The following text, Part III, was translated into about 10 languages and disseminated in the context of the World Day of Prayer at Assisi in 2011 initiated by Pope Benedict XVI.
Promoting Interfaith Relations
[The first edition of these Guidelines was officially launched by Archbishop Denis J. Hart, August 21st, 2007. This revised edition was approved by the Archbishop on 12th October 2009.]
Guidelines for the parishes and agencies of the Archdiocese of Melbourne to assist in the promotion of interfaith relations in general and especially in the preparation of interfaith gatherings.
Preparing an authentically religious multifaith event
Since multifaith gatherings are becoming increasingly common, greater attention needs to be paid to this form of dialogue.
While civic leaders may initiate a multifaith event, the appropriate religious leaders are responsible for its structure and content. Given this basic premise, the religious leaders will maintain due regard for the intentions of the initiators and their legitimate role.
A balance needs to be maintained. Although one denomination or religious tradition should not dominate, neither may there be time in the celebration for every tradition to have a public role. The selection must be done in a spirit of wisdom and service lest the event be in fact counterproductive.
These events may involve Christians from a number of denominations: indeed multifaith gatherings are preferably undertaken on an ecumenical basis.
Any place can be used since a venue is made holy by the spiritual character of those who use it. It may sometimes be more acceptable to use a neutral location such as a hall. It may also be possible, depending on the wishes of the leaders organising the event, to use a mosque or synagogue or church or temple.
It should be noted that images, whether paintings or statues, may be offensive to some participants.
There are very many religious festivals. In planning the gathering it is important to find a time-slot that is suitable. The ‘Interfaith Calendar’ website given below will be of value.
Terms such as ‘prayer’, ‘worship’, ‘God’, ‘faith’, ‘minister’ etc. do not necessarily apply in all traditions. Preference should be given to more inclusive terms. At the same time, distinctions should not be blurred.
A symbolic act or ritual can be more expressive than many words. Flame and water, flowers and bread, have a universal significance so that participants can attach their own meaning to the act and not feel constrained by any one interpretation.
The Jewish tradition requires food to be kosher; the Muslim tradition requires it to be halal. Hindus may insist on vegetarian food. Some Buddhists, in addition to dietary needs, may also have requests concerning timing of a meal. Participants vary greatly in attitude to the dietary requirements of their religion. It is best to seek advice.
There can be many formats. However, the following listing reflects the pattern of the ‘Ceremony for Peace and Collaboration among Religions’ held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne, on 11 June 2000, during the Great Jubilee.
- The participants are greeted and welcomed; and the reason for the gathering is given.
- There may be value in indicating at some point that the statements of faith made by some do not involve the assent of all. Participants can agree to disagree while at the same time coming together in harmony and mutual respect.
- The various religious traditions make their distinctive contribution, which may be in the form of readings from the sacred texts, poems, teachings etc.
- Music or song from the various traditions.
- Periods of silence may be interspersed between the various contributions, during which participants transcend expressions and arrive at their source.
- One or other leader may give some reflections appropriate to the occasion.
- The term ‘prayer’ does not suit every tradition. Intentions or hopes, however, may be stated and agreed upon by means of some appropriate acclamation.
- An element of ritual, carefully chosen to reflect the purpose of the event, may be incorporated.
- A commissioning or blessing may be appropriate, sending the participants forth to live out the values of the interfaith experience.
Note: Marriages, funerals and other events may also involve people from different traditions wishing that the ceremony reflect their diversity. While the liturgical rituals for weddings and funerals are clearly prescribed in the Catholic tradition and will be expected by members of other traditions, it may be necessary to include elements from other traditions (within the limits prescribed by the Church) in some appropriate fashion. There is no room for ‘mixing and gathering’ which satisfies no one. This will require both pastoral sensitivity and fidelity to Catholic tradition.
(This Part III was largely prepared by me with thanks to Prof. Dr. Bettina Bäumer.)