...interreligious dialogue should be taken up as an interconfessional Christian endeavor in response to the question that the present pluralistic context poses to all Christian communities: 'How are you Christian churches going to witness to the God of Jesus Christ without losing the integrity of your faith while at the same time not overlooking the signs of God's grace that are to be found in the world and particularly the religious experience of individuals and communities of faith?' [in E. Acoba, et al., Naming the Unknown God (Manila: ATS/OMF, 2006), 77]
Viviano's observation and suggestion became more relevant to me when I attended the "Inter–Faith Encounter 2009" hosted by the Department of Religion of Saint Louis University (SLU) on 25 September 2009. 91 participants representing 13 "Spiritualities" (faith systems) gathered for the event which was centered on the theme: "Journeying together toward an integral human development."
The Spiritualities are Ageless Wisdom, Ananda Marga, Bahai Faith, Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism, Catholic Christianity, Cordillera Indigenous, Eckankar, Ecumenical Coalition of Spiritual Missionaries of the Philippines, Hare Krishna, Hinduism, Islam, and Latter Day Saints.
Representatives of these groups were allotted five−minute presentations in answer to the question, "What are the teachings and practices of your Spirituality that contribute to the integral/total/holistic development of humans and the whole of creation?" The discussions fell into four segments interspersed with five−minute question−and−answer periods.
For an ex–sectarian preacher like me, the nearly three–hour sharing of beliefs and practices was refreshing and enlightening. Initially, the penchant for an I'll–prove–you–wrong debate I got conditioned in as a one–time member of an exclusivist Christian group wanted to break loose. It got quickly chained, though, and my thoughts got attuned to the prevailing spirit of the affair: tolerance. As I came to understand it, the tolerance the participants commonly held was not something that denied differences, but one that respected differences while exploring points of agreement; it was not something that naively asserted the absence of mutually contradictory beliefs, but one that celebrated whatever divine truths each faith system has.
The forum sought to "identify... commonalities and points of convergence [of] people with religious and spiritual convictions." Toward the end of the activity, SLU Theology professor Gil Reoma summed up these "commonalities and points of convergence" as follows:
1. All are believers, we live according to our beliefs. Our faith gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
2. We are one; all religions come from one Source.
3. We live by principles, of the law of nature, of the Divine.
4. Affirmation of the Divinity in different names both as transcendent who is Totally Other than and immanent who is with us.
5. Affirmation of our Nature: we are Spiritual Beings (Souls).
6. We have ethical practices guided by love and respect.
The forum was a venue where one is made "to look at each other's beauty," as one Brahma Kumaris guru put it. And that beauty, she continues, is made visible when we look into our fellow's eye, into her/his soul and be made to realize that we are one in that plane of consciousness where color, gender, and ethnicity do not exist or do not matter.
It was another learning session where one becomes more conscious of the multiple meanings we attach to words wrought by the various cultural millieu we grew in. It was one which urges us to ponder further how we must deal not only with institutionalism and sectarianism but with relativism and syncretism as well.
Surely, it is doubtful whether a forum as this could actually and totally dissolve differences among those who belong to various persuasions. What is certain, however, is that it multiplies the possibility of cooperation in a community which seeks to "foster the culture of caring."
Kudos to apo university president Jessie Hechanova and SLU!
[caption id="attachment_3121" align="aligncenter" width="460" caption="INTERFACE OF FAITHS. SLU museum curator Isikias Pikpikan (inset) shares the core beliefs and practices of the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras, the Igorot, with 90 other participants in the 25 September 2009 interfaith dialogue held at the AVR of the College of Human Sciences (CHS), Saint Louis University (SLU). sms photo"][/caption]