03/16/2012, 00.00
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PIME missionary in Thailand: Buddhists have helped me better understand Christianity

by Piero Gheddo
With the book "Thanks to my Buddhist friends," Fr. Angelo Campagnoli (PIME) speaks of 52 years of priesthood among Buddhists of Myanmar and Thailand. Interreligious dialogue is not a comparison of religious beliefs and the truth of what to believe, but a mutual understanding and the story of shared experiences.

Milan (AsiaNews) - My confrere Fr. Angelo Campagnoli has published a book "Thanks to my Buddhist friends" with the subtitle: "Living with the Buddhists I have better understood Christianity" (Pimedit, Milan 2012, p. 82, Euro 5), in which he does not talk of Buddhism from the theoretical point of view, but shares his life experience with Buddhists, throughout 52 years of priesthood and his missionary life. First in Burma (1960-1966) he was expelled with more than 200 young missionaries (18 Protestants, the rest Catholics) by the military-socialist dictatorship that still regins, and then, after 1972, in Thailand, where Campagnoli was sent with three other brothers to start a PIME missionary presence in the North of the country. From the outset he devoted himself to inter-religious dialogue, attending Buddhist monasteries and universities and then also giving lectures on Christianity at a Buddhist University.

Then the bishop of Chiang Mai, to whom PIME had given their full availability, sent him to the parish of Phrae, the capital town of the province in northern Thailand, where he founded a large school with more than two thousand students for the most part Buddhist and where he has made friends with Buddhist people and monks.

I ask him what this little book means. "In Italy - he says - many feel that all religions are more or less equal, but there are profound differences between Christianity and Buddhism. For example, we are rightly scandalized by the division of the Christian churches, but Buddhism is much less united. In Japan alone there are 18 different schools of Buddhism, each of which says that the others are wrong, and no-one bats an eye-lid".

"Between Christianity and Buddhism, there are many things that appear similar but are fundamentally different. For example, in Buddhism the distinction between good and evil is mechanical, fatalistic, karma; in Christianity man's life is a relationship with God. So although our commandments from the fifth onward are also relevant to Buddhists, you realize however that it's different. Christians know that the commandment comes from God, our merciful father who created us and loves us and that His law is for our own good; Buddhists must not do evil out of fear, because otherwise they will pay for their disobedience to the law of karma in their next reincarnation. That's the difference. Christianity is a relationship with God, it is responding to a love that loved us first, while in Buddhism there is no relationship like this: there is a rule that is karma, the law that has no forgiveness. "

In Phrae Father Angelo was invited by the Buddhist monks to give them courses in Christianity. The abbot said to him: "There are more and more foreign tourists who come to visit our monastery and ask us to teach them about Buddhism. I invite you, you're a Catholic priest well inculturated in Thailand, to explain Christianity, so that we can talk to these visitors appropriately. Campagnoli gave lectures on Christianity to these monks, becoming their friend. And then he adds: "In explaining Christianity, they said that I make a leap. My reasoning is not logical, because I say things I do not explain. I responded that this is faith in God, which means to trust God who loves me. And they said, but we do only what we understand. "

Dialogue with Buddhists, this is the experience Father Angel.  It is a progressive experience and not a confrontation between the religious faiths and truths to be believed, but a gradual and mutual understanding and the story of their shared experiences. They are interested in life not theology. He says: "A belligerent attitude that expresses a determined and aggressive idea is the safest way to remove the other person. If you silence him or her with your argument, you will never see the other person again, they will avoid you: they care deeply for their inner serenity. Never try to prove that your religion is better than theirs: You can speak all you want about the goodness of your faith, never make a comparison. " He tells the story of a Catholic catechist. A Buddhist friend insisted that he tell him what the best religion was: Christianity or Buddhism? The catechist intelligently responded: "And you tell me, which is the better wife yours or mine?". And the conversation ended there. Woe betide him if he had said that it is Christianity, he might have broken the bond of friendship.

"I discovered these things by getting to know Buddhists, says Father Angelo. Inter-religious dialogue is a difficult and delicate one, we are just beginning this journey." He concludes by describing the image that the great guru Buddhadasa used: "The peak that we want and need to reach is one in the same, the paths of ascent are different and each thinks he is climbing the right one". But, I say, Angelo concludes, if He who is on the summit shouts down to me: "Look, this is the main road, the direct route, the guaranteed on," I can only turn back to the friend who is climbing up by another way and transmit to him the cry from above. And if he continues undeterred in his arduous climb, I can only raise my head and cry out to Him who is on the top: "Lord, shout even more clearly down the other path". And with my voice, maybe a little 'strangled, I entrust to the wind of the Spirit, a "See you on top, Buddhist friend." And this is not relativism, but the hope that we will all meet at the end of our journey since we know that Christ's salvation comes to all, even those who do not know Him. "


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