A positive Hindu-Vatican dialogue
Sudheendra Kulkarni Posted online:
Sunday , Jun 14, 2009 at 0150 hrs
Stupendous two days. I'll never forget these two days lived in love and trust and engaged in Hindu-Christian dialogue." This is how Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran, president of the Pope's Council for Inter-Faith Dialogue, Vatican City, described the interaction between Hindu and Christian representatives in Mumbai on Friday and Saturday. Coming from someone who experienced the depth and breadth of the spiritual tradition in India for the first time, this effusive response seemed natural. Hindu participants too were unanimous that this was a fruitful dialogue.
There have been several useful dialogues in the past between Hindu religious leaders and representatives of the Catholic Church. By and large, the themes of these dialogues were "academic" in nature, as they sought to explore the theological common ground between the two faiths. But the Mumbai meet was different for three significant reasons.
First, this was the first formal interaction between the two sides after the unfortunate flare-up of conflict in Orissa last year, which highlighted two inter-related facts: the condemnable violent attack on churches and innocent Christians on the one hand and, on the other, the rising Hindu disquiet over a sustained campaign of conversion to Christianity.
Second, this was for the first time that the Catholic delegation was led by the Pope's highest emissary heading the department of inter-faith dialogue.
Third, this was also for the first time that Hindu religious leaders of high eminence participated in the dialogue, sending a clear message that the Hindu side is ready to engage in a constructive dialogue with Christians of all denominations.
Swami Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Mutt, led the Hindu delegation, which included Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living movement; Swami Chidananda Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh; Rajayogini Dadi Janki of Brahmakumaris; Swami Nikhileshwaranandaji and Swami Vigishanandji, two senior monks from Ramakrishna Mission; Sri Venkatachariar Chaturvedi Swami of Sri Ramanuja Mission Trust and Mahamandaleshwar Swami Vishveshwaranand Giri Maharaj of Sanyas Ashram, Hardwar.
Catholic participants included Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Vatican's ambassador in India; Archbishop Felix Machado of Nashik; Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune and Bishop Raphy Manjaly of Varanasi.
I was surprised to be invited to participate in the event, which was hosted by the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, a genuine bridge-builder between the two communities. My only qualification, perhaps, was that I had participated in a global inter-faith meet on religious conversion in Italy in 2006, which was jointly organised by the Vatican and its Protestant counterpart, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. It was the first ever inter-faith dialogue, organised by the two large Christian establishments, focused exclusively on the thorny issue of religious conversion. The joint statement adopted at the end of that meet has become a landmark document. Even the BJP's manifesto for the recent parliamentary elections carried an appreciative endorsement of it, and called for the "setting up of a permanent inter-faith consultative mechanism to promote harmony and trust between communities".
The good part of the Mumbai meet was that, even though the issue of conversion dominated it, the deliberations were marked by candour as well as cordiality. The Hindu leaders unequivocally condemned anti-Christian violence. Catholic participants were equally unequivocal in affirming that forced conversion, and conversion with allurements of any kind, is invalid and rejected. They stated that all faiths were worthy of equal respect. This is an affirmation that Hindu leaders have been waiting to hear for a long time, since many Christian and Muslim scholars make a thoroughly untenable distinction between "People of the Book" (Jews, Christians and Muslims) and those outside the "Book". The long history of religious conversion in India has shown how Hinduism was, and still is in many places, presented as a "pagan" and "false" religion, whose adherents could attain salvation only by abandoning "falsehood" and embracing the sole "True Path".
Cardinal Tauran, a godly man of deep reflection, has imparted a refreshing new perspective on the Vatican's relations with Hinduism and other oriental faiths. In an interview last year, he had categorically stated that "he would be travelling to India soon and there he wanted to give this message that all religions are equal...We mustn't get the impression there are first-class religions and second-class religions." His remarks in Mumbai have created a sound basis for carrying forward the Hindu-Christian dialogue in a positive direction. The genuineness of the interaction was also evident from the fact that, after the first day's closed-door deliberations, Cardinal Tauran led the Christian delegation on a goodwill visit to Mumbai's famous Siddhivinayak Temple. This was followed by the Hindu delegation visiting the Holy Name Catholic Cathedral.
The scope of inter-faith dialogue got enlarged on the second day when Cardinal Tauran was the chief guest at a soulful all-religion prayer, followed by an enlightening colloquium, in which eminent Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist personalities also participated. It was organised by Shantilal Somaiya, a renowned octogenarian educationist, who has been striving for better inter-religious understanding for many decades.
The road of reconciliation and durable harmony and peace is a hard one. Several important questions need greater debate leading to convergent positions. In the months ahead, both Hindu and Christian leaders also have a duty to crystallise mutual trust and understanding into a practical and collaborative agenda of action at all levels, including the grassroots level, to remove the sources of prejudices, tension and conflict. How to move ahead? One clue was given by Swami Chidananda Saraswati, who said, "Apni apni bhakti, parantu sabse badhkar rashtra bhakti." (Let us love and follow our respective faiths, but keep love of the nation above all.)
Hindu pontiff slams US Commission visit to India
By: John Malhotra
Saturday, 13 June 2009, 15:01 (IST)
Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, one of the leading figures of Hinduism, on Friday, slammed the upcoming visit of U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to India.
The Hindu pontiff, addressing an inter-religious meet between the Catholic and Hindus in Mumbai, warned against foreign nations interfering in the internal matters of the country. He was opposed to the tentative investigation by the Commission on the Kandhamal violence and Gujarat riots.
The annual report of the U.S. Congressional panel last month said "the Commission is planning to travel to India for the first time in June 2009" to closely examine and record the violations of freedom of religion.
Jayendra Saraswati, responding to the report, said it was an "intrusive mechanism of a foreign government to interfere in the internal affairs of this country."
"The Commission, assigned to hold meetings and scrutinize the religious freedom and restrictions in the country, must not be permitted to enter India," the 69th Shankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, said.
He reiterated that the "external interference into the internal affairs will be protested".
Church leaders, meanwhile, have kept their fingers crossed on the verdict of the U.S. advisory panel set to tour India within weeks. They hope the Commission can bring to light the growing violence on minorities and also the impunity of the wrongdoers.
Archbishop of Orissa Raphael Cheenath has also expressed hope on the visit which he said could be pivotal in restricting violence and ensuring the protection of minorities.
He wants the U.S. government-funded agency to put pressure on the Indian government to dutifully maintain the Rights enshrined in the Constitution
Related post on the dialogue:-