Interreligious and Ethnic Dialogue in Jesuit Nepal Region
(JSD Secretary Fr. Vincent Sekhar’s visit to Nepal on 14-18 October 2014)
As the secretary for the commission for interreligious Dialogue, Dr. Vincent Sekhar visited Nepal to assess the interreligious dialogue ministry of the Jesuits in Nepal and the general relationship fostered between the various ethnic groups (60 of them), religious communities, and institutions. The relationship web seems complex as there are ever more mixed marriages than earlier. Fundamentalism has come to grip in several parts of the country, especially in Kathmandu. Hindu and Buddhist temples like Pasupathinath, Swayambhunath, and Bodhnath have become tourist attractions and some come to visit the Cathedral, the only one of this sort with Nepal-based inculturated architecture, murals, images, wall paintings, and seated arrangements for Christian worship.
Rev. Dr. George Sharkey from Boston College receives scholars and students for immersion and Buddhist studies. Christian institutions generally wield a good influence on Government officials and other organizations.
Talking to the retired Jesuit Bishop Anthony Francis (Amulyanath) Sharma, the Jesuit Provincial Fr. Boniface Tigga, and the dialogue Coordinator Fr. Paul gave a rich summary of the way the dialogue of life could become vibrant among the Nepal public. Fr. Boniface said that through a curriculum called ‘Shanthi Shanthi' Fr. Bill Robins animates people in ‘sharing of one’s goodness’.
Nepal Jesuits are seen as “social workers” like an NGO among 40000 NGOs in the country but with a different approach. Some are attracted to Catholic faith (an one-time conversion of 140 people, all of them Buddhists), many of them poor and from different ethnic groups and lower castes. The Tika festival 9sister blessing the brother) held for 3 days brings together people of all kinds and one day is dedicated to cows and dogs. “Karuna Maya”, the book written by Fr. John Lock addresses Newar Buddhism and it is helpful in understanding its people. Fr. Cap Miller who has worked in Nepal for 25 years has written a book “Faith Healers” citing examples from various ethnic groups and castes. Both the privileged and under-privileged are mixed in schools so that there may be an environment of integration and understanding.
Bishop Sharma, the Nepali Brahmin convert, now aged 77, said that from 1991 anyone in Nepal can opt for a religion of one’s choice. He mentioned that though arranged marriages is in practice, many inter-cast, ethnic marriages take place and divorces too are increasing. Dating is not any more condemned and Western values have taken hold of the youth and their only ambition in life is to go to the U.S. or Australia. There are a number of Pilipinos marrying the Nepalis and they produce baptism certificates in our schools, also desire to become Catholics in order to admit their children in our schools. It also depends on the strength of faith of the catholic partner.
In contemporary times, whatever is seen as ‘religious’ is shun and whatever is ‘social’ is being absorbed, like the ‘rakie’ festival. Catholics are open to Nepali culture but Muslims are not too open to this. Many Protestant pastors and some diocesan priests are conservative because of their background family and training and they express “anything Hindu is the denial of Christian faith”.
The Bishop was open to inculturation and he indicated the Assumption Church, the Cathedral church in Kathmandu, as the fine example of inculturation. The Church is built in Newari architecture. Prayerful, Tibetan monks were invited to sketch the 21 murals within the church on the life of Christ. He said in his openness that “we are not RC priests or RC church. We must see the ‘Nepaliness’ in whatever we think and do. We must coin suitable names in vernacular for Baptism, Confirmation, etc. There cannot be any compulsion in conversion, but bearing witness is important. We must plough the field and God will plant”.
One day during luncheon time, Fr. Vincent Sekhar was invited by Fr. Cap Miller and Fr. Etienne Degrez to address the Jesuit Juniors of Kamal Niwas on the Status of the Ministry of Dialogue in South Asia and the significance of dialogue. Fr. Sekhar encouraged them to develop a broad mind-set from the beginning of young age to embrace people of all classes, region, ethnicity and religion with openness and good-will.
Reading the reports coming from Nepal on the earthquake and the Jesuit involvement in alleviating the suffering masses, it is really pathetic to see their sad, irremediable situation especially in places like Tippling. But the Jesuits’ involvement crossing the boundaries of ethnicity, caste, and religion at this critical time is the right model by which we need to foster in our fellowship among people.