One cannot fail to agree with the vision of Pope Francis outlined in chapter eight of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti: “The different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society. ” (FT 271). I think that, in one way or another, many of us have experienced both formal and informal initiatives that go in this direction.
The next paragraph, however, immediately warns: “As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that “only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another”. (FT 272). Bringing out the face of God as a Father who is not merely the projection of our need for security and identity is the fundamental prerequisite for accepting and putting into practice the invitation of the Encyclical… and the point where the various religions find themselves institutionally bogged down.
After decades of great geopolitical upheavals (terrorism and then ISIS, the immigration problem both in Europe and in the USA, the failure to pacify the Middle East, the expansion of the Chinese model, the crisis of democracy) characterised by violence and divisions – now also the conflict in Ukraine at the hinge between East and West – has further brought out all the limits that different religious traditions (in this latter case, the Christian ones) have in playing an important role in building fraternity, justice and peace.
If one only looks at tradition, culture, or (often national) identity, any religion can remain just an expression of the individual or collective ego and its natural and instinctive need to have security and protection at the expense of others seen as enemies. At both the personal and community level, no one is very willing to undermine this natural self, even less to let it go (what Christian baptism, Buddhist awakening, etc. symbolise) so that a new filial and fraternal self can be born in God: the obstacles to a true inter-religious dialogue are all here. Many initiatives at the inter-religious level, even if worthy in themselves, but aimed only at strengthening one’s religious ego (“how good we are!”), will always be short lived and will always fall into occasional and sensational events.
My experience, influenced by my life in the Far East, tells me that it is necessary to start from silence in order to undermine the religious ego and open up new paths that overcome the various dual identities that cause violence, conflict and injustice. I am aware that certain types of oriental-style meditation that are fashionable are very superficial and tend only towards individual well-being. But it cannot be denied that silence (often combined with purifying fasting in the sense of stripping away superfluous things and the proper use of goods), which is characteristic of every spiritual experience in every religious tradition, can be an important basis for building common paths that benefit our distracted, fragmented, impulsive society, blind to reality. I understand ever more that many people, of all faiths, feel the need for silence, for conscious breathing, for overcoming the dichotomy between mind/body/spirit to which the digital society is accustoming us, for awareness… all these things, when we have the courage to share them together with people of different faiths, seriously, they lay bare our souls and are a window on the truth; they create communion and avoid falling into intimism.
The Christian tradition, especially monasticism and mysticism, have valued these aspects since the early centuries of Cristianity. Perhaps this could be something to start with when so much of our ‘doing’ and ‘talking’ proves sterile.