JSD South Zone Meeting with the Coordinators & Partners of Dialogue in Ashirvad, Bengaluru (15-16 November 2014)
(JSD Secretary Vincent Sekhar’s Report)
JSD had the second Zonal meeting of the Southern provinces in Bengaluru. The first was held in Jamshedpur for the Central-Northern provinces. Fr. Vincent Sekhar, the Asst. Secretary briefed the coordinators and partners in dialogue on the encouraging and growing positive attitude and practices within the Catholic Church and the Society in the ministry of interreligious dialogue, especially after Vatican II document Nostra Aetate. He mentioned about the several Interreligious/cultural/animation centres in various provinces, their activities and the challenges they face, etc. After inculturation in the 70s and 80s, dialogue with the poor and the dalits has taken the upperhand in the last two decades, moulding the Jesuit ideals and thrust. In educational institutions, dialogue with the youth in the several areas of academic and spiritual life is taking a shape. Foundation courses and value education classes and training are being given to faculty and students. Campus Ministries are becoming more and more innovative and vibrant, given the institutions’ autonomous set up. But interreligious thrust is still to catch up and spiritual animation programmes for the Hindus and others are minimal.
There is also a lacuna from the Jesuit side. Hardly any new members are recruited and trained in this area. There could be people from the Formation sector, possibly sociologists, Religionist, Indologist… to take up Interreligious dialogue as part of their job. Meanwhile young scholastics need to be identified particularly in Philosophy stage, encouraged and animated. They should be sent for higher studies relevant to this filed. The Secretary is appealing this to the Provincials and the PCFs. Our scholastics also are motivated to learn to be open to other cultures and religions, equip themselves in professional learning and deep involvement. The next years’ plan for the Secretary is to go round the common Juniorates, Philosophates and Theologates to address the scholastics on this ministry of Interreligious dialogue, fostering openness to diversity as he did several years ago during his first-time engagement as JCSA Secretary from 2000-2007.
Then Fr. Devadhas presented the summary form of the 2014 document “Instrumentum Laboris” (Education Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing passion) by the congregation for Catholic Education. The document highlighted the diversity of learners in our institutions and its challenges. It called for being ‘truly Catholic’ and ‘truly open’, as the real challenges of dialogue. Fr. Victor Lobo summarized another document “Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools – Living in Harmony for a civilization of Live” (2013 from the Congregation for Catholic Education). This document again highlighted the plurality of cultures and the importance of the curriculum in teaching world religions for acquiring knowledge of their own religions, aiming at the values of dignity, honour and respect of human persons: “The Values of other cultures and religions must be respected and understood”. The educational community should enhance in different ways intercultural exchanges and dialogue in order to experience intercultural relationships.
Then the coordinators of the respective southern provinces Fr. Victor Lobo (Karnataka), Fr. Devadhas (Madurai), and Fr. Roy Thottathil (Kerala) [Fr. Packiaraj for Andhra was absent but sent a report] shared about their province/centre’s activities relating to interreligious and cultural dialogue: Interreligious Harmony Movement in Bengaluru, interreligious retreat, interreligious and walking pilgrimages (candlelight walks to different places for praying), school/college seminar on “Religions”, etc. Karnataka province did a SWOT analysis in view of the evaluation of the ministry of dialogue, an inspiring model and act to be emulated by other provinces and regions.
Kerala province highlighted the activities of Sameeksha, Sahayatri Sangamam, value education handbooks, use of other scriptures, Dharma Sameeksha (seminar) on every Saturday. They also plan for a Centre for Religion and Culture in Cochin and a Centre for Arts and Heritage in Trissur. In Kerala, zonal wise dialogue forums are planned.
Fr. Devadhas highlighted the general dialogue activities in the province and Fr. Vincent Sekhar shared on the various centres within the province such as IDCR (Aikiya Alayam - Chennai), Bodhi Zendo (Kodaikanal), Fr. Korkonius’ Ashram (Dindigul), etc. and their important activities and new initiatives (IFTAR prayer & meal, Research Project on the challenges of Interreligious Marriages in India, Yoga & Natural Healing, Interfaith Christmas in parishes, Zen initiation, apart from the several activities undertaken in educational institutions. He circulated the newsletter of IDCR to all the participants.
On the second day, the participants joined the Interreligious Harmony Movement of Bengaluru to visiting the different religious sites within the city. The exposure brought about a good feel among the participants in learning and understanding the various religious communities.