Associate Professor Paul Hedges speaking at the dialogue session at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

Christopher Khoo

What is interreligious dialogue and how does one go about doing it? This was an issue that speakers at an interreligious session grappled with on Oct 6.

Titled “Dialogue: Weaving the Fabric of God’s Kingdom”, the event aimed to give the audience, mainly Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore (CTIS) students and church-based Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) members, an introduction to the ways that interreligious dialogue can be practised.

“If God wishes, he can create all of us with only one religion, one race, one creed, one colour,” Mr Mohammad Alami Musa told participants at the event, organised by CTIS, the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD) and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).

“But it’s His design that all of us are born differently,” said Mr Alami, who is the Head of Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme (SRP) at RSIS.

“He wants us to learn from each other, to enrich each other,” said Mr Alami, who is also the President of Muis (Islamic Religious Council of Singapore). “Interreligious dialogue is the tool to communicate across religions.”

Mr Gerald Kong, ACCIRD Executive Secretary, shared some of the teachings of the Catholic Church on interreligious dialogue at the event held at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

He noted that Cardinal Francis Arinze, former president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), had said in a document that people who believe in such dialogue “meet to listen to each other, to come to know and respect one another and thus to work together in society on projects of common concern”.

The Church has also stressed that Christian laity need a good knowledge of the beliefs of people of other religions so they can be better equipped to engage in “the dialogue of daily life” and contribute to the Church’s involvement in the world.

Nevertheless, the Church has stressed that Catholic involvement in interreligious dialogue “should never be at the expense of sharing who Jesus is, who Christ is”, said Mr Kong. Pope John Paul II, in his document Redemptoris Missio, emphasised that “interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelising mission”, said Mr Kong.

Paul Hedges, Associate Professor in Interreligious Studies at the RSIS, presented a chart showing how interreligious dialogue can be done on four levels:

• Dialogue of life, which is ordinary daily encounters between people of different faiths.
• Dialogue of action, such as when religious charities gather to work for the common good.
• Dialogue of theological exchange.
• Dialogue of religious experience such as the sharing of contemplative or mystical experiences.

In a panel discussion that took place, Dr Mohamed Ali, Assistant Professor at SRP, shared that in interreligious dialogue, it is important to “get to know each other first”. The next step is to “live together”, he said. “In Singapore, we have lived with each other for many years”. The last level is “interaction”, which “happens in our daily lives”.

Verbum Dei Sister Leticia Candelario Lopez, who is from largely-Catholic Mexico, said she was very impressed with her experiences of Muslim-Catholic dialogue in Singapore.

An eye-opener for her was attending the joint Christmas-Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebration in 2001, where she met Muslims who were eager to learn about her faith. Last year, she was part of a group of Catholics and Muslims who learnt about the various tenets of each other’s faith over several sessions. 

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