Unity, dialogue, communion – these are words that describe the heart of the mission of the Focolare, and these three words sum up the commitment of Dr Tarunjit Singh Butalia, a scientist at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. On September 18, 2016 he accepted the 2016 Luminosa Award in Hyde Park, NY. “Your decade-long tireless effort in building bridges on various levels” said Focolare president, Maria Voce, “deserves our admiration and deep appreciation. We feel solidarity and fraternal ties with you and with the Sikh community in the promoting, together with others, peace and care of our common home.” Urged by a strong belief that religions have a crucial role to play in the great work of interreligious dialogue, in 2011 he accepted the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI to participate in the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi.
In his acceptance speech the scientist recalled the friendly invitations to interreligious meals and picnics that marked the beginnings of his contacts with the Focolare Movement. A friendship, he explained, that over time developed into trust. He stressed the particular role that religion has always played in American society, precisely because it is a nation of immigrants. While former waves of immigrants seamlessly blended into the people after a few generations, many immigrants from the last 50 years – like Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jains and Baha’i – want to maintain their religious identity. Butalia said “they have made the United States one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world.” He also observed the importance of acknowledging pluralism as a value “where each part maintains its identity and yet remains part of the harmonious whole.” “We have to focus on building relationships,’ he said; “we need to be able to talk about our differences.”
Dr Butalia then proposed to take a step further than the Golden Rule (Do to others as you would want them to do to you,” Mt 7:12). He called his version the “Platinum Rule”: “Do to others as they would want you to do to them,” moving beyond the assumption that the other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated yourself.” He then invited the 130 participants to “listen more than we speak” and to never compare the “best of our religion with the worst of the others.” Referring to Islamophobia, Butalia remembered that all religions are interdependent on each other and that we have to stand up against discrimination against any faith. Closing, he quoted a disciple of the Sikh founder Guru Nanak, “No one is my enemy, and no one is a stranger. I get along with all.”
The award ceremony was preceded by the 7th Catholic-Sikh retreat, organized by the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Sikh Council of Interfaith Relations. Twenty-five representatives of the Catholic Church and the American Sikh gathered at Mariapolis Luminosa to get to know each other in a deeper way. “This meeting was a great example for the kind of dialogue called for by Pope Francis, which is the dialogue of friendship,” said Anthony Cirelli, Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
The Luminosa Award for Unity has been sponsored by the North American Focolare Center for Education in Dialogue since 1988. Past recipients include the late Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York; Norma Levitt, former president of Religions for Peace (RFP) and honorary president of Women of Reform Judaism; Rev. Nichiko Niwano, President of the Japanese lay Buddhist organization,Risshō Kōsei Kai; His Royal Highness Lukas Njifua Fontem, King of the Bangwa People of Cameroon; and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, American Muslim leader.