I grew up in a very Catholic country. When I was young all of my friends were Roman Catholic. However, as we grew up some of them started professing themselves as Atheists or Agnostics. As I look back I am struck by the fact that I never had friends who followed a different religion to mine. These past few months I have had an opportunity to remedy this situation
Two concepts have been resurfacing in my thoughts: ecumenism and interreligious dialogue. Two concepts that may sound very difficult to achieve but which literally refer to the dialogue either between the different denominations of the Christian tradition or between the various religions that exist throughout the world. I have to admit that I am no expert and what I am about to write is based on no formal studies but more on my own personal experience. I don’t want to go into the theological aspects of this reality as I truly believe that before this can be discussed, there is a much more fundamental need for a humanistic approach to this dialogue.
During this year, as part of my Jesuit formation, I was assigned to help out with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). For this mission, I was specifically sent to help in a school program, which aims to facilitate the encounter of Italian children either with refugees or with people who profess a different religion to their own. Therefore, once or twice a week I accompanied a refugee or a person of different faith to different schools throughout Rome. We usually encountered very eager young adolescents who were happy to miss their usual class in order to meet us. These meetings have helped me to reflect a lot on the need of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue and more importantly it was an opportunity for me to get to know the persons who I accompanied.
If we take a quick glance at Europe, a continent which was once considered to be Christian is now packed with various Christian denominations, the so called monotheistic religions (Judaism and Islam), as well as Indian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Probably this list doesn’t cover all the faiths that cohabit this land.
We live in a world where the concepts of diversity and pluralism of ideas are seen as values. And rightly so. We might have friends who either profess themselves to be atheist or belong to other Christian religions or belonging to another religion completely. The more time passes, the more this diversity and pluralism of religion will increase due to the always growing number of people migrating from one country or continent to another.
It is becoming a reality that is surrounding us and we ought to take account of it. Speaking with other religions is not easy because it forces us to get out of our comfort zones. It forces us to enter a world which we don’t know very well and in which we are probably going to make mistakes. But I am sure of one thing. We will come out of this encounter enriched.
So why should we do ecumenism and interreligious dialogue? I have found out a threefold answer to this question. Firstly, speaking with other faiths will help us to get to know them. To get to know their traditions, feasts and what is important for them in their daily life. It helps us to get rid of ignorance and misconceptions. Secondly, becoming more accustomed to different traditions will help us respect the individual in his or her difference, which in turn will help us create a better world. Thirdly, (this is always surprising for me) the fact that getting to know the faith of the other also help us in deepening the knowledge of our own faith.
I know that Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue isn’t easy but I also know that it’s an amazing journey, one which has lead me to call Susanna and Alessia (Jews), Rifat and Serife (Muslims), Gugliermo (Buddhist) and Eugenia (Christian Orthodox) my friends.