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The Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima is Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Catholics and Buddhists Meet Pope Francis … Together

From June 22 to 27, Catholics and their Buddhist counterparts from five archdioceses across the United States met in Castel Gandolfo, near the papal residence there.  On one of the days, they travelled to Vatican City for an hour-long private meeting with Pope Francis, where he spoke to them about his hopes for the new project.

Suffering, Liberation and Fraternity were the themes discussed by the participants.  Catholics included diocesan interreligious officers, and pastoral ministers engaged in social outreach and interreligious relations.  Buddhist participants represented the main traditions found in the United States, including leaders from Sri Lankan, Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean and Japanese traditions.  Many are part of the “socially-engaged” Buddhist movement.  Members of the Focolare Movement and Monastic Interreligious Dialogue also participated.

Interreligious dialogue as practiced since the Second Vatican Council has tended to focus on scholars meeting to better understand the teachings of each religion, or the sociology of its practices.  It has also included dialogue around religious experience.  Pope Francis has called Buddhists and Catholics together to focus on a fourth approach to dialogue involving social engagement.  The Holy Father has called for a “dialogue of fraternity” which leads to service.  In particular, Pope Francis said in his private meeting, that the quality of our fraternity is a sign of health.  This statement picks up on the Holy Father’s reference to the Church as a “field hospital.”  Here he applies it to the extended relationships which the Church has through its fellowship with other religious practitioners.   The health of the relationship can be partly measured by the works of charity produced.

The encounter at Castel Gandolfo was co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago along with New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., all of which have established relationships with their Buddhist communities.  The events were organized by the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.  Each co-sponsoring archdiocese will seek to develop initiatives of social engagement in partnership with the Buddhist community in their area.  The Archdiocese of Chicago will use our existing Parish to Parish Learning Community, coordinated by the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, as the framework for new Catholic/Buddhist social engagement.

The archdiocesan delegation included Fr. Andrew Luczak (pastor of Saint Isaac Jogues Parish, Niles), Susan Pudelek (staff member of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii and ambassador for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions) and myself.  The delegation from the Buddhist Council of the Midwest included Rev. Asayo Horibe (Heartland Buddhist Sangha, Evanston), Acharya Fleet Maull and Aarti Tejuja (Shamballah Meditation Center, Chicago), Rev. Ron Miamura (Midwest Buddhist Temple, Old Town), Rev. Patti Nakai (Buddhist Temple of Chicago) and the Venerable Man Pau (Fo Guang Shan Temple, Naperville).

Pope Francis, in his earlier message to the Buddhists on the festival of Vesakh, invited Catholics and Buddhists “to [cooperate] with other pilgrims and with people of good will to respect and defend our shared humanity . . . drawing upon our different religious convictions . . . to be outspoken in denouncing all those social ills which damage fraternity, to be healers who enable others to grow in selfless generosity, and to be reconcilers who break down the walls of division and foster genuine brotherhood between individuals and groups in society.”  The Pope went on in that message to situate interreligious dialogue in a larger plan for healing division.  He said, “Let us dialogue and meet each other in order to establish a culture of dialogue in the world and culture of encounter!”

This past week, the Archdiocese of Chicago formally joined Pope Francis in this project.  You can see a portion of the meeting with the Holy Father at this link:
www.romereports.com/pg161925-pope-francis-meets-with-buddhist-leaders-oethese-small-gestures-are-seeds-of-peace-en

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