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RELIGION and the ARTS

Religion and the Arts 12 (2008) 123137

www.brill.nl/rart

My Adventure with Inter-religious Dialogue


Joseph A. Samarakone, O.M.I.
Aanmodaya Ashram, Kancheepuram, South India

Abstract The Jesus we meet in the Gospels is an inter-religious person par excellence who was able to transcend fundamentalist interpretations that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel, and to recognize the faith of all people (Matt. 8:10). Jesus mystical experience in the desert led him to realize Yahweh as Abbathe Father of all. Hence he proclaimed the kingdom as an inclusive reality, as the basis of all God experience (Matt 13:151). Stressing our need to develop such an inter-religious spirit, the author traces his own awakening spanning over ve decadesfrom his adolescent faith in the God of the Christians to his new vision of a universal kingdom of communion, which embraces all people and all reality. His message is that every disciple of Jesusand the Church as Christs sacrament should live this legacy of Jesus and proclaim Gods saving love for all people irrespective of religious aliation. Keywords Catholic Church, Hinduism, inculturation, Indian hermeneutics, pneumatology, Tamil

believe it was the Spirit of God who drove me into this vast eld of interreligious relation and who continues to prod me to cross the frontiers of my religion to enter into dialogue with other religious traditions. This has been my experience ever since my school days. Though my early education took place in Christian schools, most of my teachers were Hindus, especially Shaivaites. They made a deep impression on me by their life of dedication and commitment; they were epitomes of deep spirituality. I asked no question then but journeyed on as a young boy guided by the doctrine that Christianity is the only true religion and salvation is possible only through the Church. Then came the breakthrough, like a bolt from the blue, from altogether unexpected quarters: in my rst year of philosophy, in 1960, at the Sri Lanka National Seminary, Kandy, during a lecture on Educational Psychology, my American Rector,
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/156852908X270962

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Fr. Frederick Sackett, O.M.I., said, Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus [Outside the Church there is no Salvation] is a doctrine condemned by the Church! I was startled. The Rector continued to inform me that in 1949 a Jesuit priest, Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J., propounded this doctrine. The Ocial Church sat up and took cognizance of this; he was asked to withdraw his proposition. But Fr. Feeney was adamant, and as a result he was excommunicated. Thus Fr. Feeney found himself Outside the Church! This was music to my ears! In a moment I realized that all those beautiful people in my life belonging to other religions are not going to be lost after all; there is salvation for all of them. I tried to share my joy with the other Brothers, but they were not much impressed by this. Four years rolled by. As I began my second year of theology in 1964, the Professor of Sacramental Theology, Fr. Dalston Forbes, O.M.I., basing himself on the great Dutch Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., surprised me when he said, Non-Christian religions are sacraments of God! From this point onwards I never looked back, though at this point of time I accepted the view that Jesus Christ is the Primordial Sacrament of God and, therefore, all religions must nd their fullment in Jesus Christ. But I did not have the slightest doubt that all religions are capable of leading their followers to the Feet of the Divine. As if to conrm me in my new thinking, my own Religious Superior, Fr. S. N. Arulnesan, O.M.I., took me to an ashram in Kandy (Sri Lanka) where I studied. It was the Ashram of the Divine Life Societya branch of the Shivananda Ashram of Rishikesh. I couldnt have gone to a better ashram. Swami Saccidananda, the Guru of this Ashram, was a person with an inter-religious heart and mind. During the worship on that day, among other scriptures he reached out to the Gospel according to John and read the Prologue. I was simply thrilled. These are the landmark events which shaped my mind and heart in my early formative years as an inter-religious person without much conscious eort on my part, like the growth of an embryo in the womb of a mother. After my ordination in 1966, I served my mother province, Sri Lanka, for almost ten years. In 1976 I was sent to India to be in charge of one of our Formation Housesthe Oblate Scholasticate in Chennai. I set foot on Mother India on July 1, 1976. From the outset I was dreaming of a formation that would be rmly rooted in the soil of Indiain the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Land. Just about this time the Jesuits of India had come out with a well-prepared study on Inculturation in Formation. It was the fruit of a three-year in-depth survey, study, and reection conducted

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by a special commission. This served as a resource book in my eorts at inculturating the formation of our O.M.I. Brothers. (I will return to the notion of inculturation below). Within a year of my coming to India, sometime in May 1977, I met Fr. Bede Griths, O.S.B. (who assumed the name Swami Dhyananda), purely by chance. When I looked at this holy man, his whole demeanor awakened something even deeper within me, and the thought passed through me like a ash of lightning: here is an authentic Christian sannyasi of India! This meeting was to blossom into a long and abiding friendship which made inroads into my inner life, bringing about radical transformation. Swami Bede invited me to his ashram, Santhivanam, in Tamil Nadu. During my visit to the Saccidananda ashram of Santhivanam in May of 1979, I felt the place was permeated by his graceful presence. It was to prove a watershed in my life in general, and in my entry into the spiritual tradition of my land in particular. That moment is still very vivid in my mind: we stood for the arathi with hands folded and placed on our head, oering our whole selves to God. Floodgates opened within me, and I had an unspeakable experience of worshipping my Sat Guru Jesus for the rst time rooted in my culture; and this was further heightened as I prostrated myself before the divine mystery. The whole worship with Bede Griths was a memorable experience. Two things in particular attracted me: the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra, which I have kept with me ever since, and the Tiruvacagam of Saint Manickavacagar. Fr. Bede asked me to chant the Tiruvacagam in Tamil, and I chanted it without any prior preparation as though I had been chanting this for many years. Today in our ashram the Tiruvacagam holds an important place in our daily worship. If ever I considered someone as a guru who awakened me to the depths of my being and showed me the path to sannyasa, it was Swami Bede GrithsDhyananda. The utter simplicity of his life brought about an immediate change in my own, and his compassionate persona (true to his name Dhyananda) posed a great challenge. These two virtues he embodiedsimplicity and compassionstill keep beckoning me to greater heights of sannyasa. In 1978 the Provincial of the F.M.M. Sisters of Madras, Sister Angela Hurley, decided that all the Sisters of the province should have an initiation into Indian spirituality. Sacred Heart Sisters Vandana Mataji and Ishpriya Mataji were invited to animate this ten-day session. Vandana Mataji wanted a priest who could celebrate the Eucharist every day, picking up the thread from the sessions. Since by then my deep interest in Indian

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spirituality was well known, my Superior, Fr. Stanislaus Phillips, O.M.I., suggested that I participate in this sadhana. This was another great moment in my life when I was being led by the Spirit Herself to drink deep from our own wells nourished by the same Spirit. I sat at the feet of Vandana Mataji imbibing the rich treasures of the spiritual heritage of India. This encounter with Vandana Mataji blossomed into a deep and long-standing friendship, and in my tirthayatra I consider Vandana Mataji as my Spiritual Mother who has been leading me step by step to come into my own inheritance. I have had the joy of being with her on many occasions in the Jeevan Dhara ashram she founded at Jaiharikhal in the foothills of the Himalayas. There is even an O.M.I. Kuttir in this ashram built by my Austrian confrere, Fr. Josef Anthofer, O.M.I. Many O.M.I.s have been to this inter-religious ashram. Another person who provided a lot of intellectual input on my interspiritual journey was Swami Amalorpavadass or Amalorananda. I was very much impressed by the great institution he founded, commissioned by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI)the National Biblical, Catechetical, and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) in Bangalore, with the aim of translating the directives of Vatican II into real life in the Church of India. I admired his tireless eorts in the eld of inculturation. In the eighties I had moved to our Formation House Nivedanam in Bangalore where my own eorts at inculturating the formation of our students were proceeding relentlessly. Fr. Amalorpavadass once visited our Formation House, Nivedanam, and stayed with us for a day. Sometime later he invited me to participate in the Ashram Aikiya meeting, though I was not in an ashram then. He seemed to believe that I had absorbed many values of the ashram ideal in our Formation House. Ashram Aikiya members used to tell me that Father Amalor had added one more to the ashram list: Fr. Samarakones Ashram! From the 1980s another person who drew me into this ministry of inter-religious dialogue was Fr. Albert Nambiaparambil, C.M.I. The many inter-religious seminars, meetings, and live-ins in which he invited me to participate enriched my inter-religious imagination and brought me face to face with holy men and women, sages and saints, who let me witness the ever-vibrant religious plurality of our land and convinced me beyond a doubt that the great providence of God has willed the plurality of religions! Among the other moments of spiritual enrichment I experienced along the way, I would like to mention the following:

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1. Though I had attended many erudite lectures on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the ten-day Gita Sadhanawhich I participated in under the inspirational guidance of Fr. Sebastian Painadath, S.J. at Sameeksha, Kalady, Kerala, in June/July 1994made me appreciate the teachings of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which I still continue to relish and cite in the prayer and worship of our own O.M.I. Ashram. 2. A ten-day sadhana on the Thiruvacagam of Saint Manickavacagar by a great scholar and saintly person, Arunai Vadivel, awakened me to the rich treasures of this great Tamil mystical song, opening a deep abyss within me and letting me savor the sweetness of these verses. Before the depth experience of the Divine Mystery gushing forth like torrents from these songs, the tall and absolute claims of Christianity to be the superior and only way paled into insignicance! 3. One of the Church documents which gave me a lot of backing in my eorts at inter-religious dialogue was the document, The Attitude of the Church towards the Followers of Other Religions (no more NonChristians!). This text was ocially approved by Pope John Paul II on Pentecost Sunday, June 10, 1984 and released by the Vatican Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue. This landmark documentcoming nearly twenty years after the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate: Declarations of the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religionswas ve years in the making and, unlike the other Church documents, involved a lot of discussion with the Asian Churches. This document very clearly brought out the rich experience of the Church after twenty years of dialoguing with the people of other faiths, breaking new ground with far greater openness and reach. Some of the most insightful moments of this document include the discovery that: (a) while a person may not possess the truth in a perfect and total way, one can walk together with others towards that goal ( 21); (b) the Church has the duty of bringing to light and fullness all the richness the Father has hidden in creation and history, not only to celebrate the glory of God in its liturgy but also to promote among all humankind the movement of the gifts of the Father ( 22); (c) the Spirit also works outside the connes of the Mystical Body;1 the Spirit both anticipates and accompanies the
1)

See the rst Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, delivered by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 4 March 1979 at the beginning of his papal ministry. In spite of its emphasis on the Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, [as] the centre of the Universe and of history, it is able to recognize the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible connes of the Mystical Body (1).

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path of the Church which, nevertheless, feels itself impelled to discern the signs of Her presence, to follow Her wherever She leads and to serve Her as a humble and discreet collaborator ( 24); and (d ) in biblical language conversion is the humble and penitent return of the heart to God; all persons are constantly called to this conversion, and in the course of this process, the decision may be made to leave ones previous spiritual or religious situation in order to direct oneself towards another ( 37). One of the persons involved in the making of this document was Fr. Marcello Zago, O.M.I., then Secretary of the Pontical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and later (in September 1986) to become our own Superior General. He was very much appreciative of the eorts the Indian Unit of our congregation was making in the eld of inculturation. In order to bring this to the attention of the congregation, Fr. Zago decided that a three-week Plenary Session of our O.M.I. General Administration, including a one-week Joint Session with the Provincials and Major Superiors of Asia-Oceania Region (AORC), be held in India in our Nivedanam house in Bangalore. The theme of the Joint Session was Our Missionary Involvement in the Face of the Challenges of Inculturation. I was then the Major Superior of the Indian Unit and was entrusted with the task of organizing this meeting, which was held in February 1989. I was fortunate enough to get Fr. Aloysius Pieris, S.J., of Sri Lanka, as the resource person for this Joint Session. It was a great moment of celebration when our Major Superiors were able to witness the encounter of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the spiritual and cultural heritage of our land and the rst signs of the emergence of the local Church! For me this was the culmination of my eorts at inculturation, and I experienced a great sense of fulllment. Soon after this I laid down oce as the Delegation Superior of the O.M.I. Unit of India. At this time there was an evaluation of our life and work presided over by the then Provincial of Sri Lanka, Fr. Anselm Silvia, O.M.I. In the very rst session the Provincial asked the members what our priorities were. To my great surprise someone said, We should establish an ashram! The Provincial, too, was taken aback because he very well knew the resistance I faced as I set in motion the process of inculturation. The Provincial was very frank: I want a discussion on this matter and a vote taken. When the vote was taken it was a unanimous decision by all the O.M.I.s of India that an ashram should be established. It was certainly a dening moment!

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And so Aanmodaya Ashram was established in Enathur, Kancheepuram, in October 1990 with one of the rst Indian Oblates, Swami Amalraj Jesudass, as the rst Acharya Guru. Fr. Denis Dancause, O.M.I., a Canadian Oblate who had been spending three months every year in our Delegation for many years, laid the foundation stone on October 14, 1990the eve of the feast of the great Christian mystic, Teresa of Avilla. Fr. Denis himself was deeply involved in the process of inculturation taking place in the Delegation at every level of life. In 1993 our Superior General Marcello Zago came to preside over the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the O.M.I. presence in India. Talking to me at this time, Father Zago asked me if I would like to go to the Oblate Ashram. I told him that I would be delighted. Thus the Spirit once again drove me to the Aanmodaya Ashram. I arrived on July 14, 1993 and have been there ever since. Though the Aanmodaya Ashram is open to all (irrespective of caste, creed, gender, religion, or race), and while people from all walks of life keep coming and beneting from the services we provideespecially holistic healing through dhyanam (meditation)the main group we are serving is Christian: religious seminarians, priests, and quite a few lay westerners. To these an opportunity is provided to experience (and not just to have an intellectual knowledge of ) the rich spiritual treasures of the religious traditions of the land, through our Indian forms of prayer, dhyanam, worship, and liturgy, along with the input talks. The sacred scriptures of our land and the biblical scriptures are integrated to make a dynamic synthesis in our worship. This is a common practice in classical Indian Hermeneutics.2 Participants are gradually initiated to Ashtanga Yogathe eight stages through which an aspirant is led, step by step, towards union
2) In this classical Indian Hermeneutics one allows the biblical text, especially the Gospel of Jesus, to ow into the two principal streams of the landthe spiritual stream and the social liberative streamwhile allowing these streams, in turn, to interpret the biblical text, thus bringing about a Gospel-Culture Encounter. At this point of conuence (Sangamam), the Word becomes fecundated with fresh, new, and deeper ways of understanding. This enables people to sit at the Sangamam, the point of conuence, and drink deep from their own wells nourished by the Spirit, and allow themselves to be nourished by the enriched Word. An outstanding proponent of this new classical hermeneutics is the late biblical scholar George M. Soares-Prabhu, S.J. (Beyond Settled Foundations 158170). Vatican II says, the Church nourishes her children from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ (cf. Dei Verbum 21). I have been celebrating the Word of God in this inculturated form for the last couple of decades with great rewarding experience both for myself and for the people to whom I break the Word.

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with God (yoga). Experience has shown that an experiential approach like this has a more lasting eect, and the participants have mostly gone back relishing their rewarding experience. The classical Indian threefold method of Sravanam (listening attentively and with faith), Mananam (pondering over and allowing oneself to be transformed by the Word), and Nididhyasanam (realizing or becoming the embodiment of the Word) is used to open ourselves to the Vacthe Word of God. In the process, I rst observed the absence of fundamentalistic expressions in the Indian scriptures, while the Bible was full of religious polemics denouncing the gods and religions of others, and always claiming superiority of our God. This surprised me and oended my interreligious mind and heart. Then suddenly, to my pleasant surprise, I realized that the Gospels were completely devoid of such fundamentalistic expressions. Today, as I read the Gospel of Jesus in our ashram in an inter-religious context, I see Him as an inter-religious person par excellence! Thus it dawned on me that Jesus, though born in a specically Hebrew culture and religion, had undergone such a transformation that he was able to liberate Yahweh from being a tribal God of Israel to Abbathe Father of all people. I was able to appreciate the moment of conversion for Jesus when he came face to face with the Syrophoenician woman whose humble demeanor so struck him that he was able to recognize a great faith in the woman (Matt. 15:2128; cf. Mark 7:2430). And again, amazed at the faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus exclaims, Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith! (Matt. 8:10; cf. Luke 7:110). In the same breath he adds, . . . many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham . . . in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness . . . (Matt. 8:1112). As a young boy imbued with a sense of Christian religious superiority, I used to read with triumphalistic glee the exploits of the prophet Elijah with the prophets of BaalElijah triumphing over them when they were unable to bring down re from heaven to burn their sacrice even though they cried to their god the whole day, while Elijahs God answered with re before the batting of an eyelid! (1 Kings 18:2040). And I was also struck by a passage about the healing of Naaman the leper by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5:119), where the climactic line reads: there is no God in all the earth except in Israel! (5:15). In the Gospels, on the other hand, I discovered that Jesus handled this same event of Naamans healing in a very dierent way: . . . there were many lepers in Israel at the time of prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the

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Syrian! (Luke 4:27). In this instance, as in so many others, the interreligious person of Jesus was manifesting the all-embracing love of God. This inter-religious Jesus so formed and transformed his disciples that, years after the resurrection, they were able to present in the Gospels a Jesus who transcended all narrow and sectarian religious boundaries. The most unfortunate thing is that Christians down through the centuries, who took great pride in calling themselves disciples of Jesus, had often very little of Jesus and his teaching in themselves. As I reect (mananam) on the dierence between the Gospel teachings and their betrayal by so many socalled Christians in history, I have a dream: would to God that all Christian people be weaned away from religious fundamentalism and become truly disciples of Jesus formed in the Spirit! A reective reading of the passion narratives, especially in the Gospel according to John, reveals how Jesus departed from the traditional God of power and presented a new vision. Especially after his desert experience, Jesus broke away from the religious establishment. Though himself a deeply religious person, Jesus didnt show any predilection for any religion. As he says to the woman at the well, for me one of the pivotal passages of all holy scripture: . . . the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither in this mountain nor Jerusalem . . . the hour is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him (John 4:23; cf. Rev. 7:9). Jesus proclaimed an all-inclusive kingdom, breaking all frontiers and embracing all people. Explaining the greatness of people who qualify to be in the kingdom, Jesus says, Among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matt. 11:11). The beautiful prayer that Jesus has taught, the Our Father, has arisen beyond all sectarian boundaries and has become truly a veritable universal prayer that every believer in God can pray. This is the great legacy that Jesus has bequeathed to all his disciples and to all people of goodwill. But Christianity, which claims to continue his work among the people, got embroiled in Roman imperialism, which equated one particular historical institution with the kingdom of God namely, the Church. Or as someone cryptically remarked: Jesus preached the kingdom, and out came Churchianity! Today, especially after Vatican II, a paradigm shift has taken place. The Church has begun, at least conceptually, to realize her life and work in reference to the kingdom. The Council proclaimed that the Church in Christ is in the nature of sacramenta sign and instrument, that is, of

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communion with God and of unity among all people (Lumen Gentium 1). As a sacrament or a sign of Jesus who revealed that God is with us to deliver us from the darkness of sin and death and to raise us up to eternal life (Dei Verbum 4), the Church should live this legacy of Jesus and proclaim Gods saving love for all people irrespective of any religious aliation. * By way of supplementing the above, let me add some further thoughts on the crucial importance of moving from a conversion model to an inculturation model of double or multiple belonging. It is in the eld of interreligious dialogue that we now speak about double religious belonging. This term was coined by Michael Amaladoss, S.J., and it means that, while being rooted in ones own tradition, one should have the ability to break the frontiers of this tradition so as to enter fully into the religious traditions of the other and to bring about an integration of both in ones own person.3 In 1974 the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC) gave us this comprehensive denition of inculturation: The local Church is a Church incarnate in a people, a Church indigenous and inculturated. And this means concretely a Church in continuous, humble, and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religionsin brief, with all the life-realities of the people in whose midst it has sunk its roots deeply and whose history and life it gladly makes its own. It seeks to share in whatever truly belongs to the people: its meanings and its values, its inspirations, its thought and its language, its songs and its artistryeven its frailties and the failings it assumesso that they too may be healed. For so did Gods Son assume the totality of our fallen condition, save only for sin, so that He might make it truly His own, and redeem it in His Paschal Mystery. The local churches everywhere taken together comprise the Universal Church. There is diversity in the local churches or Jesus Communities (what Jesus called grex parvulus, the little ock). These diversities come from the universality of the Christian presence in every religion and culture,
3)

See Amaladoss.

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and the values of the Kingdom Communities around these particular local churches provide the basis for the universality of the church. The kingdom of Jesus vision embraces all people, all religions, all cultures, even people who have no religion and, therefore, all ideologies and all life-realities of the people. Thus the kingdom is larger than the Church. The Church is a servant of the kingdom and her mission is to let the kingdom bloom and come to fullness both within the hearts of peopleas Jesus said, The kingdom of God is within you!and without, in our society and the world at large. Here we see a great paradigm shift: the mission of the church is to be understood in reference to the kingdom and not so much in terms of church expansion. Now emerges a new theology of religion which in turn informs our present missionary ecclesiology. There is a dynamic relation between the Christian message (Word) and the particular culturean insertion of the Christian life in the total culture, including the religion of the community, where it takes root and produces fruits, taking the sap from the soil and, therefore, the culture of the land. God has revealed himself in other ways than through the Biblein many and various ways (Heb. 1:1)from the very beginning. Today Christians are aware of the presence of God in other religions. Religions are Sacraments of God!a great pronouncement made by the Dutch theologian Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P. I was thrilled when I heard this during my dogmatic theology class in 196465. The wisdom and the experience of God in other religions challenge the Church. Christians have begun to discover the riches God has lavished on other nations. In true dialogue we come to share one anothers spiritual riches. It is a great challenge to our faith and religion to relate ourselves to these other religions and experience the pervasive presence of the Spirit among all. A practical example of this new vision was tangibly given to all, both inside and outside the church, by the late Pope John Paul II himself when he called the leaders of all religions and people for a Day of Prayer for Peace at Assisi on October 27, 1986. Commenting on this momentous event, the late Marcello Zago, former Superior General of the Oblates, said, This event was a recognition of these religions and prayer in particular, a recognition that these religions and prayer not only have a social role, but are also eective before God. Generally, Christians are wont to think that Jesus gave them the Holy Spirit to continue the mission of Jesus. This is Pneumatology (the science of the Holy Spirit) understood as a function of Christology. A broader

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vision of the work of the Spirit, in consonance with the new vision, is to see the Holy Spirit as the source of everything, and to see the Spirit herself giving birth to Jesus Christ and his group of disciples, orienting them towards the Universal Kingdom of Communion which the same Spirit is eecting at the heart of humanity. Christology is here understood, conversely, as a function of Pneumatology, allowing the breadth of Gods plan for humanity to come out more clearly (see Wilfred, Once again 1518). From this perspective, people of all religions are regarded as being guided by the Spirit towards harmony and communion. Therefore, people of all religions, including Christians, are called upon to play a participatory role, joining hands with all women and men of goodwill to make the Universal Kingdom of Communion come, not in the hereafter, but here and now! * One of the main texts which the traditional Christian evangelists relied upon in their eorts to proselytize through baptism was Matthew 28:19. They called this a mandate received from Jesus. However, eminent Scripture scholars such as Raymond Brown, S.S.S., are of the view that this command is not from Jesus at all but from the later-day Church, which

Figure 1. Interfaith symbols. Pen and ink drawings by Simone Kearney, 2007.

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gave us the Gospel of Matthew. In the Acts of the Apostles we see the struggle of the early Church to take the Word to the so-called Gentiles (Acts 10). If the risen Lord Jesus had settled this issue while he was still with the Apostles, then what we read in chapter ten of the Acts of the Apostles would be redundant. Besides, it is poor hermeneutics to pluck one text out of the Gospel, oftentimes out of context, and to hold this out as the denitive teaching of Jesus. Every text of the Gospel must be interpreted in the whole context of the teaching of Jesus as we meet him in the Gospel. Hence I am of the rm view that proselytizing goes against all civilized human behavior. From my own experience in inter-religious dialogue, the people of other religions tell us how deeply humiliated they feel when Christians ask them to convert to Christianity. Jesus, too, seems to be against this practice (see Matt. 23:15). For Jesus, baptism is understood as kenosis, self-emptying. But this is not to deny that the Spirit can occasionally lead a particular person from one religion to another for the greater good of humankinde.g., Saul becoming Paul, the disciple of Christ; an Anglican Newman becoming the Catholic Cardinal Newman. And there is also the interesting example of A. M. Varaprasadam, S.J., a former Provincial of the Madurai Province when he was traveling with an Anglican pastor by train in India. Suddenly, a Western gentleman walked in, dressed in dhothi and angavastram complete with vibuthi (sacred ashes) smeared on his forehead. To their amusement, he even oered vibuthi to the Christian ministers. Later during their conversation they learned that this person was an American and that he had been a Catholic priest. Now, he had left Catholicism and converted to Hinduism. The Jesuit asked him a pointed question: You had been a Catholic priest once and now you have converted to Hinduism. Therefore, it follows there is something in Hinduism that is totally absent in Christianity, and this something attracts you very much. What is this something? The answer came in a split second: Advaita 4 [non-dualism]! In Christianity God is an object of worship, but in Hinduism we are called to be one with the DivineGod is the subject of our being. On reection, however, Fr. Varaprasaam would later remark: It is not that advaita is not found in the Gospels; it is very much there, especially in the Gospel of John. But we Indian Christians have

The classical Hindu doctrine of Advaita oers the spiritual insight that the ultimate reality is neither monistic nor dualistic.

4)

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failed to draw this out from the Gospel of Jesus. It is best that we leave this conversion to the Spirit. * Let me conclude nally with a Tamil song from my native land. It is a verse dedicated to Lord Shiva as a loving Divine Mother, taken from the Tiruvacagam (Sacred Utterances) of the Tamil Saint Manikkavacaga.5 This is, as I mentioned earlier, a favorite Book of Mystical Songs from which my friend and mentor Dom Bede Griths would always ask me to sing whenever I visited him over the years at his inter-religious ashram at Shantivanam: The mothers thoughtful care her infant feeds: Thou deignst With greater love to visit sinful me, Melting my esh, ooding my soul with inward light, Unfailing raptures honeyed sweetness Thou Bestowest,through my every part infusing joy! My Wealth of bliss! O CivaPeruman! Close following Thee Ive seized, and hold Thee fast! Henceforth, ah, whither grace imparting wouldst Thou rise? (Tiruvacagam chap. 37, no. 9)

Works Cited
Amaladoss, Michael, S.J. Double Religious Belonging and Liminality. Vidyajyoti 66.1 (2002): 2134. Dei Verbum. Second Vatican Council. 18 Nov. 1965. John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis. Encylical. 4 Mar. 1979.

5)

Pal ninainthu uttum thai yinum salap Parinthu ni paviyen udaya Uninai urukki ul oli perukki Ulappila aan atham aaya Theninaich chorinthu puram puram thirintha Selvame sivaperumane Yan unai thodarnthu chikkena pidithen Engu ezhuntharulvathiniye.

Entitled Pidiththa Pathu (The Decad of the Tenacious Grasp). When this crowning work by Reverend Pope was completed in 1900, he was eighty years old.

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Lumen Gentium. Second Vatican Council. 21 Nov. 1964. Nostra Aetate: Declarations of the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions. Second Vatican Council. 28 Oct. 1965. Tiruvacagam or Sacred Utterances of the Tamil Poet, Saint and Sage Manikka-Vacagar. Trans. G. U. Pope. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1900. Varaprasadam, A. M., S.J. Personal communication with the author. c. 1995. Wilfred, Felix. Beyond Settled Foundations: The Journey of Indian Theology. Madras, India: Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras, 1993. .Once againChurch and the Kingdom. Vidyajyoti 57.1 (1993): 624. Zago, Marcello, O.M.I. Sedes 15 Mar. 1987: 81.