09/05/2008, 00.00
INDIA - VATICAN
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Bishop Dabre: stop fundamentalism with dialogue, following example of Mother Teresa

by Thomas Dabre
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the model for bringing encounter and collaboration among the religions and cultures of our time: a clear Catholic identity, and an openness without barriers of race or religion. Only dialogue will stop the violence and lies of religious fanaticism. A reflection by Thomas Dabre, bishop of Vasai and a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Vasai (AsiaNews) - In response to the pogrom against Christians in Orissa, the diocese of Vasai is celebrating today the feast of Mother Teresa under the banner of interreligious dialogue. Meetings are scheduled with representatives of all the religion, together with a program on the value of dialogue and encounter among the religions in the schools [editor's note: Teacher's Day is also celebrated in India today]. It is the initiative of the bishop of Vasai, Thomas Dabre, a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This is what the bishop, an expert in seventeenth-century bahkti literature (bahkti means devotion, the impulse toward God, in Hinduism) told AsiaNews:

Given the carnage in Orissa, the diocese of Vasai will celebrate the feast day of Mother Teresa with an interreligious program, where I have invited religious leaders of all major religions. This year Teacher's Day will be celebrated in the spirit of Mother Teresa, with special prayers and interreligious dialogue in all our schools. Teaching the school children the importance of dialogue, peace, harmony and understanding among religions.

All of this became more urgent after what happened in Orissa. Interfaith dialogue is an urgent priority for the Church, especially due to the fact that in Asia 95% of the population is non-Christian, and the Church plays an important role in the areas of health care and education. False propaganda is destroying the fabric of Indian society, and there is an urgent need to to combat hatred and intolerance. Government statistics have shown that Hindus are 80%, Muslims 14%, and Christians 2.4%, so the question of conversion or allurement or force is absolutely false.

In my own mission in interreligious dialogue, I am guided by Mother Teresa and she is my motivation to never make discrimination on the grounds of religion, when I attend their seminars or even share their sorrows and joys.

For us in India, Blessed Mother Teresa is a wonderful example of interreligious dialogue. Although Mother Teresa was a devout and committed Catholic nun, she was honored and in fact venerated even during her life by all Indians across religious and cultural divides. Moreover, peoples across the globe of all religions were working with Mother and collaborating with her closely.

Her works of charity, compassion, love for the poorest of the poor, transcended the boundaries that have kept the world’s religious faiths either isolated or at odds with one another. Mother’s work of charity was undiscriminating and unconditional, and she never discriminated on any grounds whatsoever, of religion, culture, or beliefs. Her charity was all-encompassing and all-embracing. For this reason, she is the model for interreligious dialogue.

All people in India - educated, uneducated, wealthy and marginalized, powerful and helpless, religious and also atheists, the indifferent, even the religious extremists knew that Mother Teresa was the embodiment of Catholic charity. And Mother Teresa emphasized at every opportunity that her charity and compassion emanated from her love for Jesus Christ.

Mother Teresa’s mission to the poorest of the poor came from the same love she had for Jesus. Mother Teresa, therefore, saw Jesus Christ in the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick and imprisoned, because Christ made the correlation Himself. She has many well-known quotes about this correlation:

“When we touch a sick person or a needy person, we are touching the suffering body of Jesus Christ.”

“The poor, in whatever part of the world they are to be found, are the suffering Christ. In them, lives and dies, the Son of God. Through them, God shows us His face.”

“We must not serve the poor as if they were Jesus. We must serve them because they are Jesus.”

This love is the same love the missionaries of Christ have towards every person they encounter without even the slightest thought about the religion the poor or needy profess.

Through her charity, Mother Teresa was instrumental in building bridges of peace, understanding and harmony among peoples and nations, religions and cultures. From Mother’s life and mission, the bridges of harmony that flow from her charity are the best model for interreligious dialogue in society today.

The ultimate motive for interreligious dialogue is biblical, our Lord has said 'Love thy neighbour as thyself'. In pursuit of this mandate of Christ, we are called to love peoples of all religion and cultures. And this was emphasized by the Holy Father in his encyclical ‘Deus Caritas Est’, and that we engage in our charitable activities out of unconditional love.

Fundamentalism fanaticism that results in violence is making so many people suffer, particularly the poor and disposed, the Dalits, so in order to eliminate suffering, we need to promote interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

Interreligious dialogue will be instrumental in enhancing interfaith cooperation, promoting the culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations, as well as translating shared values into practical action, to achieve sustainable peace in India, Asia and the world.

(Text assembled by Nirmala Carvalho)

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