05/21/2009, 00.00
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Interfaith dialogue to stop hatred in media and society

by Nirmala Carvalho
A few days before World Communications Day, Indian Bishop Thomas Dabre, who is a member of the Pontifical Council fro Inter-religious dialogue, talks to AsiaNews about the importance of the media in Indian society.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Social communications constitute “an approach imbued with the spirit of authentic and integral inter-religious dialogue” and represents “a pastoral imperative for the Church in Asia,” said Mgr Thomas Dabre, the newly-appointed bishop of Poona, who spoke to AsiaNews a few days before World Communications Day about the risks and opportunities that modern media offer for coexistence in Indian society. The focus of this year’s observance, now at its 43rd edition, is “New Technologies, New Relationships. Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship”.

For Mgr. Dabre, who is a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, there is an unbreakable link between social communications and inter-faith dialogue. He is convinced that all communication media are an important resource allowing cultures and religions to meet. At the same time the media need inter-faith dialogue is they are truly to be means of communications between people and nations.

“All the progress in scientific and technological fields, the development and progress in the international stage, the shrinking of the world community into a global village, all run the risk of annihilation if inter religious dialogue is not the basis of our Social communications,” he said.

In his message on World Communications Day, the Pope said that the “new digital arena, the so-called cyberspace, allows them [people from different countries, cultures and religions] to encounter and to know each other’s traditions and values;” however, he also insisted that dialogue must “be rooted in a genuine and mutual searching for truth if it is to realize its potential to promote growth in understanding and tolerance.”

For Mgr Dabre today’s India stands as an example of the media’s potential and of the responsibility of stakeholders.

On the one hand, Indians “clearly voted in favour of a secular government, they did not choose the divisive parties, which fuel religious passions.” On the other, “fundamentalism and fanaticism are raising [today] their ugly heads in Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines.” Because the “media have become an integral and important part of life,” there is an urgent need of underlining inter-religious spirit in the teaching of social communications,” he said.

For this reason words like “friendship” and “dialogue”, which are at the heart of Benedict XVI’s message, become even more important in light of today’s social problems.

“Grave problems of poverty, diseases, illiteracy, discrimination against women, marginalization of peoples, cultural degradation, etc. can all be managed only with the collaboration of the adherents of various religions because billions of people follow various religions.” Hence “social communications can play a very important role” because “their efficiency, reach and speed present us with a wonderful opportunity to harness the resources of religions for dealing with the problems we are facing.”

In such circumstances mass media and the so-called cyberspace are decisive for religious freedom and evangelisation.

However, “there is misunderstanding and disagreement among many non-Christians about evangelization, conversion, the unique mediatory role of Jesus Christ and the Church,” he noted. As a result of such misunderstanding “the Church has suffered a lot in places like Orissa, Gujarat, Mangalore, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. on account of fundamentalism and fanaticism”.

The media must therefore contribute to clarity and knowledge and thus those who prepare students have a duty to “prevent a prejudiced, negative and one-sided understanding of religions in media and society.”

Young people, especially young Catholics whom the Pope addressed urging them to bear witness to their faith in the digital world, are a decisive link between media and inter-faith dialogue.

“Currently there are about 36 Catholic colleges and academic faculties in India which offer university approved communication and journalism courses,” Mgr Dabre said.

This is “a pittance in a country of over a billion people” but is also an important sign since most “students [. . .] are non-Christians” which “is why the syllabus has to be acceptable to all the students of various faiths. The study programme cannot be faith-specific.”

For Mgr Dabre educating the younger generations who want to go into media professionally is a great challenge though because the “trend of secularization which removes religion from the public domain and relegates it into the private is steadily creeping into the educational institutions of the traditionally religious societies of Asia.”

Educators and adults are therefore called to confront “the exclusion of transcendent and spiritual truths” so as to provide young people the right means to face today’s “materialistic society” in which “the public seems to be overly concerned with transitory goods and gains to the neglect of the spiritual.”

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