The Interfaith (or Inter-Religious) movement in the Diocese of Plymouth
It is worth reminding ourselves that other religions have their own Calendars e.g. for Jews it is 5760 and of course Hinduism is far older! Technically speaking it is only the Millenium for the Christian World but the Christian Calendar has been universalised. The year 2000 which is a Christian occasion is arousing great interest among the followers of other religions. The Rome Assembly is a suitable moment for all religious leaders to reflect together on the human family's common pilgrimage and to seek ways for the future peace and solidarity among the whole of human kind.
It is easy to see that such an agenda is vast, fascinating, and all important if human beings are ever going to learn to live in peace with one another. A cursory view of the media will reveal that nearly all conflict wears a religious label but it still comes as a surprise to some Catholics to learn that the Catholic Church is in dialogue with men and women of other faiths. It is not dissimilar to the ongoing dialogue with men and women from the other Christian traditions and the dialogue with men and women from the other great religious traditions of the world has been aptly described as the wider ecumenism. In fact dialogue encounter conversation even study of texts with Buddhists, Confucianists or Hindus predates inter Christian relations.
"Teaching of Contempt" Towards the Jews
John XXIII and his advisers were well aware of the Church's complicity and partial responsibility for the Holocaust (the death of about six million Jews in Nazi occupied Europe) during 1933-45 but also because of "the teaching of contempt" towards Jews and Judaism which the Church had taught for so many centuries. They were likewise persuaded to address not only the Church's all important relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters at Vatican II but also with our brothers and sisters from other Faith traditions be they Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh who for so many centuries had been described as "living in darkness, unbelief or idolatry".
"Nostrae Aetate" (In Our Times)
The Holy Roman Church at Vatican II clarified and defined her position vis-a-vis the other great religious traditions in the great document "Nostrae Aetate" (In our times) promulgated 28th October 1965, the feast of SS. Simon and Jude.
All the people on earth make up one single community, since God made all men and gave them the earth to live in. They also all have the same ultimate goal. That goal is God, whose love and care, whose plan of salvation extends to all men everywhere." (Cf. Wisdom 8:11; Acts 14:17; Romans 2:6-7; 1 Tim 2:4)
Nostrae Aetate and the revised Prayers of the Faithful on Good Friday are a milestone in our approach to those who we used to cite as "the perfidious Jews" or as "infidels and idolaters". It is a pity this noble document is so little known appreciated or read since it is so short. Nostrae Aetate was a beginning and the dialogue or dialogues have travelled a long way since 1965. The following selection of statements may help the readers of this website page.
"There can be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. There can be no dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundations of the religions."
"In the course of centuries there have been quarrels and hostilities between Christians and Muslims. But now the Council begs them both to forget the past and to work together for mutual understanding. For the sake of the whole human race let Muslim and Christian work together for social justice, for morality and for peace and freedom."
"Since the spiritual heritage shared by Jews and Christians is so great, the Council urges each of them to mutual understanding and respect. This will be brought about above all by brotherly dialogue, by biblical and theological study."
"Hindus contemplate the mystery of God and express it through a rich treasury of myth and through philosophical enquiry. They seek liberation from the anguish of our human condition through self discipline through profound contemplation through loving commitment to God."
"In the many forms of Buddhism they recognise that this world of time can never satisfy them. And they are taught to achieve a state of absolute enlightenment."
Regarding Cooperation With Other Religions
"Similarly all over the world, other religions struggle to answer the restless searchings of men's hearts. And they put forward various 'ways', doctrines, rules of life and sacred ceremonies. The Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. It respects these ways of life, these rules, these teachings... The Church urges its members to co-operation and dialogue with members of other religions. As witnesses to Christ, they must acknowledge and encourage the good in these cultures which are not Christian."
Conclusion - Dialogue in England
The importance of dialogue with those of other religions is not self evident in the diocese of Plymouth unlike the diocese of Westminster where there is a large, efficient and well informed department but then London has the largest multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in Europe.
The "Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales Committee for Other Faiths" was set up under Bishop Charles Henderson to further the dialogue between ourselves and the non-Christian religions.
It is not generally appreciated but Cardinal Jean-Louis Taurin sends out greetings and good wishes to the other Faith Communities for the birthdays of the Buddha; Gurunanak (Sikh); Baha'u'llah (Bahai); or the end of Ramadan (Muslim); Divali (Hindu) etc., on behalf of us all.
[Copies of these goodwill greetings to other faiths can be provided by the Plymouth Diocesan Inter-Religious Dialogue Co-ordinator - contact details are given below.]
Finally it is essential for those of us involved in this fascinating and deeply important sensitive venture to remember that "the Church must always preach Christ, who is 'the way, and the truth, and the life', in whom is found the fullness of religion, in whom God has reconciled all things to himself" (Cf. John 14:6; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Rev. Canon Julian Friend SST MA BD
[Canon Julian died 14 January 2006. He was a priest of the Plymouth Diocese and the Diocesan Inter-Religious Dialogue Co-ordinator.]
Diocesan Inter-Religious Dialogue Co-ordinators have a national framework and an annual meeting organised by the Bishops' Conference Committee for Other Faiths. This enables them to learn from each other's experience. A two-way strategy is evolving: inwards leading to programmes of formation for clergy and laity, and outwards leading to contacts and constructive relations with other religions. For more information about activities in the Plymouth Diocese contact the Inter-Religious Co-ordinator - details below.
Details for the Christian Unity Office can be found under Departments, Commissions on this website.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, Committee for Other Faiths, 39, Eccleston Square, London SW1V1BX. Tel: 020 7901 4842. Fax: 020 7901 4821