Archdiocesan Interreligious Christmas Celebration 2019 at St Joseph’s Church (Bukit Timah). Photo: ACCIRD

In a world that is increasingly multicultural and multireligious, overcoming prejudices, battling against indifference, and creating understanding among people of different religions so that we can live together in peace and harmony is a task which is ever more urgent.

An integral Church mission

In 1965, the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, 1 and 2) called on the Church to promote “unity and love among men” through deep and honest “dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions” in pursuit of the Truth, and in areas of common interest, so as to build up the common good of all humanity. It taught that the Church “rejects nothing that is holy and true in other religions” because they “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”

In 1990, Pope St John Paul II declared: “Interreligious dialogue is part of the Church’s evangelising mission.” (Redemptoris Missio, 56) The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) oversees this mission field today. In the Archdiocese of Singapore, the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD) endeavours to carry out the same mission by building relationships and increasing mutual understanding and appreciation among followers of various religions.

For instance, two ACCIRD members represent the Catholic Church on the Council of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) which is made up of representatives from the 10 major religions in Singapore. The  Council regularly meets to discuss interfaith issues and initiatives and plan activities, and IRO representatives are invited to pray for divine assistance, blessing, peace and protection at events of national and international significance such as the Singapore Armed Forces Officer Cadet Commissioning Parade, and when natural disasters, conflicts, tragic accidents or acts of terrorism around the world occur.

Building bridges

The PCID, in their documents Dialogue and Mission (1984) and Dialogue and Proclamation (1991), outlined four different forms of interreligious dialogue:

(a)          The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen understand and appreciate each other’s religious heritages and spiritual values more.

In 2018, ACCIRD jointly organised the Second Christian-Taoist Colloquium with the PCID and the Taoist Federation of Singapore where local and global experts, clerics and laypersons from the Christian and Taoist traditions presented their respective perspectives on faith and ethics with local interfaith leaders and practitioners attending.

Under the Memoranda of Understanding signed between Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies Programme and the St Francis Xavier Major Seminary and the Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore, ACCIRD dialogues and collaborates on this level.

(b)          The dialogue of religious experience, where followers of different religions share their faith and spiritual riches e.g. their ways of prayer and contemplation and searching for God or the Absolute.

On this level, ACCIRD organises interfaith panels on topics ranging from communal prayer and fasting to the rites and rituals surrounding birth, marriage and death. It also conducts visits to different places of worship in Singapore together with pre-visit preparatory formation sessions to provide Catholics with opportunities to better understand other religions through dialogue sessions with religious representatives.

(c)           The dialogue of action, where Catholics and others alike collaborate for the integral development of people.

ACCIRD, for instance, invited a Muslim, Sikh and Catholic speaker each last year to share about the outreach of their respective communities to the poor and needy, regardless of the beneficiaries’ racial or religious backgrounds, both locally and overseas, and their underlying religious motivations.

(d)          The dialogue of life, where most lay Catholics can and do participate in interreligious dialogue by striving to live their daily lives in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, and their human problems and preoccupations with each other in their schools, blocks of flats, malls and other common spaces and at public events. When we visit each other at Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali or Christmas, we engage in this form of dialogue.

The Church dialogues in this way too: ACCIRD organises a highly anticipated annual interreligious Christmas celebration where leaders and representatives of different faiths are hosted by His Grace Archbishop William Goh at a different Catholic parish each year. Guests traditionally enjoy Christmas carolling, an introduction to interesting aspects of the history of the host church, and a Christmas reflection by His Grace, before adjourning to a festive dinner where mutual bonds of friendship and understanding are further strengthened.

Interreligious dialogue post Covid-19

ACCIRD’s vision is to promote throughout the Archdiocese a greater awareness and understanding of other faiths through dialogue, prayer and action. Under the circumstances of Phase 2 of the Circuit Breaker, creative ways must now be found to enhance the interfaith literacy and engagement of young people.  It is even more urgent than ever that everyone plays their part in building bridges with people of all religions in order to foster goodwill, and to inspire respect, trust and unity for the common good of all.

As Pope Francis said in 2013: “It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony within and between peoples, but rather a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue; this is the only way to peace.” 

Contributed by ACCIRD