By Lay Centre staff
ROME — Lay Centre director Dr Donna Orsuto delivered a keynote address on the call to interreligious dialogue to more than 800 superiors general from 80 countries gathered in Rome May 6-10 for the XXI Plenary Assembly of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG). The theme of the assembly was “Sowers of Prophetic Hope.”
“We enter into dialogue because our experience of God’s love encourages us to do so. We were created in the image and likeness of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — for communion and dialogue,” Dr Orsuto told the assembly of women religious leaders at the Ergife Hotel May 9. “Interreligious dialogue is not an optional activity in the church. I would go so far as to say that dialogue is meant to be a way of life for us all.”
Dr Orsuto said the seeds for Pope Francis’ approach to dialogue were sown during the Second Vatican Council and nurtured during the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In particular, she spoke of the capital contribution of Pope Paul VI’s first encyclical, “Ecclesiam Suam,” published in 1964, which set the tone for many initiatives of dialogue that have since flourished in the Church.
Dr Orsuto proposed five practical ways to engage in interreligious dialogue: recognize what many sisters are already doing in this field and strengthen the already established relationships; reach out to neighbours; learn more about people of other religions and their beliefs; pray for peace between people of different religions; and try to see the other with the eyes of God.
This keynote was followed by a three-woman panel on interreligious dialogue. Samantha Lin, a Lay Centre alumna from the United States, Dewi Maharani, a current Lay Centre resident and Nostra Aetate Fellow from Indonesia, and Elena Dini, a communications specialist and Lay Centre collaborator from Italy.
Lin spoke of her past experience as a summer camp counsellor that impacted her faith and view of others of different faith traditions. The camp took place during Ramadan and, with all of the camp’s demanding physical activities, Lin was worried about the fast that the Muslim youth were practicing. However, a Muslim girl taught her that “fasting, was not a burden, but a beautiful time of closeness for her family and a time of quiet and prayer with God. She didn’t focus on ‘giving up’ food, but on the ways she could change her life during their holy month. Because of her, I began to think of fasting in a different way,” she said.
Maharani, 23, was the only Muslim speaker to address the 800 superiors general. Through her experience at the Pre-Synodal meeting on youth at the Vatican last year and her subsequent studies in Rome, Maharani said she has found Catholics to be “very open and welcoming, inclusive and embracing towards diversity.”
She highlighted the importance of learning to respect one another in order to enter into healthy relationships.
“For example, at The Lay Centre, I respectfully watch as my Christian friends gather for Mass. Likewise, my Christian friends are learning about and supporting me while I fast during Ramadan. They remain close to me in these days as, each evening, I break my fast with the ‘Iftar’ meal,” she said.
Dini spoke about how getting to know people of other faith traditions better was both a way for her to deepen her own faith and an invitation to recognize God’s action in the life of others.
The UISG’s assembly theme was also elaborated with reflections on interculturation, the vision for religious life and the integrity of creation.