the provinces of India changes and other ethnic groups come to leadership positions.
But al least this may teach us to be not too rigid in our opinions. Our immediate successors may reach other conclusions before the dust settles over the changes we introduce in great zeal today!
Arcbishop Thomas Menamparampil, sdb
Prof. Manjit Singh, Jetedar (high priest) of Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, the second most important religious leader of the Sikh community, praised the Jesuit run Good Shepherd Social Service Center (GSSSC) at Kotla Nihang in the state of Punjab for its service to the poorer sections of the people. He spoke at a interreligious convention organized at the center by the directors, Jesuit Fathers Joseph Kalathil and John Ariapilly, along with their collaborators and prominent Sikh leaders.
The interreligious meeting was arranged to celebrate the holy season of Christmas and to memorialize and commemorate the tri?centinary of the great Sikh event "khalsa". "Khalsa," an important historical event that reminds the Sikhs of their martyrs of the religious persecution 300 hundred years ago. Many were killed or disabled. Even the women and the children were not spared. Once the guru even had to go underground along with his companions. While concealed in the hideout, the guru appealed to his adherents for a volunteer to sacrifice his life on his own's accord for the faith and for the commune. One man got up and confided himself in the hands of the guru. Guru took him aside and killed a goat in the enclosure. After somtime he emerged from the hutch with the blood-soaked knife. His associates thought that the guru sacrificed the person for the community. Then again he appealed for another volunteer. The procedure continued untill he got five intimate friends. He called the five paanch pyara. These five beloved disciples are recalled during this commemoration. To show our reverence and respect for their religious tradition I thought that it would be worthwhile to plan a interreligious ceremony to mark the occasion," said Fr. Joseph Kalathil, and the working committee of the center decided to hold the affair during the Christmas season. The directors consulted the Sikh collaborators and chose as the theme "SERVICE FROM THE CHRISTIAN AND SIKH PERSPECTIVES".
The celebration began with a short pilgrimage to a nearby gurudwara. At the portal of the gurudwara the Christian participants were greeted and ushered in to the place of worship. The Sikh seminary students sang melodious kirtans and bhajans. "The mellifluous and tuneful singing conjoined with the sacred silence of the congregation brought immense joy to me a Christian participant," said Jesuit historian Fr. Mani Nedumattam. After the singing the Gianigi (the local priest) read a passage from the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, the "Guru Granth Sahib". Then he exhorted the gathering about the need for serving humanity and the need to live in peace with one another in the world marred by hatred and fundamentalism. He stressed that we are born to serve one another especially the poor, old and the sick. One of the boys who sang the kirtans served prasada to all those present there. "I was deeply impressed by the way in which the Sikhs respect and regard their Holy Scripture," remarked a Christian participant and noted that the Sikhs revere and regard Guru Granth Sahib as the Christians show their reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It was an eye opener for the Christian participants and a learning experience to get to know the various traditions and grow in mutual respect and admiration. The seminar began with a presentation on service from the Christian viewpoint by Jesuit theologian and social analyst Father T.K.John. In his talks he emphasized that basic Christian vocation is to reach out to others in ministration by sacrificing oneself. He brought in the symbolism of the mother serving of her infant baby to explain the Christian attitude to service. He made it clear that there is no service without self?sacrifice. "Mother Teresa," he said " is a perfect symbol; of service she served the poorest of the poor out of love by sacrificing her life and inspired hundreds of young women world wide in the service of the marginalised."
In his exposition, Prof. Manjit Singh highlighted the aspect of joy in serving the other. He said, "True service brings happiness and fulfillment to both the one who serves and one who receives." He added that God is the ultimate source of service. He affirmed that service is the essence of religion. His talk was dotted with rich examples of service from Sikh religious history. He exhorted the participants to find ways to work together for the betterment of the society.
Prof. Manjit Singh who lives in AnandpurSahib is well aware of Good Shepherd Social Service Center and it's social outreach programs. The center promotes social awakening in women and girl children and unemployed youth. Through its youth clubs, GSSSC has made inroads in the life of the young boys and girls of the villages around.
"Primary education and empowerment of women are the main focus of our work here," tells Fr.Joseph Kalathil. To achieve this aim the center runs balwadis in the surrounding 18 villages and aanganwadis (government schemes run by the center) in the entire Mohali block. "In the centers we try to make learning a joyful experience for the children. Numerous activities like singing, dancing and painting create a taste for education in them. The tiny tots hardly cry in the centers," said Ms. Mona Kaur who is one of the co?workers of the center. The youth clubs of GSSSC serve the needs of the young boys and girls. These clubs create an atmosphere for identifying their talents and sharpening them. The young people learn to work in groups while participating in the club activities. "We also learn to serve the other and those who are in need and less privileged than us," says Pinkie, a member of the youth group. he center's committed collaborators helped the women to form the mahila mandals (women's organizations). "In the beginning we had to struggle to bring the women together," said Ms. Surinder Kaur and noted that once they became aware of their strength in union with one another they show much interest in the mandals. "In the Mahila mandal meetings, women discuss common issues of the village and deliberate upon decisions. Because of one such common decision, they even have stopped selling of liquor in one of the villages," says Ms. Reena Kaur. The mahila mandals also run saving schemes for the women. This contributes greatly to the economic independence of the women. Regarding the economic independence a woman symbolically put in the following words, "I do not need to wait for my husband's decision to buy a note book for my daughter at school".
Another interesting program of the center is "GURU KRIPA CYCLE RIKSHAW PULLER'S ASSOCIATION." Many men from the village Kotla are Rikshaw pullers. However, surprisingly no one owns his own rikshaw. Father Joseph Kalathil, the director of the center who studied the problem found out that the men hire the rikshaw from the agents and pay a sum of 75 rupees every week without end for a cycle rikshaw that costs only Rs 4500. To remedy the situation the director called the rikshaw pullers for a meeting at which he proposed a scheme of supplying brand new rikshaws for which the receivers in turn pay Rs 100 per week till they complete the full 4500 on that day the "GURU KRIPA CYCLE RIKSHAW PULLER'S ASSOCIATION" was born. The center has so far issued 53 cycle rikshaws and many of the early receivers have already completed repaying the full amount and they own the rikshaw, an impossible dream only a year ago. peaking about the Inter Faith co?operation Father Kalathil mentioned that he has plans for futher meetings with the Sikh friends and well wishers to understand one another better and to serve the people together.
Victor Edwin, S.J.
"One really sees only with the heart," said the Little Prince. It's so veru important to look at our People of today and see beyond the very real spectacle of a country in degradation, in order to become sensitive to a nation in inner turmoil, searching for its unity. We are writing from the heart of an Algeria torn apart, tired, struggling for its daily sustenance, uncertain of its future. We are still crossing the desert. There are still horrible killings and assassinations. Even if security seems indeed better maintained and controlled, one doesn't get used to such hard news and certain repulsive details from accounts reported by newspapers.
The most burdensome thing today, at least in our region, is not safety, but the social situation. Making a living is more and more difficult; the cost of living is rising; unemployment is growing too, as a result of industrial restructuring; the growing impoverishment of a large part of the populace brings with it a general deterioration and loss of trust that grows more profound. The temptation is great to withdraw into one's own little individual and familial world. Deal-making and corruption are rotting the social fabric more and more.
President Zeroual's announcement of early presidential elections seems an admission of defeat. Some even say that this news has averted a social outburst. The return to institutional legality by the 1997 elections has in no way restored confidence. Electoral fraud, rivalries in high places, the activities of the mafia, all have sown disgust. People say here, "We're fed up". To this must be added miscarriages of justice, some of which have been fortunately and courageously denounced by the independent press. Many leaders whose dossiers are empty are still in prison at this moment. They were bothersome to incumbent interests. A colleague and friend from the university has been condemned to death by contemptuously. He was blamed for taking part in a terrorist situation at a time when he had already taken refuge in Germany. The press was able to uncover this affair. The ministry of justice acknowledged a judicial mistake, but the authors of this machination aren't worried. The dossier, thick with those who have disappeared, is always waiting.
At present, in a tense social climate, strikes follow one after another, giving the impression of the absence of a strong State capable of making decisions. The prospect of new elections raises hardly any expectations. Will the electoral campaign bring back some hope? The names reported in the press are of people who are already well versed in deals. The conservative Islam influence is giving the impression of raising its head again. The democratic faction hasn't managed to rally around a man and a policy. On top of leadership problems, there remain serious differences on important questions, among others the place of regions in the affairs of state. The government still throws much weight: to this day, it seems that candidates who have declared themselves are those the incumbents accept. Troublesome candidates have problems accessing the media.
Yet what is it that lets one stay confident? In daily life, among simple people, we testify to a surprising capacity for resistance. As for mothers in families, what prowess they show in making their small world live, enabling their children to go to school!
In civil life, unions and associations are a mobilizing force. Maybe the drop in the price of oil of at least ten dollars a barrel will force a departure from the system of income from oil, and work towards a more diversified industrial base. Capacities for initiative do exist, but confidence does not yet match them, and the lack of safety still doesn't permit a genuine return of foreign capital.
Nevertheless, we emphasize again, as last year, the courage and tenacity of an independent press too often overlooked by the western media. It's thanks to that press that all we've been talking about here has been aired and discussed. Thanks to the press, "the system," as it's called here, has been able to be breached and some of its guardians have been obliged to resign from their offices. The press has emerged victorious from several attempts to stifle it. The long march towards democracy continues.
But most important, in our eyes, is what goes on in hearts and consciences. The usual supports of religion and tradition no longer work completely. Many people have to fall back to the privacy of their conscience. What does it mean to be Algerian? What is it to be Muslim? How prepare our future? We are witnesses, in many personal encounters, to this searching, to these questions.
A man in politics wrote in substance, in an article published this summer, "It's surprising that one finds it so hard to acknowledge that one might express himself in conscience and not in function of an order or of this or that interest." This toil deep inside people is preparing the future. Each of us is a witness of this in his area of activity. In the work of companionship and keeping up the giving of help, Paul sees deep-set suffering and onerous conditions that can't be removed. But when the desire for life awakens, what joy to be able to discover and approach that life force and Love which motivates both the helper and the one helped, opening them to the path of life and good sense. At the university, Christian sees a tutelage being set up for physics students. Some teachers felt the need to make themselves available to listen to students, and that this listening can give another dimension to their profession of teaching. Something is in the process of being born, which is of the order of life, of a better getting-along-together, and of greater trust between teachers and students. Something is happening in a society where everything seems to be deteriorating. Francois has had to interrupt his daily visits to "the Farm" for a while.
In September, a bad case of bronchitis left him very weak. He had many such attacks before, but this time, recovery is taking much longer than expected. Nevertheless, he's climbing back up the slope little by little. Having made many visits in the past, today he's the one receiving visits of his friends from the farm from time to time.
The Dilou library is also a place of universality. People who frequent it sometimes tell Bernard of the broadening and openness they find there.
Recently he received a letter from a young woman who expressed this reflection about the Dilou: "I also recalled that God is the God of the whole universe. He is not just mine or ours, belonging to us Muslims. I remembered too that Islam is not a religion restricted to Arab Muslims. It's a religion for all the universe. It is important, vital to remember that Muslim values are never anything but universal truths, and that to be a true Muslim, one must first be Human, with a capital H."
We are witnesses too of a questioning going on in deep inside people. It's not just regarding individuals. Society is being tested; one sees this from many signs; it's like a new birth. For our part, we feel we have the task of becoming attentive to this. Together we make our way on paths where we can help each other. It's a question of encounters where each of us gifts the other with one's lights, groping for solutions, and joys of life.
There is the visage of our little Church continuing on her way. Her precarious situation calls her to live the present without any foresight into the future. Her fragility lets her stay close and attentive to her People during their difficult crossing. On this path of the coming of people, of the coming of the sons of God, as the apostle Paul says, one of us had to accompany some of those who want to become disciples of Him who comes ceaselessly to establish his lodging within us. One of them confided to him: "He to whom I used to pray at night, who made me feel He was listening to me and that I was important to him --- I now call him Jesus." Yes, a light is rising; it takes on many faces. That's the way it is here in Algeria; maybe it's a bit like this elsewhere, too. May we be enabled to welcome and receive that Love and Light which reveals, behind the drama of our People and that of many other peoples, a painful birth of humanity.
1998 was the year in which the Society's commitment to interfaith dialogue began to assume a significant profile in the British Province. Just after Easter, some thirtyfive Jesuits, mainly men in formation, but with a significant number of the more daring and experienced, met for a conference at Oscott College in Birmingham, one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in the country. The four days were given over to a very practical introduction to Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam, the three largest non-Christian communities in the country. A general theological orientation, focussing mainly on the GC documents, was given by Michael Barnes who has been working in inter-faith relations for some years, both at Heythrop College and as director of Westminster Interfaith, a Catholic diocesan initiative for fostering inter-faith relations in London. Tracing the roots of our commitment to the inter-faith apostolate in Ignatian spirituality he drew attention to important Jesuit contributions to the work of inculturation throughout history.
This was followed by a talk about religions and religious pluralism in Britain by Brian Pearce, an Anglican layman who is the director of the Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom.
The Network, established largely through Brian's vision and energy some twelve years ago, links together more than eighty inter-faith organisations national bodies, educational institutes, local councils and academic centres.
The success of this remarkable initiative is probably the single greatest witness to the healthy state of inter-faith relations in Britain.
The aim of the conference was not just to impart information but to gain first-hand experience of the religions by meeting people of faith on their own ground. Two full days were given over to a rich mix of lectures, panel discussions, AV presentations and most importantly visits to places of worship and informal dialogues. Guided by introductions from Jemima Prasadam, an Anglican parish priest in inner city Birmingham and authority on Hinduism, and Chris Hewer, a freelance consultant on ChristianMuslim relations, participants were given an insight into the religious life of some of the communities of faith in Birmingham.
Not even a somewhat pointed sermon about the superiority of Islam to Christianity at the Friday prayer in the local mosque put anyone off. For some it appears to have been the highpoint of the conference.
Time was also built in for prayer and reflection, especially on the last day. This took the form of discussion and debriefing in order to help participants come to terms with the sometimes confusing experience of entering into the world of the other.
Here Michael Barnes was joined by Daniel Faivre, a French Brother of St Gabriel, and founder of Westminster Interfaith. Daniel's extraordinary experience of working alongside people of faith for many years and his deep commitment to a Catholic faith which seeks out the seeds of the Word in the world of the other made a deep impression on the participants. The conference ended with a final Mass, an extended meditation on themes which had arisen during the conference. Daniel was also prominent in a second conference organised for the British Province, this time in cooperation with their Irish brethren. For the last three years theologians from the two provinces have been meeting to discuss topics of common interest.
The group from what was originally called the 'northwest European archipelago', thus leading to the title 'the archipelagians' agreed to devote their October meeting in London to a discussion of the theological questions which arise from two documents: the 1984 statement from the Secretariat for nonChristians and the 1991 joint statement on 'Dialogue and Proclamation'. What we were concerned with was the character of a theology which promotes and sustains dialogue. This occupied the first full day. The second day was given over to visits to places of worship in Southall.
This was a day of strong contrasts. The first visit, to a Hindu temple, was followed by time spent in the Valmiki Sabha, a remarkable dalit or untouchable community which is very consciously 'non-Hindu'. At mid-day we went to the central mosque in the town where, in addition to the mid-day prayer, we unexpectedly encountered a funeral. In the afternoon we took in one of the many Sikh gurdwaras in the area before returning for a meeting and discussion with representatives of local people. Like most interfaith gatherings, not everything in these two conferences went according to plan. Nevertheless, despite or maybe because of a degree of genial chaos, both were thoroughly stimulating and creative events. It may not have been possible to develop a fully coherent theology of religions which would respond to the familiar yet strange world of the other. Most participants, however, came away with a better sense of theoretical issues, and perhaps more importantly with an appreciation of what makes for the successful practice of interfaith dialogue. Less predictably, perhaps, many understood better what it means to be Christian in a multifaith world. Whatever else dialogue is about, it implies a commitment to learning not least about what God may be saying through the world of the other.
Michael Barnes S.J.
The human heart is incessantly thirsting for someone or something transcendent. Religious behaviour is an expression of this transcendental quest. In India, from time immemorial some persons caught in this transcendental quest have left the ordinary way of life to become recluses or wanderers.
Some 3,000 "sannyasis"(ascetics) are living at Rishikesh (`the hair of the saint') and at Haridwar (`the door of god') in the State of Uttar Pradesh, located on both sides of the river Ganges. They retire into the forests around for meditation and austere practices. They come here from almost all parts of the country, and even from abroad.
On Oct 31 - Nov 1° 1998, first year theology students of Vidyajyoti theologate in Delhi, undertook a study tour to Rishikesh and Haridwar. In their evaluation of the tour students affirmed that the tour taught them the meaning of renunciation, inner peace and freedom, meditation and Indian spirituality. They also thought that the tour would help them live with others in harmony. Scholastic Gilbert Barla of Ranchi Province said that the tour helped him live an ascetic life and understand the Hindu spiritual heritage, while Sch. Joji Linga Reddy of Andhra Province noted that he understood better the differences between Hindu and Christian worship. "Hindus give importance to individual worship while Catholics stress common worship such as at mass and community prayers," he added.
Jesuit Father T.K.John, who guided them, said such visits help his students gain "firsthand knowledge of ashram life." Agreeing, Father George GispertSauch, another Indologist at Vidyajyoti, said such visits can help students see how Hindus have lived the "desire to know God and followed the inner urge for liberation."
In the interviews, the students said that the tour motivated them have concern for spiritual or ascetical practices like prayer, scripture reading, meditation and the practice of austerity. It also helped them feel united with others, "irrespective of caste, color and faith" as when they took part in "Maha arati" (the great lightwaving') at Haridwar which some 10,000 people attend with devotion everyday. All ten first year Jesuit students said that the exposure aided them to broaden their understanding of their own religion and would help them to see the need to combat "communalism, fundamentalism ..etc." Religions are complementary and enrich one another, and theology students need to grow in all of them and they discover that religions can live in affinity, not enmity.
Scholastic Alex Beck of Darjeeling Province observed that Religion is mediated and shaped by culture. Since cultures are diverse, he recommends such trials of exposure for students of theology anywhere. Students reflected upon the lifestyle of the spiritual seekers who keep alive the ageold ideals of sannyasa. while adapting themselves to the changing times.
The factors motivating them to such a way of life are the desire to search for meaning and the influence of other holy men. They are a challenge to our consumerist model of society and to religious leaders of all communities.
The spiritual attitudes of these hermits towards issues like "realization", "spiritual practices and wellbeing of the world", etc., depend to a great extent on their upbringing and background.Such encounters can generate a new orientation to one's religious life. Students have found the exposure to Hindu spirituality helpful in their search for God. Theologians agreed that the Hindu pilgrimage centres have "a lot to contribute to some aspects of the Christian faith" and can "nourish one's spirituality."
In its decree on "Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue," the 34th General Congregation recommended that, in addition to its already existing apostolates, the Jesuit community in Jerusalem explore the possibility of "programs in interreligious dialogue among Jews, Christians and Muslims." In an effort to respond to this call, Ignatius House in Jerusalem is happy to announce a series of courses under the title "Jesuit Jubilee 2000, Jerusalem." Jesuits from around the world are invited to participate in various events taking place in Jerusalem in June-July 2000. Two events are planned specifically for Scholastics. We encourage provincials, regional superiors, province consultors, and formators to make these programs known to members of provinces.
An Interfaith Peace-Building Project
sponsored by the United Religions Initiative
On December 31, 1999, humanity's bloodiest century will end. Much of this blood was shed, and continues to be shed, in the name of religion. All too often, people of faith have encouraged violence and warfare, or have been silent. If we do not change our behaviour, the next century may well be more bloody than the last.
Violence has its roots in ignorance, misunderstanding, fear, and hatred, and these forces are present in all human communities. People of faith share at least some responsibility for having allowed these seed to grow.
It is time, not just to stop religious violence, but to uproot all the things that lead to such violence. It is time to act together in the spirit of hope that is found at the heart of all our faith traditions.
On January 1, 2000, people around the world will mark the coming of a new millennium, a moment of focused global hope for the future. Even for those who keep time by other calendars-for whom this day will occur in the year 3025 (Chinese), or 5760 (Jewish) or 1420 (Muslim), for example-this threshold moment offers an historic opportunity: a moment for us all to reflect together on our past, and to begin to sow the seeds of a true peace, grounded in the inexhaustible depth of the sacred. The purpose of the 72 Hours Project is to bring into being a whole new level of global inter-religious cooperation, to commit together to a culture of peace, and to offer a gift of hope for the generations that will follow us.
From December 31, 1999 through January2, 2000 (Friday through Sunday), people of faith will mobilize their communities for peace building. To be part of this effort, you are invited to commit to (and engage your community in) the following five specific actions:
Jesuits in contact with people of other religions should begin now to discuss how we can work together to make the turn of the century an occasion to take a step forward for peacemaking. Interreligious groups should begin to reflect on what actions they can take together for peace. In this issue of the Bulletin Jesuits in Dialogue we present this Invitation from the United Religions Initiative as one way local interreligious groups might work for peace. The Five Commitments of the URI are concrete actions that local groups might decide to pursue.
If the full 72-Hour Peace Vigil is thought to be too big a commitment to attract many people, shorter vigils can be planned by local interreligious groups. A local group might make 31 December 1999 a dawn-to-sunset time of prayer and fasting for peace, with a joint prayer service scheduled at some point in the day. This action could be repeated at all the "New Years" (e.g., Chinese/Jewish/Islamic/Buddhist etc.) that occur in the year 2000.
The Call to Political Leaders (Commitment no. 4) deserves our special attention. In preparation, during these final months of 1999, local interreligious groups should discuss and decide together the symbolic acts and longterm actions for peace which their group will propose to their political leaders. Some calls which have been suggested are:
[For more information, Contact: United Religions Initiative, P.O. Box 29242, San Francisco, California, USA, 94129-0242, email: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Thomas Michel, S.J.
tel. (39-6) 689.77.568; fax: 687.5101; email: email@example.com