Formation of Youth Towards Interfaith Dialogue

Fr. Jayapalan sdb

Image Courtesy: Shane Rounce

The Declaration Nostra Aetate is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of the Church’s attitude to other religions. The Church for the first time admitted that there is a genuine search for the Absolute in other religions. She recognized the truth and holiness found in other religions as the work of God.

The Second Vatican Council’s positive approach to other religions echoes in other documents too (LG 16; AG 16), while stressing the Church as “universal sacrament of salvation” (LG 9; GS 45; CCC 772–776, RM 2). She wants its members to be prepared for dialogue with people of other religions (GS 92, AG 11, 34; NA 2–3), not only at the level of cooperation in humanitarian tasks (AA 27, AG 12, GS 92), but also at the cultural, moral and spiritual levels (NA 5, AG 18).

Since the council, Popes have taken a number of initiatives to express the same spirit through their teachings and life: meeting of leaders of religions at Assisi and in India in 1986, setting up the secretariat for Non-Christians, later changed to Inter-religious dialogue, recent visit to UAE and Iraq etc. Addressing the bishops of Asia, Pope Francis spoke of the importance of dialogue, which “is an essential part of the mission of the Church in Asia” (EA, 29) and invited them to create a “culture of encounter” in order to travel together with all people “the path to greater understanding, friendship and solidarity.” (“How to Dialogue: Not to Conquer but to Walk Together, 2014)

Multi-Religious context

In the world of today, characterized by rapid communications, mobility of peoples, and interdependence, there is a new awareness of the fact of religious plurality. India has seven living religions — Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and Zorastrianism. India has seen in the recent decades the eruption of communal violence and several major riots. Thousands of people are tortured and killed, nation is being divided, and even the holy places of worship are demolished in the name of religion.

The religious situation today in India with diverse religions is complex with their differences. The effort to bridge the gaps in understanding between religions has led to efforts at inter-religious dialogue. Yet, the practice of dialogue raises problems.

Importance of Inter-religious dialogue

The only solution to protect the humanity from this appalling condition would be interfaith dialogue through the understanding of different religions or belief systems. It would benefit in removing prejudices and misunderstandings about each other’s faith and help to realize common objectives of justice and peace.

Pope Francis calls us to recognise that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians, who could be caught up in networks of verbal violence in various ways overstepping limits, abandoning ethical standards and respect through defamation and slander (Fratelli Tutti 46)

Objectives of Inter-faith dialogue

Interreligious dialogue does not merely aim at mutual understanding and friendly relations but reaches a much deeper level, that of the spirit, where exchange and sharing consist in a mutual witness to one’s beliefs and a common exploration of one’s respective religious convictions. Interfaith dialogue does not aim to change the ideas of people about their religions or faiths, but seeks to find common ground between religions, to focus on communities, and through an emphasis on harmony and peace, find solutions to many of our common problems, providing an atmosphere of freedom.

Requirements of Inter-religious dialogue

In a pluralistic society, dialogue is the best way to realize what ought always to be affirmed and respected apart from any ephemeral consensus. Such dialogue needs to be enriched and illumined by clear thinking, rational arguments, a variety of perspectives and the contribution of different fields of knowledge and points of view (FT 211). Pope Francis calls for a “culture of encounter”

Dialogue between the followers of different religions does not take place simply for the sake of diplomacy, consideration or tolerance. In the words of the Bishops of India, “the goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love”. Our dialogue, if it is true dialogue, has to be open-ended, evocative of the idea of the unity of mankind, eluding any final verdict as to where dialogue will lead us.

Formation of Youth for Inter-faith Dialogue

The Secretariat for Non-Christians, now the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1984) speaks of four forms of Interfaith dialogue: a) The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations; b) The dialogue of action in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people; c) The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values and d) The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute. The young need to be guided in all the four, specially the dialogue of life and action.

One of the Challenges commonly identified with interfaith dialogue is the lack of younger people participating. It is therefore truly paramount today for religious leaders to create opportunities for young people to exchange ideas and develop peace initiatives using their respective religious teachings. It will help to protect the society and territories from violence, extremism and terrorism, and to eliminate chances of clashes and warfare. It is necessary to adopt the “Inclusive theory” of Mahatma Gandhi: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.” (http://www.leadthecompetition.in/GK/history/important -quotes-of-gandhiji.html)

Towards Future:

It is very important to build up our future generation with our sharing and guidance. For this, we need to provide youth animators and youth leaders with an opportunity for a personal interaction with representatives of different religious traditions to reflect on important topics related to inter-religious dialogue; to raise the young people’s intercultural and interfaith sensitivity through exploring various faiths on the principle of constructive dialogue; to equip the young with key competences and innovative non-formal methods, which they can use for lifelong learning activities in the field of inter-religious dialogue; to unite youth workers, youth leaders, academia, and representatives of different religions in a safe environment overcoming interfaith clashes; to create a regional and national network of highly qualified individuals and groups who will work on sustainable development of young people with diverse religious backgrounds promoting tolerance, interfaith dialogue and peace; to organize formation courses and programmes on interreligious dialogue for different Christian groups, especially seminarians and young people in educational institutions.

About the Author:

Fr. Jayapalan SDB, A Salesian for 44 years and priest for 34 years. Former provincial of Chennai province and recently World delegate of the Past pupils of Don Bosco, based in Rome. He was the CCBI National Coordinator for Catechetics. He specialized in Catechetics with a doctorate in Rome. He has contributed in the Catechetical field at the regional, national and international level with publications and courses. He has many Catechetical publications, particularly the “CCBI National Directory for Catechesis”.

Bulletin of the Chennai Jesuit Province