Meetings on Interreligious Dialogue

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From left to right: Lay Dominican Thomas Lemmen, Franciscan Brother Jürgen Neitzert, Dominican Friar Brian Pierce, Imam  Mustafa Hadzic and Dominican Brother Prakash Lohale at the Gazi-Husrev-Beg-Mosquea in Cologne, Germany.
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Bro. Prakash Lohale, the Order’s Socius for Apostolic Life had three interesting meetings on interreligious dialogue along with other members of the Dominican family back to back in May.

The first one was at Gazi-Husrev-Beg-Mosquea, a Bosnian mosque in Cologne, Germany, organized by Mrs. Melanie Miehl and Mr. Thomas Lemmen, lay Dominicans from the Cologne Chapter.  The meeting also included two other Dominican friars, a Franciscan friar, Jurgen Neitzert, the Mosque’s Imam, Mustafa Hadzic, four other Christians and five other Muslims from Turkey and Bosnia.  We listened to Muslim evening prayer in the mosque, prayed together, shared a meal, and discussed many issues—from what it is like to be a member of a minority religion, working together with people from other religions, to the delicate topic of inter-religious conversions. Our deepest discussion centered on sharing of our experiences in dialogue with Buddhists and Hindus. Due of the warm hospitality of our host, the meeting included the exchange of gifts as well.  The core members of the group originally met at the Inter-faith meeting in Assisi with Pope Benedict XVI, in October 2011.  The group is hoping to take an interreligious pilgrimage to Bosnia in the coming year. 

This meeting was followed immediately by a four day Buddhist-Christian dialogue/retreat at a Buddhist monastery in Waldbröl, Germany, sponsored by the European Institute of Applied Buddhism (http://www.eiab.eu). The encounter was led by brother Brian Pierce, the Order’s Promoter of the Nuns, who gave a series of lectures on the web of connections in the spiritualties of Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart and Vietnamese Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh.  Also attending were Bros. Prakash and Scott Steinkerchner, Sr. Josefa Strettiová, a Dominican nun from Prague, three Buddhist nuns, two Buddhist monks, two protestant pastors, and six others somewhere on the path between Christianity and Buddhism.

In our daily schedule, we shared mediation (sitting and walking), meals, discussions and exercise, all marked by the rhythm of chiming bells. To promote mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh’s communities stop and center their minds on the present moment whenever they hear a bell. The main refectory has a clock that chimes on the quarter hour, thus becoming a constant clarion call to mindfulness.

In four days, the Christian and Buddhist monastics found ample time to share about their respective religious lives, learning how each of the various communities deals with similar problems, and how some practices were quite similar while others were far apart. Personally, I was quite impressed with the power, passion and simplicity with which the Buddhists lived their religious vows. They prefer not to isolate themselves from each other so that they can benefit from the challenges that come from living together so closely. As a systematic theologian, I also found it humorous how uninterested the monks and nuns were with systematic philosophical questions. They were much more practical than your average Dominican, preferring not to argue fine philosophical distinctions, but rather to live with integrity and spend time in devotion and meditation.

The meeting went so well that we agreed that four days was simply not enough time. We hope to have another, similar meeting soon, especially among the monastics, perhaps in the United States where the community has several other monasteries with conference centers attached.

The final meeting was at Santa Sabina, our headquarters in Rome, led by brother Alberto Ambrosio, the Vicar Provincial of Turkey. Also present at the meeting were Bros. Prakash, Brian, Michael Mascari (Socius for Intellectual Life), Amir Jaje (Vicar Provincial of the Arabic Vicariate), Jean-Jacques Pérennès (director of IDEO, our Islamic library in Cairo) and Vincent Lu Ha (Socius for the Asia-Pacific region).

As Pope John Paul II said: “Interreligious dialogue is a work desired by God and an integral element of the church’s evangelizing mission” (John Paul II, 28 April 1987). The importance of interreligious dialogue to the mission of the Order has always been affirmed by past General Chapters of the Order and most recently at the General Chapter of Rome, 2010. (cf. ACG, Rome 2010 #161, 2007 Bogotá, #22 & #82, 1986 Ávila, #22). Dominicans have therefore been involved in interreligious dialogue since inception, but recently, the emphasis has changed, becoming more challenging. New elements in today’s context make our commitment to Inter-religious dialogue even more important than before: the growth of violence committed in the name of religion that affects the Christians in several countries, and inappropriate activism  of some evangelical groups. (ACG, Rome 2010, 161).

Responding to these statements and a request from Bro. Bruno Cadoré, the Master of the Order, the seven friars present investigated questions:

  1. How to promote interreligious dialogue in our centers of study and among the brothers in formation?
  2. How to form brothers in conflict resolution?
  3. How to restructure international meetings to animate interreligious dialogue more effectively?
  4. How to deal with inappropriate activism and religious fundamentalism that leads to violence?

The group will continue communicating over the summer and will consult other experts in order to prepare a working paper for the next General Chapter in 2013. Some of the ideas discussed were creating an online course about interreligious dialogue and having the next meeting for those involved in dialogue with Islam in Indonesia instead of Rome. There was also considerable discussion about how broadly to think about interreligious dialogue: Should it address the growing violence in society? How does it interface with religious fundamentalism? Should we include brothers and sisters in dialogue with any religion, or focus on the dialogue with Islam?

 

by fr. Scott Steinkerchner, O.P.