(Vatican Radio) The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, said on Wednesday he sees Buddhist-Catholic dialogue as “a part of our ongoing quest to grasp the mystery of our lives and the ultimate Truth.”
He was giving the keynote address of a weeklong Catholic-Buddhist Dialogue in Rome being sponsored by the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID).
The meeting will include 46 Catholic and Buddhist interreligious and social action leaders in the United States. The Catholic participants are from New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the Washington D.C. area (representing the USCCB, the Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Georgetown University). The Buddhist participants represent major Buddhist communities and organizations in those five cities.
Catholic-Buddhist interreligious dialogue in the USA, which in the past focused largely on developing mutual understanding, seeks with this new form of dialogue to build upon the traditional form by fostering interreligious collaboration to address the social problems faced by people in our communities. Accordingly, the theme of this Catholic-Buddhist dialogue will be “Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity.” As part of the overall agenda, time will be given to discuss how Buddhists and Catholics in the five cities can continue to expand this fraternity upon their return and to collaborate in addressing social ills.
The Buddhist participants are leaders of communities in the five U.S. cities that represent the rich variety of Sri Lankan, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan Buddhism traditions. They have been involved in interreligious relations and are committed to building fraternal collaboration with the Catholic Church. The Catholic participants are representatives of the USCCB and the PCID, Archdiocesan Ecumenical Interreligious Officers, leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, and other Catholic social services agencies, as well as Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID), the Friars of the Atonement, and the Focolare Movement that is hosting the dialogue in Rome. The program included participation in the Papal audience on Wednesday.
Keynote Address by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the U.S. Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue, Rome, Italy, June 23, 2015
Venerable Buddhist monks and nuns, the Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Rev. Fathers and Sisters, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, it is a special joy for me to welcome each one of you to this Buddhist-Catholic dialogue entitled “Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity.” In the backdrop of globalization and migration, the U.S. religious landscape has been undergoing rapid and profound changes with the growing presence of the world religions including Buddhism. The presence here of the representatives of the great Buddhist traditions in the USA- the Sri Lankan, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Chinese, Zen, Pure Land as well as of new traditions such as Won Buddhism and the Rissho Kosei-kai - testify to the emerging religious-cultural pluralism in the U.S.A. In a world, where diversity is seen as a threat, our coming together today in friendship and peace is a sign of our openness towards one another and our commitment to human fraternity.
I am also pleased to express my warmest welcome to all the Catholic participants. It is gratifying to see that you come from all over the United States too. I note that some of you are ecumenical and interreligious officers in your respective archdioceses, or are active in other ways in the Church’s dialogue with the Buddhists. It is good to see the representatives of Monastic Interreligious Dialogue and of the Focolare Movement as well. I am also happy to see representatives of Catholic social outreach programs, Catholic Charities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I welcome all of you once again, and pray for many blessings upon each of you during these days.
Let me now briefly share with you about the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID). The PCID was established in 1964 as the central office of the Catholic Church for the promotion of interreligious dialogue and is tasked with fostering mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and followers of other religions on the basis of common values. 28th of October this year, marks the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions which has certainly inspired the members of the Catholic Church for half a century to promote relations of respect and dialogue with their religious neighbours. Although the PCID is the central office for dialogue in the Catholic Church, dialogue is mainly carried out in and through the Local Churches. I would like to take the opportunity to thank you, dear Buddhist friends for your long lasting relationship with the Catholic Church. I also wish to express my profound thanks to the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for all its hard work and commitment to promoting interreligious dialogue in the course of this half century. It is my fervent hope that this dialogue will provide us with an opportunity to further renew our mutual respect, friendship and cooperation.
2. BUDDHIST-CHRISTIAN DIALOGUE AS INNER PILGRIMAGE
The Document NA points out that “Men look to the various religions for answers to those profound mysteries of human condition which, today even as in older times, deeply stir the human heart:” (NA 1). It further states that “From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history […]” (NA 2). Regarding Buddhism, it says that “in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination” (NA 2).
We are all pilgrims and I see this Buddhist-Catholic dialogue as a part of our ongoing quest to grasp the mystery of our lives and the ultimate Truth. According to a saying from the Desert Father, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. The old man said, “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” The cell is a metaphor for the inner cell of human heart where one discovers the mystery of oneself and of God or the Dharma. Another desert Father, Antony compares the cell to water which sustains the life of fish. Without water fish could die physically; without the cell a monk could die spiritually. If this dialogue is an inner pilgrimage what should we carry with us for the journey?
i). Less baggage : Overcoming prejudices, wounds, fears in order to listen to one’s heart and to that of one’s religious neighbour.
ii). Crossing borders: Pilgrimage invites us to cross our cultural, religious, ethnic and linguistic borders to know, understand and respect one another. Thus, we journey to the “other side” yet, firmly rooted in our religious beliefs. “Crossing borders” can thus turn ignorance into understanding, a stranger into a friend, hostility to hospitality and divergence into convergence.
iii). Returning home: we return home transformed by what we experienced in the cell. You will return to the U.S. with a new vision and mission to bring - what you have discovered during these days of reflections, prayer, exchange of views - back to your respective communities and thereby to the wider society.
The theme for this Catholic-Buddhist dialogue “Suffering, Liberation and Fraternity” is based on the Message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Peace 2014 entitled “Fraternity: The Foundation and Pathway to Peace” as well as the Message of the PCID for the Feast of Vesakh 2014, namely “Buddhists and Christians Fostering Fraternity”. Pope Francis states that “Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are all relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.” (n. 1) I stated in my Vesakh Message 2014 that “we live in a world all too often torn apart by oppression, selfishness, tribalism, ethnic rivalry, violence and religious fundamentalism, a world where the ‘other’ is treated as an inferior, a nonperson, or someone to be feared and eliminated if possible”(n. 4).
I would like to quote again, my words in the Vesakh Message 2014 that invited us all to transform the self-centred humankind in order to build a world of fraternity. “Drawing upon our different religious convictions, we are called especially to be outspoken in denouncing all those social ills which damage fraternity; to be healers who enable others to grow in selfless generosity, and to be reconcilers who break down the walls of division and foster genuine brotherhood between individuals and groups in society” (n. 4) After discussing the topics of “Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity” from Buddhist and Christians perspectives, you will spend the last day of the program contemplating and considering how to be outspoken, healers and reconcilers, reaching out together to those in need, in your cities. In the midst of challenges, I am sure that the interfaith cooperation based on our shared values can resolve issues of common concern and pave the way for genuine fraternity. For this collaboration, you can count on my solidarity and prayers.
In concluding, I would like to complement the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for organizing this Catholic-Buddhist dialogue in Rome ushering in a new era of Buddhist-Christian relationship in the U.S.A. I also wish to congratulate the organizing committee led by Prof. Donald Mitchell for working so hard to organize this remarkable dialogue. My special thanks go to the Focolare movement for hosting this meeting at the Mariapolis Centre. I trust that all of you the participants will enjoy your stay at these tranquil and beautiful surroundings.
Once again, I am grateful to all the participants for your presence, contribution and enthusiasm to foster inter-religious dialogue and mutual cooperation. Let us make these five days of praying, listening, reflections, and discussions into truly days of promoting greater understanding and cooperation among us for the good of the human family. May God shower upon each and every one of you wisdom, love and fellowship. With this note, I wish you all a fruitful and rewarding dialogue.