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For immediate release
Interreligious Dialogue Must Be a Priority,
“In this first decade of the Third Christian Millennium we — that is, all humanity — have entered into a new unprecedented era of violence and militant polarization… Religious leaders like ourselves should be at the forefront of trying to overcome these divisions and promoting peaceful and just resolutions to the problems faced by our world,” Sulpician Father Ronald Witherup told members of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in his presidential address during the annual assembly, August 3-6 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Ignorance is at the root of a lot of violence today,” Father Witherup said, “and only study, dialogue and careful listening to ‘the other’ can lead us out of this morass.”
The importance of engaging in interreligious dialogue was echoed in keynote addresses by Trappist Father and former Abbot Thomas Keating of Snowmass Abbey in Colorado and the Reverend Bud Heckman, executive director of Religions for Peace USA.
“We are at the entrance to one of the greatest religious experiences that history has had,” said Abbott Keating. What is needed to enter into deep interreligious dialogue, he continued, is “A great commitment to the transformative process … our response to the grace in others.” We should seek, Abbot Keating said, to share “communion” with others — that is communal resting in God, in silence. From his experience of a lifetime of contemplative prayer, he said, “Silence is God’s first language; everything else is translation.”
“We are in entirely new territory,” said Reverend Heckman, a Methodist minister and executive director of Religions for Peace USA. Since passage of the 1965 immigrant act, people of widely diverse faith traditions have been coming in ever larger numbers to the United States. He said it is incumbent upon majority religions to reach out in dialogue. “People from a minority faith tradition don’t have the luxury not to engage in interreligious dialogue.”
The keynote talks and the workshop experiences focused on a personal approach. “Dialogue is not so much about the encounters of different faiths. It concerns rather the encounters of people of different faiths,” said Father Witherup in his presidential message.
The theme of the assembly, The Religious Life in an Interreligious World, said CMSM executive director, Marist Father Ted Keating, was a reflection of today’s world. “In this country, religious pluralism has become a fact of life. It has become a necessity to openly and forthrightly deal with other religions because you can no longer truly understand your own faith without seeing how it interacts with other traditions. This seems to be a special grace in ‘the signs of the times’.”
The more than 150 leaders who attended also had an opportunity to attend workshops on the topic of interreligious dialogue. Benedictine Father Mark Serna, president of the Monastic Interreligioius Dialogue, led a session on the Catholic monastic experience of dialogue with Buddhist monasticism. Reverend Heckman spoke in more detail about interreligious collaboration in peacemaking in local communities around the United States. Dr. John Borelli of Georgetown University spoke on interreligious dialogue in the fabric of U.S. Catholic identity. Jo-Ellen Karstens and David Shaheed led a session on “Focolare: A Lay Ecclesial Community Rooted by Charism in Interreligious Life and Mission.” Franciscan Friar of the Atonement Elias Mallon spoke on the impact on mission and ministry of shifts in the interreligious context of the United States.
On one afternoon, CMSM members had an opportunity to experience what it is like to be a member of another faith tradition in one session on Native American spirituality led by Paul Ojibway, another on Islam led by Judge David Shaheed, and a third on Hinduism led by N.V. Shamasundar.
The assembled leaders also marked the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima with an interreligious prayer service culminating at 4:16 p.m. on August 5 (8:16 a.m. August 6 in Japan) with members of the American Buddhist association, Soka Gakkai International.
During the assembly, CMSM members also met in focus groups, held regional meetings, and heard presentations by Fr. Donald Monan, SJ, and Kerry Robinson of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a group that CMSM has been supporting from its foundation, and an update from Dr. Monica Applewhite of Praesidium Religious Services on the progress of the CMSM Instruments of Hope and Healing accreditation process for dealing with the abuse of minors.
At the business meeting of the Conference, CMSM members elected new at-large delegates to the Board of Directors. Elected were Abbot John Klassen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, MN, and Very Rev. Thomas Picton, CSSR, provincial of the Redemptorists of the Denver Province.
At the close of the assembly, Dominican Father Dominic Izzo was installed as president of CMSM for the next two years. Father Izzo is the prior provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, based in New York City.
CMSM promotes the welfare, community life, ministry and mission of more than 20,000 vowed priests and brothers through service to the leaders of 210 Catholic religious communities of men in the United States.