The young people in our Catholic Schools live in a different world from the one I lived in. For one thing many of these schools are multifaith so it wasn’t all Catholic young people who were there. The pupils learn about the different major world faiths in their religious education classes, they are taught to question and reflect and consider where they stand on issues of faith and morals. I don’t think I even knew about any other faith as I was growing up and I’m now very grateful for my involvement in interfaith which has taken me into another world. Many of these young people already live in that world. That’s not to say they understand or are involved in interreligious dialogue but they readily took to the idea of coming up with a plan for an interfaith event in their schools during Interfaith Week. I’ll not know how many of them will carry out those plans but I’m sure some will and be good ambassadors for interfaith. I just hope they might be inspired to get involved in interfaith as they move on to university and later life – then I can be sure the future of interreligious dialogue will be secure.
The conference ended with a special commissioning service. I suspect this is a Christian if not a Catholic tradition. People are formally sent out with a particular message or service to do in the community with the authority of the community. It comes from the idea of Christianity being a missionary religion – originally this would be to go out and preach the gospel. This time the students publicly made a pledge about what they would do in their schools during interfaith week and then committed themselves to “work together for the common good, uniting to build a better society grounded in values and ideals we share……..to help bring about a better world now and for generations to come, in a spirit of friendship and cooperation with others”
This commitment was taken from one that was pledged at the Millennium in the House of Lords by representatives from all the faith communities in Britain. At that moment there was a sense of moving into a new age with hope for a better world. The world hasn’t improved but hopefully many of the people who pledged themselves at the Millennium are still working for good relations between faiths and witnessing to the world that this is possible. In a sense they are prophets or forerunners of a new way to relate and we do know there are plenty of examples of this throughout the world but it doesn’t often make the news.
This notion of making statements or commitments seems to be around at the moment. Statements were made and signed at the recent meeting in Assisi, a meeting between the World Council of Churches and the Muslim community in Geneva. It’s good to have these because they can challenge participants and signatories to live up to the statements they’ve made. But sometime I wonder if there can be a rash of statements and wonder whether they’re always useful. I was at an event recently when one such statement was read out. It was long, the participants had no view of it, weren’t told who wrote it and didn’t have a copy of it. I doubt if anyone will remember what it said. It didn’t really add to the event though I suppose it could be published as coming from the conference on websites etc but it was of no real consequence. At least we weren’t asked to sign it. There was another conference. It too had its statement or declaration – written by the organiser of the conference. Again it didn’t say much more than we all must live in peace and harmony. Certain significant figures were invited to sign it without any participation in the conference. This then gave it an authority which I doubted it merited. In fact I was even reported in the press as having signed it on behalf of the Scottish Bishops and I wasn’t even there! It’s not that I’m against common statements and certainly not statements of intent but I do think we need to be a bit discerning about the ones that make a real contribution to good harmonious relations and beware of those which are looking for an authoritative approval and support that they don’t really merit. Politics can be as much part of interfaith as it can of any other area of society.