Abbaye de Scourmont

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(updated on July 2, 2008)






The Abbot General’s Council asked me to give the General Chapters a short report on the Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue.

I think you are all aware of the existence of a joint Benedictine and Cistercian organization called M.I.D (D.I.M. in French), whose purpose is to raise the awareness of our monastic communities concerning the importance of dialogue between Christianity and the other great religious traditions of humanity. It will perhaps be useful briefly to recall the beginnings of this organization. 

Vatican II’s declaration Nostra aetate emphasized the fact that dialogue with the other great religious traditions of humanity was an aspect of the Church’s mission of evangelization. Along these same lines, the two great pan-Asian monastic meetings organized by A.I.M at Bangkok in 1968, and at Bangalore in 1973, gave importance to this dialogue. It was as a result of these meetings that in 1974, Cardinal Pignedoli, President of the Consilium for dialogue with non-Christian religions, in his letter to the Abbot Primate of the Benedictines, asked monastic Orders to take a leading role in this dialogue, since monastic experience is something all the main religions have in common. In response to this request, in 1977, the NABEWD (North American Board for East West Dialogue) was created in America and MID in Europe. At first, both of these organizations depended directly on AIM. Later, an international MID secretariat was set up, along with national secretariats in several countries and on various continents.

MID’s activities have always been carried out in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and, in fact, the secretary of MID is a consultant on this Pontifical Council. One aspect of DIM/MID’s work was to set up a program of monastic hospitality to allow Eastern monks and nuns, Buddhist or otherwise, to spend some time in American and European monasteries, and vice versa. These visits contributed a great deal to better mutual understanding. Each time a group of Buddhist monks came to Europe, they were warmly received at an audience with the Holy Father.

In a recent report given at a MID meeting, Bishop Michael Fitzgerald, current president of the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions, warned that sensitivity for interreligious dialogue should not be a sort of hobby for one or the other monk or nun of a community, but should be the concern of the whole community.

I would like to make this last point the focus of my report. The main goal of MID at the time of its creation was not simply to gather together the monks and nuns of our communities who were already involved in interreligious dialogue, but rather to raise the awareness of all our communities, first of all regarding the richness of the other religious traditions, and then regarding the importance of an attitude of dialogue with them (even if, obviously, not all monks and nuns need to be involved in dialogue activities). It seems to me that our communities still have a long way to go in this area of providing information and fostering a collective attitude of dialogue. We need to find ways to help our communities as a whole better to know and appreciate the richness of all the great religious traditions of humanity, especially—but not exclusively—in their monastic dimension.

A second point that Bishop Michael Fitzgerald emphasized in his above-mentioned talk at the MID meeting was the following. Up until now, the dialogue supported by MID was especially with the Eastern religions that have an ancient monastic tradition, and particularly with Buddhism. However, it is becoming important and even urgent to develop dialogue with Islam, for several reasons.

On the one hand, Westerners today tend too easily to identify Islam with the violence displayed by certain Islamic fundamentalists (not true Islam), which violence is often in response to the fundamentalism of groups that claim to be Christian but that do not represent a truly Christian stance. It is therefore important to know and respect the other face of Islam, where are found compassion, tolerance, and respect for others.

On the other hand, at a time when, in the context of debate over the European Constitution, there is much talk of about the Christian roots of Europe, we must not forget that Europe also has deep Muslim roots, first through Averroes and Avicenna and then through the rich cultural influence the Ottoman Empire had on Europe.

In a world where some people want to see—and, if need be, start—a war between civilizations and cultures, it is important for monks and nuns—whose whole life has a communion dimension—to work towards communion among religions, cultures, and peoples by means of their life and dialogue.

As Dom Bede recalled the day before yesterday, many of our monasteries are now surrounded by populations in which both Islam and Asian cultures are widely represented.

Although organized dialogue in the shape of formal encounters and meetings remains necessary, dialogue through everyday life is all the more necessary. Much has been said about the dialogue of Christian de Chergé and a few of the Atlas brothers with the Sufis of Medea in the El Ribat group, but of equal and even greater importance was the constant dialogue lived out between the Tibhirine community and its Muslim neighbors.

It is to this form of respect, friendship, and dialogue that we are all invited in one way or another.

Armand Veilleux