“Discovering the Scriptures of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity and how they contribute to peace and harmony” is the title of the course that gathered together 290 members of the Focolare Movement from India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Australia and many others from different regions of Thailand. It was a real cross-section of Asia, whose goal was to deepen knowledge of the world’s Great Religions from the East and to be trained for mature dialogue.
The meeting was highly anticipated, following the last one that was held in the Focolare’s “Mariapolis Pace” in the Philippines, in 2011. The course was opened by the president of the School of Dialogue with Oriental Religions (SOR), Archbishop of Bangkok, Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithanavanij who stated in his opening remarks: “The different religions consider their scriptures to be sacred in different ways. But there is one thing they have in common, and it is basic: they are all fonts of wisdom.”
Competent presenters included: Dr. Seri Phongphit from Bangkok for Theravada Buddhism; Dr. Donald Mitchell for Mahayana Buddhism; Professors Adnane and Mokrani for Islam; Philipp Hu for Confucianism; Stephen Lo for Taoism and Luciano Cura for Hinduism. Bishop Roberto Mallari from the Philippines presented his reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini. And as a summary of the main theme of the course, Andrew Recepcion, president of the International Association of Missiologists (IACM), offered an illuminating lesson on the New Evangelisation in Asia, in relation to interreligious dialogue.
The fact that the SOR was held for the first time outside the Mariapolis in Tagaytay permitted the participants to immerge themselves in Theravada Buddhism which is typical of Thailand and of the entire South East Asia. The approach toward Buddhism was not limited only to delving into its Scriptures at an academic level, but entered into concrete life, thanks to the experiences of Metta and Beer, two Buddhists who have been in friendship with the Focolare since 1980. Deeply moving were the video clips in which Buddhist monks shared impressions concerning their personal relationships with Chiara Lubich, accompanied by personal experiences which they lived after encountering the ideal of unity. It was inspiring to everyone. Professor Donald Mitchell, who could not be present personally, presented his lesson via Skype, linking the SOR of Bangkok with Purdue University in the United States.
The atmosphere of communion enabled participants to understand the lessons not only intellectually, but spiritually as well. Many said that they had understood interreligious dialogue on a much deeper level, as a lifestyle and not as an activity to be carried out. The “SOR 2013” was particularly significant for Asia in this Year of Faith; and interreligious dialogue turned out to be a bridge not only to an understanding of other religions and cultures, but an encouragement to understand one’s own Christian faith. Fr. Vicente Cajilig O.P. underscored how the interreligious dialogue of the Focolare Movement offers concrete answers in different ways to the deliberations of the Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences (FABC).
The participants returned to their homelands grateful for the ideal of unity that leads them to live their Scriptures, the Word that makes them discover the “true self”. They left committed once again to living the charism of unity more intensely so that they might be a gift within the Church.