Issue 6:

In this Issue:
Focus On Indigenous Spirituality

Reports from Jesuits in:
Chile, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Philippines, Spain






A Dialogue of Peace and Brotherhood

1. In Nostra aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non?Christian Religions, the Second Vatican Council teaches that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men" (Nostra aetate, n. 2).

Taking up the Council's teaching from the first Encyclical Letter of my Pontificate, I have wished to recall the ancient doctrine formulated by the Fathers of the Church, which says that we must recognize "the seeds of the Word" present and active in the various religions (Ad gentes, n. 11; Lumen gentium, n. 17). This doctrine leads us to affirm that, though the routes taken may be different, "there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words, for the full meaning of human life" (Redemptor hominis, n. 11).

The "seeds of truth" present and active in the various religious traditions are a reflection of the unique Word of God, who "enlightens every man coming into world" (cf. Jn 1:9) and who became flesh in Christ Jesus (cf. Jn 1:14). They are together an "effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body" and which "blows where it wills" (Jn 3:8; cf. Redemptor hominis, nn. 6, 12). Keeping this doctrine in mind, the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 "will provide a great opportunity, especially in view of the events of recent decades, for interreligious dialogue" (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 53). Even now, during this pneumatological year, it is fitting to pause and consider in what sense and in what ways the Holy Spirit is present in humanity's religious quest and in the various experiences and traditions that express it.

2. It must first be kept in mind that every quest of the human spirit for truth and goodness, and in the last analysis for God, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. The various religions arose precisely from this primordial human openness to God. At their origins we often find founders who, with the help of God's Spirit, achieved a deeper religious experience. Handed on to others, this experience took form in the doctrines, rites and precepts of the various religions.

In every authentic religious experience, the most characteristic expression is prayer. Because of the human spirit's constitutive openness to God's action of urging it to self-transcendence, we can hold that "every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person" (Address to the Members of the Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 1986, n. 11; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 5 Jan. 1987, p. 7).

We experienced an eloquent manifestation of this truth at the World Day of Prayer for Peace on 27 October 1986 in Assisi, and on other similar occasions of great spiritual intensity.

3. The Holy Spirit is not only present in other religions through authentic expressions of prayer. "The Spirit's presence and activity", as I wrote in the Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, "affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions" (n. 28).

Normally, "it will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their own conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God's invi-tation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their Saviour (cf. Ad gentes, nn. 3, 9, 11)".

Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, "since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of coming into contact, in a way known to God, with the paschal mystery" (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

This possibility is achieved through sincere, inward adherence to the Truth, generous self?giving to one's neighbor and the search for the Absolute inspired by the Spirit of God. A ray of the divine Wisdom is also shown through the fulfilment of the precepts and practices that conform to the moral law and to authentic religious sense. Precisely by virtue of the Spirit's presence and action, the good elements found in the various religions mysteriously prepare hearts to receive the full revelation of God in Christ.

4. For the reasons mentioned here, the attitude of the Church and of individual Christians towards other religions is marked by sincere respect, profound sympathy and, when possible and appropriate, cordial collaboration. This does not mean forgetting that Jesus Christ is the one Mediator and Savior of the human race. Nor does it mean lessening our missionary efforts, to which we are bound in obedience to the risen Lord's command: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The attitude of respect and dialogue is instead the proper recognition of the "seeds of the Word" and the "groanings of the Spirit". In this sense, far from opposing the proclamation of the Gospel, our attitude prepares it, as we await the times appointed by the Lord's mercy. "By dialogue we let God be present in our midst; for as we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we also open ourselves to God" (Address to Members of Other Religions, Madras, 5 Feb. 1986, n.4; L'Osservatore Romano English edition,10 Feb.1986, p.14).

May the Spirit of truth and love, in view of the third millennium now close at hand, guide us on the paths of the proclamation of Jesus Christ and of the dialogue of peace and brotherhood with the followers of all religions!

Pope John Paul II
Catechesis, 9 September 1998

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Jesuit Ecumenists Study Theology of Religions

60 Jesuits from 24 countries, representing all assistancies of the Society, took part in the 15th International Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists. The congress was held at Chaithanya Pastoral Centre in Kottayam, Kerala, India, between 15-20 August 1999. The theme of this year's Congress, the first to be held in Asia, was Towards a Theology for Interreligious Dialogue.

At the opening session, the local ordinary of the Syro-Malabar Church, Bishop Kuriakose Kunassery, and his Auxiliary Bishop Mathew Moolayil, encouraged the participants and acquainted them with the history of the local Christian community. Tradition has it that St. Thomas brought the evangelical message to southern India which, in any case, traces its historical roots to at least the 4th Century. Fr. John Manipadam, the Jesuit Provincial of Kerala, welcomed the Jesuits participants and explained the Province option for interreligious and cultural dialogue. The main papers were delivered by Jesuit Frs. Sebastian Painadath, Jacques Dupuis, Samuel Rayan, and Aloys Pieris.

1. Sebastian Painadath, the Director of Sameeksha Center for Indian Spirituality and professor at the Regional Theology Centre in Kalady, Kerala, addressed the theme: "God as Person? Interpersonal and Transpersonal Approaches to Religion," to which Francis X. Clooney, theology professor at Boston College responded. Sebastian dwelt on the language of theology in today's pluralistic context and emphasized that a dialogical language has to evolve in the dialectic between the mystical and the prophetic perception of the Divine in the world.

2. In the second session, the paper of Jacques Dupuis, retired professor at the Gregorian University, on "Universality of the Word and Particularity of Jesus Christ" and was devoted to a study of the theology of the pre-existent Logos and the incarnate Logos in the economy of the universal salvation.

Unfortunately, at the last minute Jacques' doctor did not permit him to make the trip, but he had already submitted his paper. Paolo Gamberini of the Theology Faculty of Naples delivered the response.

3. The Congress then considered new approaches to the theology of the Holy Spirit and the universal presence of the divine Spirit in all cultures an religions. Samuel Rayan of Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi gave the paper on ""New Efforts in Pneumatology" to which J.B. Banawiratma of the Wedabhakti Faculty of Theology in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, responded.

4. The paper of Aloys Pieris, director of the Tulana Centre for Research and Encounter in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, on "Christ beyond Dogma" opened up a discussion on the significance of dogmas in the Church - the ways in which the definitive formulas of Christian faith respect the plurality of religions and can open up fresh opportunities to interpret traditional beliefs. Aloys was also prevented from taking part in the congress for reasons of health, but his paper was much appreciated, as was the response of Werner Löser of the Theology Faculty in Frankfurt.

5. On the final day of the congress, presentations of Asian communitarian spirituality aimed at giving participants a deeper understanding of the significance of these forms of communitarian life for a cultural dialogue with Asian spiritual traditions. Bandu Ishanand Vempeny, who teaches theology at the Gujarat Vidya Deep Seminary in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, presented the values and practices of Hindu Ashram life. Paul Jackson, a researcher on Islamic Sufism in Patna, Bihar, presented a slide presentation on Sufi life and spirituality. Bernard Senecal, who is finishing a doctorate on Korean Buddhism, spoke about his encounters with Buddhist monks in Korea.

In the afternoons, the participants interacted with representatives of Hindu religion, guest speakers from the local Catholic communities, and theologians of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox and Mar Thoma Syrian Churches. A Catholic layman and laywoman shared with the group their perceptions on the Church in Kerala and on the Church's mission in the pluralistic context of the region. In the locality, the participants visited old Churches and shrines, an ancient Hindu temple, the Catholic and Orthodox seminaries, and the Centre for Indian Christian Studies. A session was held on the use of new technology to promote interreligious dialogue.

It was decided to conduct the 16th Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists in July 2001 in Alexandria, Egypt, on the theme: Ecumenism, Hopes and Challenges for the New Century.

Fr. José J. Alemany, S.J.
Fr. Thomas Michel, S.J.

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Greeting of Fr. General to Jesuit Ecumenists

I am pleased to be able to greet you at the start of the 15th International Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists. I would have liked to have been present with you during the Congress, but unfortunately we are having our planning meetings in Rome for the Procurators' Congregation on these same days.

However, I want to take the opportunity to encourage you in your commitment to work for Christian unity and for your interest in questions regarding ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. The 34th General Congregation has given much attention to both issues, understanding dialogue as an integral part of our Christian and Jesuit mission in the world. In its document on Ecumenism (no. 12), the Congregation encouraged the members of the Society to work to revitalize the ecumenical move-ment. To accomplish this goal, the document proposed the way of proceeding that should characterize the Jesuit approach to ecumenism. We should "seek that which unites" us with Christians of other Churches and, the same time, come to know more deeply "what is distinctive" in the faith, theology and practice of each.

Many observers today speak of a "malaise" in the movement toward Christian unity. On the one hand, political and economic factors and jurisdictional questions which have emerged since the end of the Soviet system have damaged Catholic-Orthodox relations. It will take patience and hard work to build the level of trust necessary to approach together the issues which divide us. On the other hand, relations between Catholics and the Churches of the Reformation are generally correct and friendly, but many feel that progress toward unity has stalled. Being aware of the real problems involved in working for Christian unity should help us avoid unwarranted optimism that unity is "right around the corner." But not to take into account the real progress that has been made in the past 35 years would be self-defeating. Important joint statements have been made by the Vatican's Council for Promoting Christian Unity together with Churches of both Orthodox and Protestant traditions. The most recent Roman Catholic-Anglican statement of this past May, "The Gift of Authority" can be regarded as an ecumenical breakthrough. Such statements have been insufficiently studied by the faithful and, all too often, by the theologians of our Churches. A concrete contribution which you can make to Christian unity is by promoting the study of joint statements through your apostolates of education, parish work, and ecumenical study groups.

For this 15th Congress of Jesuit Ecumenists, the first to be held in South Asia, you have chosen themes that arise from the multireligious realities of Asia: the concept of the personal yet transpersonal God, the saving role of Christ in the various religions, explorations of the universal activity of the Holy Spirit, the ways to foster a healthy and energizing pluralism in theology-these are all questions which will stimulate our understanding of God's manifold and mysterious ways of working in this world. Not only Jesuits around the world, but also many other Christians can profit from your serious reflection on these complex and difficult issues. We look forward to learning of the results of your deliberations.

Holding your Congress in Kottayam, in Kerala, in India, offers you the opportunity to encounter the rich and challenging religious diversity of the region. You will be meeting Catholics of the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, as well as Orthodox believers and members of the Church of South India, and also Hindu, Muslim, Jain and other believers.

Since God's grace always works in the context of our daily activities, I hope that you will return to your daily apostolates with new insights, new enthusiasm for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and a new spirit of being companions united in carrying out the Lord's work.

Our thoughts and prayers will be constantly with you during these days.

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.

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THE RARAMURI PEOPLE OF TARAHUMANA, MEXICO

Background

The Rarámuri people live in great dispersion, much more than others. Their communities are autonomous and their authorities are independent of the neighboring communities. They seldom accept any interdependence which would organize them as a people. Consequently, the cohesion between communities is traditionally almost non-existent. In our pastoral work we have tried several times in this century to bring together traditional authorities in order to face common problems or projects and for evangelization. We also have tried to form catechists, teachers, promoters, workshops, irrigation projects, colonias, etc. These efforts always met with failure and had little success. We slowly were forced to reflect upon our methods.

After Vatican II came times of evaluations and planning, of consultants and technical innovations, of imagination and projects. We quickly saw that we did not know which way to turn. We did not know the Indians as well as we thought we did. The projects were redirected towards the smallest communities of the Rarámuri in order to redesign the work, starting from them and with them. It would seem that the Rarámuri had been waiting for this moment. In nearness and in living together, in their rites and celebrations, in their daily life and from their customs, they were opening up their hearts in friendship. We are now learning much more about their human warmth, of their resistance, their fraternity, and of their faith, and of their Father-Mother God.

In the past, pastoral plans for health, education, evangelization, and production had been redesigned again and again but had hardly ever gotten anywhere. They were in fact colliding with the course already set by the cultural models, the people and their truth. These were times now of accompanying the communities, discovering and supporting their own projects. Now the results are starting to be different, among the promoters, the irrigation projects and almost everything. Not everything was like this, but often it was so.

Some rejected these ways, others questioned them, the personal was diminishing and little remains now of it. Concern reappeared to extend the pastoral work, like a growing invasion. Plans were drawn up anew of forming native catechists, of bringing together the authorities to combat the devastation of the environment, drug trafficking, etc.

The Workshops of PROFECTAR

This is how the present-day workshops were born. We were thinking about having catechists and were looking for a model between the traditional and what had been learned through the process of accompaniment. We could not see the way ahead but we kept on almost stubbornly. The older ones warned us about the historical disasters of the past, the newer ones of the need to do something more.

PROFECTAR was a name that reflects the genesis of our project, of the agents. Its letters stand for "Project of Shared Faith in Tarahumara". It was already accepted that faith needed to be shared mutually, that it had to involve learning and drawing inspiration from the Gospel. So began a road which would go much farther. The process began with a consultation with the authorities to set up an inculturated proposal for catechesis. The plan was for the individual communities to each select several members to receive training and to return to their communities to teach, to support the celebrations, to proclaim the Word. Before we consulted several indigenous friends who were nearby, more intercultural. It then became clear that first we would have to ask the native authorities about what kind of support we might offer them to live their faith more fully, so that they would better fulfill their duties to God.

The Impact

The results of this consultation with the governors were two- fold. They first responded that if we wanted to help, they would be willing to accept training in defending their rights, the world that God had commended to them, their festivals and traditions, their forests and their land, etc.

In second place, surprisingly, they accepted the new figure which we called "helpers." This was against an old tradition which does not accept new authority figures in the communities -- such as would be involved in forming a cooperative -- because they threaten the traditional authorities and the entire community structure. They thus accepted a new office which would put them in relation with the external world which they had succeeded in distancing themselves from, in spite of the negative affect upon indigenous teachers, or agrarian and municipal authorities.

This double impact revealed many things: fresh confidence, necessary autonomy, an exacerbated culture shock, but it revealed to us something very deep: the integral dimension of their faith, never separated from the world and life.

The faith shared

The PROFECTAR process had already yielded an important fruit. The people were proposing their own project for growing in the faith. The agents were getting together in a living consensus. The faith that the Indians were sharing with us rescued our own unity. They were waiting for our possible help. In truth, we were evangelized ourselves: in cordial unity, in utopias, in dreams, in ways of faith, hope and love. None of these three words is regularly heard in the workshops. There everything is said in other ways. Nevertheless, the reflection is always based, with success, on a native myth and its biblical parallel. It was our "utopia" to see that they were participating more and more in the process, in the themes, in the design, in the conducting of the meetings. They observed, collaborated, and put to the test our capacity to give them this space. We struggled to adapt the method, the vocabulary, the contents, although we did not give up projecting our own needs upon the reality. They were deciding upon the themes, translating everything, and following their method without plans and almost in a ritual fashion.

The power of service

In the process, they decided to have only one general workshop each year and other regional ones. By reason of geography and distance, this multiplied the work, so that the regional workshops fell more and more into their hands, the team being present only sporadically, confining its role to the ordinary accompaniment of the local agents. This fact opened up space for them and they took advantage of it.

"If you want us to run the workshops, let us run them," the "helpers" who were preparing the workshops with the team of agents said one day. They sent us to work by ourselves, and asked us to leave so that they could think themselves about the how, the what and the where... They explained later what they had been thinking about and listened to our observations. They then asked again to be left to themselves and afterwards called us back again only to inform us what needed to be done, what their role would be and what ours would be. They said almost festively, when we would insist on something else: "Remember, it is your responsibility to see that the coffee is ready on time." In fact they had already assumed power, a power according to their style, for service. Between what we had been desiring and what they were assuming, they themselves had realized our long-term goal in a short time.

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THE MAPUCHE PEOPLE OF CHILE

Background

In Chile there are many indigenous groups dispersed throughout the entire national territory. In general, the Aymara population is located in the north, the Mapuche-Huilliche in the central-south, and the Rapa-Nui people on Easter Island. Of these groups, the Mapuche people represent the largest group with 928,060 persons over the age of 14 (approximately 90% of the total number of indigenous people and 9% of the national population,) according to the 1992 census. The Jesuits of Chile have approved a project of apostolic insertion with the Mapuche people which should begin by the end of the year 2000. For this reason, we have concentrated on the Mapuche people. What follows does not pretend to be an exhaustive vision of the problematic raised but rather an evaluative report for a road still to be traveled.

LIVING EXPERIENCE: THE CELEBRATION OF THE NGUILLATU'N.

The nguillatún represents the most complete and developed expression of Mapuche religiosity. Many other ritual expressions exist, such as the machitún (healing,) awún (funeral rite,) lakutún (receiving of a name,) wetripantu (new year,) and other minor rituals. However, the nguillatún is recognized by the Mapuches themselves as the ritual manifestation which best and most fully expresses the heart of Mapuche religiosity.

Nguillatún means "intercessions" or to "make intercessions" (ngulllan: to intercede or to pray; tún: the act of.) In Spanish, the word becomes "nguillatucar." As in all religious and social aspects, there are differences among the various nguillatúns, according to the zone (mountains, sea, central-south, etc.,) and the community which organizes it. These differences arise in part from local ancestral traditions as well as from the importance of formulating a distinct "identity" for each community. What is impressive is the similarity both in the formal structure as well as in the religious content of all of the nguillatúns, even between those most different among themselves.

There are several different reasons for celebrating the nguillatún. Many nguillatúns are held in response to some situation of cosmic disorder, be it natural (storms, drought, etc.,) or of society (violence, division, agreements, etc.) These nguillatúns are organized without much preparation and so do not usually involve the grandiosity of those established by tradition. The later are described here (especially the nguillatún of Malalhue for which we have a visual testimony,) those which are performed according to the calendar cycle of the seasons (the time between one and another also vary from community to community). The ngullatún is at the same time an act of thanksgiving for gifts received, an act of purification from evils experienced, and a prayer of petition for favors for the good of the entire community. According to the situation, one or another of these aspects will be more prominent. This ritual action brings the entire Malpuche community together, that is to say, the living and the dead, and is directed principally to the God of the sky, the creator and lord of all the peoples: Nguenechen. All the important ritual actions and prayers in every nguillatúns are performed four times. Four is a sacred number which refers to the totality: four are the points which comprise the totality of the land; four are the seasons which make up the totality of the year; four is the totality of space in which exist all spiritual and corporeal beings; and four is, as is explained in the final note, the totality of God.

The nguillatún takes place in the open air in the nguillatuwe or sacred field. Except for some exceptional situations, such as an act of violence or bloodshed, this sacred spot is maintained by tradition throughout time. In some cases a new place is chosen by the machi (shaman). In the sacred field, each of the ruling families (nguen) of the nguillatún (those participants directly involved) carries high a family branch. All the branches together form an open horseshoe towards the east (the mountain range where the sun is born.) Prayers are directed towards the east and several dances are performed going back and forth, always facing the east.

Certain persons are charged with moving the ceremony along. In some communities, those who direct the prayer, interceding for the entire community, are the nguillatufe or nguepin, the ritual intercessor (normally the same lonko or chiefs of the ruling families of the nguillatún are the ones who are familiar with the ritual tradition).In other communities the principle role falls to the machi. In addition, some are in charge of maintaining order, called by the name sergeant or curiche. These see that the nguillatún is performed with strict observance of the ritual order and ways of proceeding. In the center of the nguillatuwe lies the rewe, the most holy and sacred place. The principal prayers are recited beside the rewe. In the rewe are deposited large loaves of bread and chunks of meat (which later are given to the invited communities,) and the banners. The banners are of different colors according to the request being made: white and blue symbolize the petition for sun, the black banners ask for rain (speaking of good or bad weather is avoided, because this is relative according to the need). At the feet of the rewe, in two rows facing the east, are placed the pitchers filled with mudai , which are used later in the prayer and the communion drink. Towards the east is installed the llangui-llangui or altar of sacrifice, where the lamb is immolated. The lamb is always present, although in some nguillatúns only a little blood is drawn out as a symbol of immolation, but the lamb is not sacrificed on the spot. In Malalhue, are sacrificed also a bird (chicken,) white or black according to whether one is asking for sun or rain.

While the prayers are made near the rewe, an important group of horsemen surrounds the nguillatuwe galloping at full speed. They come brandishing banners, playing instruments, and raising their voices with the sacred cry (ya, ya, ya, ya.) This riding, called awún, is at the same time a purifying and transforming action, as well as action which pays honor to the divinity. While the horsemen perform the awún, the others gathered participate in the ritual dance or purrún. As with the awún, the ritual dance, accompanied by the sound of the instruments (kultrún, pifilka, trutruka, and trumpets,) gives honor to the divinity and purify the place of all evil, transforming the sacred space. All raise the branches which they have in their hands again and again forming an imposing sacred forest. Thus, in the movement of the branches the persons envelope themselves in a different sacred state, they cover themselves with holiness (just as a priest who dresses himself in white.) The type of dance can also vary according to the different nguillatúns. At the center of this transformed space stands the rewe, the cosmic tree that like a column in space unifies the spheres of heaven and earth, the physical and spiritual world, of the living and the dead. The rewe is not merely an image, but is already in the ritual act the vertex of the universe, the cosmic axis, the tree of life and of creation. From the point of view more of interpretation than of description, it can be affirmed that the sacred space of the nguillatún makes possible creation and transformation.

Through thanksgiving and praise, through sacrifice and blood, and by the expression of the abundance of gifts the cosmic restoration of the society, the people, is achieved. Here culture and faith not only are expressed, rather they are "realized." For this reason, in the nguillatún, the identity of the Mapuche community is not only affirmed, it is also recreated. The universe and the Mapuche society spring from a struggle between the forces of good and evil which had been produced by a cosmic disequilibrium like the universal flood.

The majority of the stories of tretren and kaikai give an account of a restoration of the lost equilibrium through the sacrifice and the immolation of a victim. The Mapuche have a deep feel for how the imbalance of spiritual forces (due to the neglect of sacred duties of by the violation of cultural or moral laws,) is translated into disequilibria in nature and ruptures within the human community. In the nguillatún, the lost equilibrium is restored to its original order through the sacrifice of the lamb. The blood reestablishes the primordial order and original harmony. The world is created again! Prayer and communion establish them as a single people before God. Those who are at prayer insert their sacred branches into the pitchers of mudai, mixing among themselves as an intimate sign of communion. There all the community becomes one.

Finally all partake of the drink. We can say that the community is not merely expressed in the ritual action, it is created again, it is realized... and also it is transformed so that new members can be integrated sacrally in this unique space of communion.

Finally appears the sign of the abundance of the eschatological times. A fundamental part of the historical memory of the Mapuche people is represented by the primordial figure of the time of abundance, when they were not poor, but rich. This time immemorial is reactualized in the abundance present in the nguillatún. For a "winka" [Chilean] like myself, it never ceases to amaze me the amount of gifts of foods which takes place during the nguillatún (the animals begin to tremble when the date comes near!) There would seem to be no limit to the capacity to give... comparable only to the abundance from which God gave during that time immemorial. In the ritual performance, this time is made real and present, here and now, for all the participants.

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"WITHOUT DIALOGUE THERE IS NO HOPE, WITHOUT HOPE THERE IS NO FUTURE"
.

TRIPARTITE DIALOGUE IN MINDANAO

*[Ed. Note: Fr. Luciano was released in February, 1999]

At the seventh dialogue of the Bishops-Ulama Forum in Iligan City last August 17-19, 1998, this saying posted on the wall was a continuing invitation to the participants - Muslim religious leaders and Catholic and Protestant bishops - to continue the process of forging a culture of peace in Mindanao. Indeed, the focus of this seventh dialogue was the religious bases of peace from the sacred scriptures of Christians and Muslims, the Bible and the Qur'an.

Three weeks later, on September 8th, the smaller Tripartite Commission of the bishops and ulama met again in Cotabato City to follow up concrete proposals like joining the peace talks between the government and the MILF panels as a "significant third party". The same afternoon, a number of the ulama and Protestant bishops attended the Installation Mass of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo as the new head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cotabato - a symbolic gesture of ecumenical and interreligious solidarity. However, on the following day, news was received about the kidnapping of another foreign missionary priest, Fr. Luciano Benedetti, P.I.M.E., as well as the kidnappings of two more groups of foreigners in the Zamboanga Peninsula area. Until now these kidnappings remain unresolved.* The suspects are reportedly a lost command of the MNLF or the more extremist Abu Sayyaf rebels. Dialogues for peace have once more encountered discordant notes from acts of crime and violence.

It is in this context that a culture of peace among mainstream Christian and Muslim communities must be cultivated, and even reinforced, despite and because of the extremist minority groups from either side.

I. Why a Culture of Peace?

Mindanao is but a small example of how, globally, the challenge of forging a culture of peace can counter the ever - expanding culture of violence, war, and death, engulfing modern societies. Drug-trafficking, hostage-taking, mercy-killing, sales of abortifacients, and lately, even a nuclear arms race among Third World countries are but some indicators of how modern man has been more pre-occupied with the darker side of human existence, exhibiting a fundamental disregard for human life itself. In the post-Cold War area, we are told the causes of armed conflicts are no longer ideological nor due to considerations of geo-politics; that in fact most wars today are ignited among ethnic groups within national boundaries; and that more often than not, combatants have been living side the case in "hot spots" in the world today like Chiapas, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Israel and Palestine, the Sudan, the Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, East Timor and Southern Mindanao.

The globalization of the economy and mass media may have brought about a "homogenized" pop culture; but it has also provoked reactions of fundamentalist groups, stressing their ethnic identities--whether based on language, race, culture, religion, or claims to ancestral homeland. Global divisions along "North-South" or "East-West" axes or along religious - cultural groupings (e.g., Islam versus Christianity) have simply added another layer of "wider loyalties" to basic ethnic identities, best expressed in a community's own way of life, i.e., a culture. Can a Culture of Peace then overcome a war of Cultures? Can cultural differences be transcended by the convergence of basic human needs and human values?

In one Culture of Peace workshop we conducted in Ipil two years ago at the height of the SPSPD issue, we divided Christian, Muslims, and Subanen participants according to their cultural groupings and asked them to point out the positive and negative images they saw of the other groups. At reporting time, the Christians said that they admired the Muslims for being brave, for helping each other in time of conflict, and for being proud of their culture; but that Muslims could not be trusted, were too arrogant, and were bound to feudal structures. On their part, the Muslims found the Christians more educated, able to follow regulations, and concerned about the poorer sectors of society; but that they were too proud, were landgrabbers and drunkards, and they took advantage of the law for their own interests.

Both Christians and Muslims admired the indigenous people for their simple way of life and being closer to nature and to God with their sense of the sacred; but that the Subanens were lazy, not educated, and lacked discipline. The Subanens, on their part, acknowledged that Christians and Muslims were better educated, and had a strong sense of loyalty to their kin; but that both groups were exploitative of the Subanen's way of life, had even enslaved some of them, and were wantonly destructive of the environment.

As we processed the findings, it dawned on everyone that every cultural group had its own good points and that stereotype images alone (especially of the negative points) presented an incomplete description of one's culture. Should we not rather build on the good points of every culture and make these bases for a culture of peace - where everyone can be challenged to be as brave and loyal as the Muslims; as educated and civic-conscious as the Christians; and closer to God and nature as the Subanens? Instead of looking down at the dark side of the other cultures, can we not rather look up at the finer points in these cultures that ennoble all of us and make us better Filipinos and human beings?

II. Culture and Religion

What personality is to an individual, we are told, so is culture to a community. Everyone is born to a culture. Culture provides us with a frame of reference, a mental and affective home as we grow up and take our place within a community. Without culture, a person stands naked before the world; indeed a community that relinquishes its culture loses its soul. It is culture that roots us in past generations; it is culture that we also transmit to future generations. In this light, culture is a living, dynamic reality that can interact and blend - or clash - with other cultures. Some cultures die, while others perdure through time. Perhaps the most vibrant cultures today are those that have adapted and learned from other cultures, while retaining their own identity. Like an individual's personality, a culture can also be enriched, purified, transformed by "external" influences and value-systems. At the core of these value systems is religion or a faith commitment that provides the first principles and ultimate concerns for a person's life journey - whether Muslim, Christian, or animist.

On the other hand, a universalist, evangelizing faith-commitment connotes that a religious faith cannot be quite captured in a single culture, but rather that it should be "inculturated" in many different ways. An aleem in our Bishops - Ulama dialogue expressed it this way: "My wife does not have to wear the head veil all the time. We are not Arabs, we are Filipino Muslims". In this light, for believers of any faith, religion occupies the core values within their culture, but at the same time offers them a way of resonating with the core values of other cultures. Thus, as a summer course of Eastern Mennonite University has aptly described it, religion has been viewed as a "source of conflict" (historically), as well as "a resource for peace" (morally). Interreligious dialogue becomes part of that moral imperative for peace. Among the many descriptions of culture, let me spell out a working definition from a religious order's attempt to comprehend the impact of culture in today's world:

Culture means the way in which a group of people live, think, feel, organize themselves, celebrate and share life. In every culture, there are underlying systems of values, meanings and views of the world, which are expressed, visibly, in languages, gestures, symbols, rituals and styles. Again, as with the individual person, two dimensions are pointed out in every culture:

1) the external, material aspects of "languages, gestures, symbols, rituals and styles;" and

2) the internal, spiritual aspects of "values, meanings and views of the world".

What is important to keep in mind is that these two dimensions, the internal and the external, are integrated in a community's way of life - i.e., in how "a group of people live, think, feel, organize themselves, celebrate and share life". Oftentimes, conflicts arise when we fail to understand the inner meaning of the external aspects of another culture. A college instructor in Xavier University Cagayan de Oro once recounted to me an experience she had in the classroom. At the beginning of the semester, when the Muslims' call to prayer was heard over the loudspeaker at noontime from a nearby mosque, some members of the class started to make fun of it. Two members of the class, however, were Muslims and they asked permission from her to explain the meaning of that call to prayer the next time the class would meet. After the explanation, the rest of the class thereon began to appreciate the meaning of that call to prayer. After all, do Christians and Muslims not also listen to Angelus bells?

At another instance, while I was doing my dissertation work in the IRRI scholars' dorm in Los Baños, a Muslim friend from Bangladesh came to my room and noticed the Bible partly covered by other papers on my desk. He gently scolded me: "Tony, why are you leaving your Bible like that with other papers on your desk? For us, the Qur'an should always be kept in a place of honour".

His appreciation of the inner significance of a sacred book was keener than mine, and made me a better Christian by that experience. If religion is at the core of our cultu-res, and both Islam and Christianity are religions of peace, can we not work together with all believers towards a Culture of Peace?

For its part, a University has a role par excellence to play in providing a forum for the meeting of cultures and synthesizing the best features of various cultures. It is in this light that a University can see itself as the purveyor of a new Culture of Peace by designing an education curriculum for peace-building.

Tony Ledesma, S.J.,
Bishop of Ipil

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IN DIALOGUE WITH ALIMUDDIN

It took me just 12 minutes to reach the Alipore Road masjid. However, it took much longer to establish a cordial relationship with the maulvi, Alimuddin, who is the caretaker of the masjid. A friend of mine recommended him as a good Urdu tutor. Alimuddin could not understand why I was interested in that language. He made me wait 18 months before he reluctantly accepted me as his student. During this time of waiting I felt frustrated. I was often tempted to seek another tutor. But, I persisted. Currently, I visit him four times a week. Besides doing Urdu we talk about Allah, His prophets, Muslims in India and about the subjects like the need for peace and harmony in our country.

The Difficulties and the options: There are difficulties in having dialogue with Muslims, for we differ from them in our understanding of God and the nature of Jesus. Alimuddin is convinced, for exam-ple; that only the Holy Qur'an is the final revelation of God. And one has to submit to the will of God by following the divine law, the Sharia. Keeping the Sharia means to sell life and properties to buy heaven. I may differ, but I listen to him with genuine respect, not holding tight to my own views nor closing myself to his.

When I listen to him I pay attention to his words, but much more to the feeling with which he expresses them. I am challenged within my being when I become aware of the convictions of Alimuddin. For he believes in the One God, God revealing fundamental truths, God speaking through the prophets. The Muslim experience of God is in and through the Holy Qur'an. I find that listening awakens in me the consciousness of similar truths within myself and thus I feel a longing for harmony and peace. Repeated reflections, sharing and prayer lead me to experience God as active and selfgiving in my history and tradition and collective consciousness. My God is present and active, but in a different way, in the lives of Muslims. Alimuddin is an equal partner with me in dialogue.

Mission Theology:

The openness of the Church has been interpreted by theologians in different ways. The "seeds of the Word" which are seen in other religions, some would say, relate in some way the "Word made flesh"(John 1:14). They are true seeds, but they do not bear the full flower; they are filled with Christ's Spirit but not completely. Such explanations would be offensive to a Muslim. A Muslim might feel that the Dialogue has a hidden agenda., and it is merely a means towards the final goal of conversion. But Dialogue is an end in itself without the least of ulterior motives.

At this moment, it would seem proper, based on my limited experience with Alimuddin to merely share Faith and speak of common social concerns. Alimuddin has a thirst for peace and harmony. He told me that in the Friday preaching he insists that Muslims live in peace with one another and people of other faiths. While listening to and dialoguing with Alimuddin I recognized the fruits of the spirit of God. I as a Christian recognize the longing for peace as a gift of being the children of God in and through Jesus. Whereas Alimuddin experiences this giftedness in and through the Holy Qur'an. We share this grace, and the discovery of our spiritual journeys, with one another. Such sharing enriches us and deepens us the experience of God.

I grow deeper in Christ by allowing my self to be enriched by the spiritual journey of Alimuddin. Alimuddin may or may not allow my sharing to enrich his spiritual journey. The decision is entirely his own. But in such a dialogical process I feel transformed for the better.

Fr. Victor Edwin, S.J.

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"Interreligious dialogue is not just an academic exercise, it is a matter of survival in India"

INTERVIEW WITH RUDY HEREDIA, S.J.

Very few Jesuits in India today conform to the stereotype of the cassocked warrior-priest carrying the word of Christ to the distant corners of the globe. Indeed the Society of Jesus is at the forefront of the process of inculturation, through which the Catholic Church has opened itself in creative dialogue to the societies and cultures in which it works, rather than imposing a uniform Eurocentric dispensation upon them. This is the breed of Jesuit Father Rudolf Heredia, director of the Social Science Centre at St Xavier's College, Mumbai, represents. The 1941-born Heredia was trained in theology and philosophy at Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth in Pune, and went to earn a doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago.

Both as sociologist and as theologian, Heredia Has wrestled with such problems as the politicization of religion and the impact of moderns forms of life on India's traditional culture. Concerned to preserve the rich textures of India's natural multiculturalism, Heredia has long been active in the cause of interreligious dialogue. He believes that is possible, even imperative, for the followers of various faiths to overcome their mutual suspicion and cultivate a respect for religious differences.

(Excerpts from a conversation)

Q: Your commitment to interreligious dialogue seems to mark a conjunction of your concerns as a sociologist studying Indian society and as an Indian Jesuit. When did you begin to work in the cause of interreligious dialogue?

A: I came to interreligious dialogue more as a student of Indian society than as a Jesuit. By the mid-1980s, it had become clear that Hindu militancy had begun to peak. In 1984, we witnessed the Bhiwandi riots and then the anti-Sikh riots that followed Mrs. Gandhi's assassination. I was in Delhi at the time, and was shocked by the experience. There was both madness and a method at work - there were deep-rooted cultural anxieties present among the people, but also economic inequities that could be played upon by politicians mobilising communal identities. I felt a need to confront these disturbing trends.

Q: What form did your efforts take?

A: In the late 1980s, I collaborated with the scholar-activist Asghar Ali Engineer in a lecture series at various Mumbai colleges. Here, we explore the humanist and liberative aspects of India's religious traditions. Gradually, it has become obvious that interreligious dialogue is not just an academic exercise, it is a matter of survival in India - not only for the minorities, but for Hinduism too.

Q: Would you say that traditions refine themselves through dialogue, learning to confront both their strengths and their vulnerabilities?

A: Certainly. When Hinduism engages in dialogue with other traditions it discovers that its true strength is its freedom from any single political structure or creed. But Hindutva can do to Hinduism what Nazism did to Germany - it is a cultural nationalism that mobilises on the basis of exclusion, narrowing instead of expanding the human possibilities.

Q: You have always aknowledged the influence of the distinguished Indo-Catalan theologian, Raimundo Panikkar, on your perspective. Would you comment on the relevance that Panikker's view on religious experience bears to his own understanding of religion as a mythic rather than a dogmatic approach to the word?

A: Panikkar begins with the mystical teaching that religious experience - an encounter with the transcendent - is beyond words. As such religious experience undergoes a translation into concepts or symbols even when it is interpreted to oneself. When it is communicated to others, we have the beginning of a religious traditions. This is because we cannot function without translating experience into language. But the transcendent is beyond finite human consciousness, and we have a necessarily partial understanding of it. This is why it must be grasped through myth - dynamic, spontaneous address to the imagination, which like poetry, points to realities beyond the empirical and immediate. After all, we live by certain central myths - karma, the Resurrection, the avatar. Of course, if allow myth to ossify, we get the literalism of dogma.

Q: Interreligious dialogue is often view with suspicion, as the first step towards conversion. Have you encountered much opposition on this score?

A: The purpose of interreligious dialogue is not to convert or persuades, or to be converted or persuades - it is to be open to the other, to understand the other's viewpoint. Interreligious dialogue takes equality for its basis. When we have different myths, we can enrich one another. And since the only way to understand another's myth is by entering it, this becomes the central challenge.

Q: Surely the very process of dialogue involves an openness to change in one's own outlook, or else why engage in dialogue?

A: All connection with the other involves some abandonment of your comfort zone at various levels - in living, working and praying together, in articulating a theology together.

Q: Most people today have layered identities - a composite of social role, professional interest, ethnicity, ideological preference. The group-bounded, exclusive identities of the past are opening out. But religious identity remains premised on an either/or logic - you are either Hindu or Christian, Jewish or Buddhist, you cannot be both. Does layered religious identity sound plausible?

A: To attain a layered religious identity at an experiential level than in a doctrinal sense, we have to re-define our understanding of how religions operate. Religions that function as ideology cannot be tolerant because they are comprehensive explanations. But religions that operate as myth are open-ended and allow you to learn something from various sources.

Q: What is the official position of the Catholic Church, today, on the subject?

A: Since the far-reaching and revolutionary deliberations of the Second Vatican Council, the idea that the Church has an absolute monopoly on truth has receded considerably. Popes like Paul VI and John XXIII have emphasised the importance of dialogue to the renewal of the Catholic Church. A recent Jesuit statement, decree 5 of the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, asserts that "to be religious today is to be interreligious" and calls for a "positive relationship with believers of other faiths".

Q: Would this indicate a great change in the traditional role of the 'missionary'?

A: Unquestionably. The Western-style missionary has long come across as a travelling salesman. In India, the Buddhist missionary worked by example, leading a life guided by the Dhamma. This kind of missionary is like a rose, the special fragrance of which wafts everywhere by itself. And Buddhism has spread without violence throughout its history, which is a model for the modern world. Religious convictions can never be imposed from without - they must be chosen freely, by individuals or com-munities that wish to find their own sva-dharma, one that suits their spirituality, temperament and situation.

Ranjit Hoskote, S.J.
["The Sunday Times of India", 30 May]

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Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue; Jesuit Curia, C.P. 6139, 00195 Roma Prata, Italy;
tel. (39-6) 689.77.568; fax: 687.5101; email: interrel@sjcuria.org