By Elena Dini
ROME — A few days before the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, The Lay Centre began its new “Tasting the World” evening series for its resident community with a presentation by two resident Hindu scholars about life in India. Ravi Nandan Singh and Shishu Kumar Tiwari arrived in Rome from India about one month ago as Nostra Aetate Fellows.
Tiwari was born in a Brahmin family in a small village in Bihar state, East India, where he received his elementary education. He then decided to go to Varanasi, North India, a major centre for pilgrimage and one of the holiest cities for Hindus. There, Tiwari studied Sanskrit, religion and philosophy and eventually became a priest. Spirituality plays a key role in his life and this is the first time he has travelled out of India.
Singh has a different background. Born in a small town in North India, he attended “a series of alternative religious institutions,” including a school run by Catholic nuns, a Muslim school, a Sikh college and a humanistic university, he said.
Both shared about their experience back home. Tiwari talked about what it means to be a Brahmin priest, a possibility only available to people from the Brahmin Caste, to which he belongs. Brahmin priests learn about faith, live a spiritual life and conduct services. Their livelihood comes from gifts people offer them.
Singh spoke about the diversity of faiths in India and the fact that it is not always easy to live in a pluralistic society.
Tiwari and Singh said they are enjoying this semester in Rome as part of the Nostra Aetate Fellowship, supported by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
“To be a Nostra Aetate Fellow means to be on that remnant ground that was recognized in the second half of 20th century,” Singh said. “The document acknowledges with a great degree of spiritual courage, in my view, about others having a ‘ray of Truth.’ To be a fellow, then, is to live in the zone of spiritual courage of this acknowledgement and at the same time it is also to be open to a playful light and shadow of comparison, reflection and exposure.”
Tiwari said he appreciated the opportunity to receive “real information about Catholic society” through this program. He said he is deeply touched to see how Christians “love the Lord Jesus.”
“What attracts me most is the loving possibility of an extended discussion on some theological subject at the dining table,” Singh said, referring to his stay at The Lay Centre. “The excitement, typically for me, is in listening to the in-house scholars talk about Mark, Matthew and Paul (New Testament writers) as their next of kin.”
“I am learning a lot with people from different countries and I feel good staying here at The Lay Centre. Everybody is eager to help the other,” Tiwari added.
Diwali, also known as the “festival of lights,” marks the victory of light over darkness, truth over lies, life over death and good over evil; it will be celebrated by Hindus worldwide Nov. 7.
As the feast of Diwali approaches, The Lay Centre is pleased to share the greeting of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue with our Hindu brothers and sisters: “May the celebrations surrounding this festival strengthen the spirit of friendship and fraternity among you and enhance peace and joy in your families and communities!”