Interfaith Dialogue

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

March 17, 2006

 

            Interfaith dialogue is easier said than done.

            Like many pastors, Catholic and non-Catholic, I have an interest in promoting inter-religious dialogue. For the last year I have been working with other congregations in our area to get an Interfaith Council going.

            I think this is important, not just to our community but to the world.

            Look around the world today and down through history. Religion has often been a source of conflict, rather than peace. There has been so much blood shed in the name of God that humanity could swim in it.

            A religious skeptic could be forgiven if he thought that religion was more a part of the problem that the solution for humanity.

            We need to talk, not fight. But not everybody wants to talk.  

            Our little county is a microcosm of the challenge.

            In our community we used to have something called the Clergy Council. Like many rural American communities, we just presumed everyone was Christian, mostly Protestant.  We Catholics were about as exotic as it got.

            But today things have changed. Now we have much more than mainline Protestants and Catholics. We have the “made in America” groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Quakers.

            Even more significantly we now have many non-Christians. We have Moslems and Jews. We have Hindus and even a few Baha'i followers.

            So, can we talk?

            At first our old Clergy Council said “no.”

            It even changed its name to the “Christian Clergy Council” to emphasize that non-Christians need not apply. Some people said they would not pray with anyone who did not pray in the name of Jesus. They weren’t too sure about praying with Catholics either.

            At the other end of the spectrum were the liberal groups. They had other issues. They had women clergy. They were more open to the role of gays. They said they would not join unless they could be full members. Some evangelicals refused to elect women or gays to a leadership role.

            You would think that after the events of September 11, 2001, people would be convinced of the need for dialogue. But some were even more alienated.

            About a year ago we just let the old Christian Clergy Council die a natural death. No one was coming to meetings anyway.  

            We decided to start fresh. We formed a new group called the “Interfaith Council.” It is open to every religion. It is even open to non-clergy representatives.

            We are not a prayer group. We do not try to force a false unity nor do we paper over our differences.  Instead we do recognize that all people of faith have common concerns and problems.

            Every religion professes a concern for the poor. So we try to work together for local needs of the poor, like a new homeless shelter.

            Every religion ministers to its members. So we try to share information on ministry. This past month, together with the local hospital, we sponsored a seminar on “pastoral care for the mentally ill.”

            Every congregation has to deal with government programs. So we try to inform our selves and help each other deal with government programs.

            This coming year we will sponsor a seminar on preparing our congregations for the Avian flu.

            We also just talk. We talk about our customs and our prayer life.

            For the moment we have decided to leave aside the neuralgic issues, like historical wrongs or theological disputes.  

            Instead we focus on the person in front our community. We share the same place and time. We have the same worries.  

            It is not a solution to everything, but it is a start.

            And it is our way of speaking a little word for religious peace in a broken world.