INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE & ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO INTELLECTUAL FORMATION FIJI ISLANDS REGION (AUSTRALIAN PROVINCE)

Jioji Bilowalu, CM[*]

What is interreligious dialogue?

Excerpts from the Pontifical Council for Inter religious Dialogue PCID (Nature and goals of PCID):

  • To Promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and followers of other religious traditions
  • To encourage the study of other religion
  • To promote the formation of persons dedicated to dialogue

Excerpts from WCC- World council of Churches:

  • In our increasingly pluralistic societies, more inter-religious dialogue and cooperation are needed if conflict fuelled by religion is to be constantly addressed
  • Spirit and religious traditions are a source of values that can defend dignified life for all, these traditions need to be explored
  • We need ways to understand both particularly, universality and plurality, we must learn to live our faith with integrity while respecting and accepting each other

Interfaith – Fiji Islands

Inter faith search Fiji. An organisation that came into existence as a direct result of the political upheavals in the country in 1987 when the 17 years of peaceful democratic governance was shattered by a military led coup de`etat.  The Coup had ramifications which caused a lot of division/ tensions between the Indigenous Fijians and the Indo Fijians.

Religious overtones. Coup leaders and ethnic Fijians who rallied and supported the coup enforced the off sided view in Biblical term with themselves as the chosen people (the lost tribe) and Fiji was their Promised Land.

Over 100 years, there was relatively calm co existence.  Government policy was to keep the people divided in their separate communities; this had an impact on the social, cultural and political scene, since the 1970 independence.  In other words people of different race, culture, colour, religion lived side by side in harmony together.

In a glance/stats of 2007: Christians 539,536; Methodist 289,923; Catholic 76,433; AOG 47,778; Anglican 6,313; SDA 32,308; Hindus 233,393; Muslims 52,520;  Other faiths 2,172, No Religion 7,073.

Our Students in Formation: 1 Tongan Islander; 2 Indigenous Fijians; 1 Papua New Guinean; 6 Solomon Islanders.

Our context of formation, past and present realities

  • Increasingly, there was an increase interaction at the grassroots level
  • People of Fiji on the whole were very tolerant of each others differences
  • Religious festivals are shared and enjoyed on a superficial level without anyone feeling a great need to understand them
  • Religious dietary regulations and fasting are accepted and respected
  • Many schools are run by religious congregation/organisations, Christian, Hindus and Muslims
  • Children from all sections of community are accepted, so there has developed a general knowledge of each others religious practices, while understanding of beliefs can sometime remain superficial.

 

Intellectual Formation

Studies in Interreligious Dialogue: It is concerned with the encounter between religious traditions and world views.  It welcomes all contributions which stimulate a deeper understanding of the systematic and practical issues concerning inter-religious relations.  It allows for discussion the various questions which are implicated in the modern situation of a pluralistic culture.  It provides a forum for academic discussion and comparative study of religious beliefs and philosophies of life, of the different moralities involved and the possibilities of agreement and community.

 

Past :

Our students and conferes were engaged to discern together how our spiritual resources of our own Vincentian traditions could help with the healing process that was needed to restore harmony in our fractured community.  The subsequent meetings/dialogue interfaith search organised saw our Vincentian community on action.  It was an attempt to building bridges of respect and understsding between people of different religious traditions and cultures for the sake of the wider community.  Two of our then students (now priests/lay brother did studies and awareness with the people for intercultural awareness and later had postulated with our indigenous Indian community) One of our lay brother learn and mastered Hindustani and worked exclusively with Indians until some years ago. Two years later another of our confrere also had an interest in knowing and understanding the Hindi language and culture.  He learned to speak Fijian Hindustani and ministered to the Christian Indians.

Today:

The seminary has subjects in the curriculum that develops our candidate’s view of the world religions in our pluralistic world. Part of their study is to visit a Hindu/ Muslim temple and one of the priests at the temple would give an input on Hinduism/Muslim belief.

 

In our spiritual year/internal seminary program we also have elements of the inter faith search program being integrated into our inputs. This year our Novices  as part of their inter_religious program will have the opportunity to visit the Hindu/Muslim temple have a session with the priest in charge.  This will enable our Novices to have a better understanding of other faiths. Yet there is still a great need to explore and perhaps more interfaith dialogue into our formation life.  In the not to distant future we might be looking at people from other faiths to come and have an input in our formation house.

 


[*] Fr. Jioji CM is a Fijian and belongs to the Australian Province. He is director of St. Vincent’s House of formation in Fiji.

 

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