Cardinal Bo was impressed by what he saw in Scotland. He met leaders from the main religious faiths and was speaker and guest at a civic reception hosted by Glasgow City Council. He was particularly struck by the obvious firm friendships that there were among those of us of different faiths and he commented on it a number of times. We are, of course, a small nation and those of us involved in interfaith are a small select group so we do know one another well. It's these friendships which have allowed interfaith to flourish in our country and it would seem to me that friendship is the essence of what interfaith is all about. Sometimes people want interfaith relations to focus simply on common social action, what's commonly calleld side by side activity, suggesting that the more face to face kind of activity is a wast of time and non-productive. But friendship allows discussion of difficult questions. It allows us to face up to questions of religious freedom, inequality, injustice, prejudice, discrimination. It allows us to listen to one another's stories and to realise that behind our differences we have a common humanity with the same fears and concerns, the same joys and hopes. It allows us to believe in one another and to refuse to stop talking when the way forward gets tough, as it does. Without significant interfaith friendships I doubt interfaith relations would have reached the positive stage we have at present.
It was noticeable at the civic reception for Cardinal Bo that those of different faiths expressed their commitment to interfaith, their pride in the good work that's being done and gave some positive signs of hope. One was the laying of the foundation stone of a Jewish primary school and a Catholic school in the campus that is to be shared by both schools. This might well be the first of its kind and while each school will have its own ethos the potential for shared work and projects is great. Both communities are very proud of this initiative. The cardinal wanted to hear of initiatives such as these and has even suggested bringing an interfaith delegation to visit us here in Scotland and find out more.
Myanmar has a long way to go on its interfaith journey and hopefully the new government under Aung Suu Chi will support that but I wonder if something more than harmony between ethnic groups is needed. Could it be that there needs to be a new sense of national identity which includes diverse ethinic and religious identities? At present there is a growing Buddhist nationalism which of its very nature is exclusive of all others, even the Rakhine Buddhist community. I don't think it does any nation any favours to identify too much with a particular religions. It's hard for a religious society to be truly inclusive of all. I'm much more in favour of secular societies where everyone is bound together by a civic identity which encouages all citizens to work together for the common good of their country.
A few years ago the Scottish Government produced a report called Belief in Dialogue. As the title suggests the Government believes in dialogue but it also believes in dialogue between beliefs - between those with religious beliefs and those with non-religious beliefs. The report is a Good Practice Guide but underlying all the practical ideas is a vision of society. It sees Scottish society as secular, not in an anti-religious way but in a way which respects the freedom of all to practice their beliefs and to engage in civic processes. It recognises how important beliefs are as an element of a person's identity, that all people living in Scotland have the right to their own beliefs and values and to be respected as part of diversity of Scotland, that we are all inter-connected and inter-dependent and need to listen to each other for the common good. This report reflects the growing sense of civic identity that has been part of Scotland since the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I appreciate this idea of civic identity as a focus of unity while appreciating and respecting differences of religion, ethnicity and culture. I hope Myanmar can discover something of this. Certainly Cardinal Bo returns to his country with a copy of the report. Here's hoping it's useful.