December Chat

photo-wilma-viswanathanWe spend five minutes with Wilma Viswanathan.

What motivates you to continue fostering interfaith relationship?

The motivation comes from seeing so much change taking place in this great movement. At the Women’s Interfaith Network (WIN) meetings, my friends are always reporting new and evolving stories about their families and faiths. Intermarriage is more common now. Thankfully my family too (including my in-laws) has ‘blown out” into a multicultural and interfaith group. We can now boast that we are made up of Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Christians. Because of my reasonable knowledge of other faiths I am able to converse comfortably with my interesting family and friends. Obviously, I have more to learn and look forward to my WIN meetings.

Have you attended an interfaith event in the last month?

There were several interfaith events last month. One that stands out was a gathering organised by the Catholic Church in Australia. Called Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace, it was the Australian event to mark the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s first invitation to leaders of the world’s religions to gather in Assisi, Italy. The keynote speaker was Sister Trish Madigan. Some other speakers were Josie Lacey from the Jewish community who spoke about her interfaith journey, Zuleyah Keskin from the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia (ISRA) who spoke on the changes that have taken place in the Muslim community through participation in Interfaith Dialogue, and myself.  I was warmly welcomed and enjoyed speaking to this great group of women and a few men too. Please see the full report by Kim Davies, Director of the Office for the Participation of Women of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference who organised the event.

Do you have a recommendation for someone wanting to get involved in interfaith relations / dialogue?

Yes, go in heart first and then use your head. Or as the famous Father Bob once said on a TV programme – Religion is about open hearts NOT closed minds. He also noted that churches should be more emotional than intellectual – should hit us in the heart and not the head. This is the best way to meet people from other faiths. A well-known Catholic priest – Raimon Panikkar once penned this famous Sermon on the Mount of Intrareligious Dialogue which I think answers this question well:

The Sermon on the Mount of Intrareligious Dialogue

"When you enter into an intra-religious dialogue, do not think beforehand what you have to believe.
When you witness to your faith, do not defend yourself or your vested interests, sacred as they may appear to you. Do like the birds in the skies: they sing and fly and do not defend their music or their beauty.
When you dialogue with somebody, look at your partner as a revelatory experience, as you would – and should – look at the lilies in the fields. When you engage in intra-religious dialogue, try first to remove the beam in your own eye before removing the speck in the eye of your neighbour.
Blessed are you when you do not feel self-sufficient while being in dialogue.
Blessed are you when you trust the other because you trust in Me.
Blessed are you when you face misunderstandings from your own community or others for the sake of your fidelity to Truth.
Blessed are you when you do not give up your convictions, and yet you do not set them up as absolute norms.
Woe unto you, you theologians and academicians, when you dismiss what others say because you find it embarrassing or not sufficiently learned.
Woe unto you, you practitioners of religions, when you do not listen to the cries of the little ones.
Woe unto you, you religious authorities, because you prevent change and (re)conversion.

Woe unto you, religious people, because you monopolize religion and stifle the Spirit, which blows where and how she wills."

I would also like to take this opportunity to report the latest study from the Parliament of World Religions:

"The Interfaith Movement is no longer the infant - it is more like the awkward teenager, showing signs of becoming a promising adult, but not there yet.  What is next?  We have room to grow.

The waters were much murkier twenty years ago, before the resurgence of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and even ten years ago, before the 9/11-inspired surge of interfaith growth.  Organizations were less clear about their niches, their unique value added.  With today’s clarity and specialization of mission comes better funding, cooperation, and focused impact.

Now Interfaith organizations are growing like spring grass."