Ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue always emerge from social and political, not theological, convictions, as the Manhattan Declaration showed in its capacity to apply the fig leaf of ecumenism to the private parts of shouting matches about American culture. But the Vatican, with its universal jurisdiction, can always outdo American Christians who can be so parochial about the size of the Big Apple. Pope Francis has his sights set on a collaborative endeavor with Buddhists:
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops’s Conference of India and Religions for Peace, held the Vatican’s fifth Buddhist-Christian Colloquium February 12-13, 2015 at Bodh Gaya, India. Bodh Gaya is the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment and was chosen for a dialogue since it has temples and monasteries from many different types of Buddhists.
The theme was “Buddhists and Christians Together Fostering Fraternity” and the goal was to build a foundation for interreligious peacebuilding. Sixty leaders of both religions from eight countries took part in discussing the following topics: “We belong to One Human Family,” “From a Culture of Diversity to a Culture of Solidarity,” “Fraternity, a Prerequisite for Overcoming Social Evils,” “Fraternity wipes away Tears,” and “Together Fostering Fraternity: The Way Forward.” This is an example of how the pope’s new “dialogue of fraternity” seeks a higher level of relational engagement in order to address social ills.
Participants agreed that it is not religion per say that causes conflict, but individuals who exploit religion for personal, commercial and political gains. They agreed to return home and pursue the following in the spirit of fraternity:
• Strengthen interfaith connections in communities, neighbourhoods, educational institutions, and places of worship
• Build programs of interreligious awareness and peacebuilding for children, youth, and families in educational institutions and workplaces
• Forget and forgive the past negative history of conflict and violence and move forward to build peace-loving people in solidarity
• Train younger generations in formation houses to overcome prejudice, study other religions, and build solidarity
• Build interreligious fraternity (brotherhood/sisterhood) to support and revitalize family life in order to make society prosper.
… Now, Pope Francis is expanding the dialogue further by emphasizing the need to develop a sense of “fraternity” as a foundation for the dialogue of action that addresses the social ills of our world. True solidarity in such action must be based on fraternity in its original sense of “brotherhood/sisterhood.” The papers presented on this third day discussed two topics: the notion of “Fraternity among Human Beings” in Christianity and Buddhism, and “Building a Fraternal World” together.
The final day of the dialogue was devoted to exploring social issues in the United States that the participants felt need to be addressed today, and how Buddhist-Catholic collaborations of fraternal interreligious social action could be advanced in the United States. The participants had a private audience with Pope Francis who encouraged them to “plant seeds of peace” in their cities. In their Joint Statement, the participants agreed to return to the US and explore together the following kinds of joint interreligious social action initiatives:
• Addressing global climate change on the local level
• Creating outreach programs for youth
• Collaborating in prison/jail ministries and restorative justice matters
• Developing resources for the homeless such as affordable housing
• Educating and providing resources to address the issue of immigration
• Collaborating to create projects with local Catholic parishes and Buddhist communities to address neighborhood social issues
• Developing social outreach programs for value education to families
… I conclude with the words of Pope Francis about this new dialogue of social action: “This interreligious experience of fraternity, each always respecting the other, is a grace.” (Press Conference on Board the Flight from Colombo to Manila, January 15, 2015)
I hope Susan, James, and Mermaid know that bickering with Presbyterians at Old Life does not count as interreligious dialogue. Statues of Buddha can be purchased here.