The Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference, a former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, speaks about the journey by Christians and Muslims noted by the Pope in his trip to Iraq. Asia is multireligious. “The approaches must differ,” writes the prelate. “But there is no alternative to dialogue. It is a do or die, survive or perish situation.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – What does the dialogue Pope Francis has with the Muslim world tell the countries of Asia starting with the recognition of the common human fraternity which, after the signing of the Abu Dhabi Declaration in 2019, has recently been proposed again in his trip to Iraq?
Archbishop Felix Machado, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and former undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, reflects on this issue for AsiaNews. Mgr Machado emphasises the importance of this journey, but also the need to place it in the specific Asian context, to ensure that dialogue with the Muslim world is perceived as a “conspiracy” against other religious traditions.
“The approaches must differ,” he explains, “and the contexts must be seriously taken into account. But there is no alternative to dialogue. it is a do or die, survive or perish situation.”
Pope Francis has begun the Human Fraternity project, and the Holy Father wants to go all the way with the Muslim community (the Holy Father is not excluding other religions).
Once the Pope puts his hands on anything, he wants to go all the way to the root. It is important that we implement at our local levels what the Vicar of Christ has begun. Contextualisation is very important at the grassroots level.
Dialogue with Muslims in our part of the world is very important. The Pope has encouraged us and we must follow him. It is difficult but so is the challenge of the Christian mission. The difficulty should be overcome and it cannot become an excuse. Fruitful dialogue can happen if one wants it. So many have done this.
In India there is an Islamic Study Association (ISA). This is a Catholic organisation. Catholic members come together and support each other and encourage one another to engage in a meaningful Christian-Muslim dialogue. This organisation is quite old and I have actively worked in it and always encouraged it when I worked in Rome.
What we need to be careful is that Asia is a multireligious and multicultural continent. However, every Asian country has dominant religion: India has Hinduism; Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar have Buddhism; Pakistan and Bangladesh have Islam, Indonesia has Islam; Japan and Korea have Buddhism; but Korea has strong influence of Shamanism; and Japan has strong influence of traditional religion.
Therefore, bilateral dialogues are a very delicate proposition; it is immediately construed to be a “conspiracy”. So multilateral dialogues are a safer proposition in Asia.
When Christians come together with Muslims, it can be misunderstood. After all is said and done, we must find our approach to dialogue.
Pope Francis is bold and daring. Christians in the Western World did not dare what Pope Francis is doing. The Pope is acting on studies Jesuit and White Fathers Islam experts have done and they were discouraged or taken less seriously.
The Pope wants to solve the problem and not just conveniently domesticate it so that “we can just continue to coexist.”
Asia, as I have said above, is not a monolithic continent. For that matter, India is not. Approaches must differ and the contexts must be seriously taken into account.
But there is no alternative to dialogue. It is a do or die, survive or perish situation. This is also true for our country. We look at dialogue as a choice – whether to go for it or leave it. That is very risky. Let us go with Pope Francis. He is a genuine, wise and spiritual person.