Varanasi: Various programs organized in India to mark the 50th anniversary of the Vatican document on interreligious relations have left an indelible impression, participants claim.
The February 14-16 programs held at Varanasi, the spiritual capital of India, aimed at celebrating diversity of religions and fostering world peace and love, Father Eugene Joseph, the chief organizer, told Matters India.
The Varanasi event was jointly organized by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue (PCID) and the Varanasi Catholic diocese.
A two-member PCID delegation held meetings with Jains, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus at their respective centers. The Church team wound up their Varanasi program on February 16 by joining thousands of Hindu pilgrims for “Aarati,” a millennia-old ritual on the banks of the Ganges River.
Aarti is a Hindi word that denotes a Hindu religious ritual of worship, where light from wicks soaked in purified butter or camphor is offered to one or more deities.
The Vatican team came to Varanasi after a series of meetings with various Buddhist denominations in Bodh Gaya, in neighboring Bihar state.
In Varanasi, they were welcomed at Nav Sadhana (new spiritual exercise), a regional pastoral center.
The team then proceeded to Parshvanath Vidyamandir, a Jain center, to understand Jainism one of India’s ancient religions that teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation.
They also dialogued with Muslims and held an inter-religious prayer at St Mary’s Cathedral.
On the last day, they had meeting with Buddhists, Sikhs and Sanatan Dharam (eternal religion, another term used for Hinduism).
At each center, the Church team was received according to its religious tradition. Every meeting began with prayer in the respective religion. Hundreds of people had turned up at every center. The dialogue ended with the presentation of mementos and shawls to the dignitaries.
At the dialogue between Sanatana Dharma and Christianity at Kedar Ghat, Fr. Idunil J. Koduthuwakku, PCID under secretary, said that many spiritual and moral goods as well as socio-cultural values are found in Hinduism. These values are very important in fraternity and friendship “for our human existence,” the Sri Lankan priest said.
The head of the Sanatana Dharama center, Pujyapad Dandi Swami Avimukteshwaranand Maharaj said his religion has been spreading fraternity and tolerance throughout the earth from time immemorial. Representatives of his religion and Christianity dialogued with much affection, he told Matters India.
Daljeet Kaur, a Sikh woman, noted that Sikhism and Christianity valued love, forgiveness and service as three pillars of their religions. The basis of universal brotherhood in the message of Guru Nanak, founder of their religion, is to accept diversity by accepting the identity, respecting the identity, and protecting the identity of others.
Father Satyanand, in his message said that the Christian inspiration for celebrating diversity of faith comes from their experience of universal brotherhood as children of God the Father.
The Christian value of treating everyone as the child of God resonates the Sanatana principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam (the whole universe is a family). Christianity teaches the eternal principal of perfect love and Sanatana Dharma the principal of tolerance. At a practical level, these become the bases for a peaceful and harmonious co-existence in spite of all differences.
L. N. Shastri, acting Vice Chancellor of the Central University for Tibetan Studies, says dialogue between Buddhists and Christians would help foster friendship and fraternity to establish peace and harmony in the world.
Although Buddhism and Christianity differ in the transcendental perspectives, Buddhism speaks of compassion and Christianity stresses love. These two ethical and transcendental values are the essence of religion. Hence, there are similarities and closeness in both religions at different levels.
Fr. Koduthuwakku said the Varanasi program gave the Universal Church an opportunity to go closer and foster fraternity with other world religions.
After watching the evening aarati, he said the mesmerizing program helped him understand the people’s religiosity. He also emphasized the meaning and need of adaptation of such elements into our Christian worship.
Fr. Santiago, one of the officials of the PCID said all these exercises will further in our initiatives and develop our mindset for new evangelization.
Fr. Eugene Joseph, who is the administrator of the diocese, said he took the initiative to hold the program purely as an exercise to translate “our work, meaning and purpose of evangelization.”
“For us, the other religions are abode of the spirit. They are receptacles of the Word of God which we must lovingly and respectfully open to receive.”