10/18/2017, 17.25
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Christian-Hindu dialogue is difficult but imperative to know each other

by Anna Chiara Filice

A Hindu-Christian international conference on ‘Enlightenment and tantra’ was held in Rome. For Mgr Spreafico, “ignorance brings many evils”. Card Tauran noted Pope Francis’s many appeals in favour of dialogue. “Every religion and every believer thinks that his or her belief is the best’” said Hindu scholar. Spirituality should be the starting point, Christian mystic said.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University organised an international conference on ‘Enlightenment and tantra - Christian and Hindus in dialogue’ to coincide with the Hindu festival of Diwali. Held yesterday, the symposium noted that although dialogue between Christians and Hindus is difficult, it is yet imperative to get to know one another in order to appreciate the richness of the other.

Church leaders, representatives of the Hindu community, and scholars came from around the world. In his address, Mgr Ambrogio Spreafico, president of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy, stressed the current challenges faced by interfaith dialogue. Still, he noted that "It is imperative to know each other because ignorance brings many evils."

"When Christians speak of the East, they mostly do so from an intra-Christian perspective,” Mgr Spreafico said. “In reality, there is a distant and yet beautiful East whose cultural richness is largely unknown to us."

According to the prelate, "in today's globalisation reaching out is even more necessary. Since globalisation too often divides instead of uniting, it creates fears and fears always divide. The latter are a source of bias, misunderstandings and contempt of others. This is why we need to reach out and help each other understand the other."

Citing Jewish scholar Zygmunt Bauman, Mgr Spreafico noted that "in history, the world has always been divided into 'self' and the ‘other'." With globalisation instead, "to defend ourselves from the other, we have moved to 'us' and 'them'."

Speaking about the Italian context, " refugees today are ‘them’, but each era has had its ‘them'. This underscores a need that is cultural: knowing each other in order to appreciate the richness of the other, because richness is a reason for unity and not separation."

For the bishop, "It is evident that the problem of globalisation is a problem of the soul. We have built economic globalisation, but the problem is giving it a soul, that is, [making it] a spiritual issue. "

“Spirituality," he went on to say, “leads us to see others in a deep and not a superficial way, without judging them solely on the mobile phone they have or the clothing they wear.”

Citing the various appeals Pope Francis made in favour of dialogue, the prelate added that "we must forget our self and see ourselves as us."

Card Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Religious Dialogue, also mentioned the pope’s openness. In his speech of welcome, the cardinal quoted from Amoris laetitia (No. 139): "Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them."

Prof R Sathyanarayana of the École française d'Extrême-Orient in Podincherry, India, also underlined the need for greater involvement between Christians and Hindus. "There is an extreme need for interreligious dialogue,” he told AsiaNews. “Every religion and every believer thinks that his or her belief is the best, but there should be more ties; religions should embrace one another."

Prof Bettina Sharada Bäumer, an Austrian scholar who has lived in India for 50 years, addressed the issue of “mixing” among religions. Speaking to AsiaNews, she noted that "I was accepted in India and I learnt to accept Hindus."

As one of the world’s foremost indologists, Bäumer was initiated into Kashmir Shaivism through the practice of yoga.

A living example of the coexistence between religions, she noted that "if one puts politics aside, which harms and creates divisions, the members of various religious groups already live together in society. Christians attend Hindu festivals, like Diwali, and vice versa. People coexist and exchange experiences of life."

For her, when “Christians in India who do not want to mix with Hindus for fear of losing their religious identity, they do not help dialogue."

"I am a Christian too, but I do not go around with a label. I am deeply Christian in terms of faith, especially from a mystical point of view. For this reason, I believe that getting believers from different religions involved should start in the spiritual sphere."

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