Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy
Last week the home of Bah'u'llah in Iraq was destroyed. It did not make the national news and perhaps it has not even been noticed by any community apart from the Baha'is. Bah'u'llah is the founder of the Baha'i faith. He was born and grew up in Iran but was exiled from his homeland and lived for ten years in Baghdad where many people were attracted by his teaching and spirituality. His home in Baghdad is regarded as sacred by Baha'is the world over. This is not the first time or the first community to experience the destruction of its holy sites nor will it be the last. But why do people do such things? At present it is not known who did it. The house is in the control of Shiah Muslims and the area is a place of Shiah pilgrimage but this does not mean that it was Shiah Muslims who did it. Whoever did it is not likely to be a true believer. A true believer would recognise the sacredness of the house and its importance for people of faith even if that faith is not their own. All religions have their places of pilgrimage, places which help them get in touch with the story of their origins, help them re-member and strengthen their sense of belonging, help them deepen their faith. To lose a sacred sight is a tragedy and its destruction seems to be a deliberate act of hate and a denial of the freedom of religion. Houses of course are only bricks and mortar and it is the living stones of any the faith that keeps it alive. Unfortunately examples of religious people killing religious people abound and cannot be ignored by those of us engaged in interreligious dialogue. It is painful to contemplate and we do so with a heavy heart, recognising the dark side of religion, including our own. Buddhists talk about Bodhisattvas - beings who sacrifice their lives for the good of all sentient beings. One of these is called Avolektisvara whose name means He who hears the cries of the world. In China the name is Kuan Yin, female and known as the Goddess of Mercy. To engage in interreligious dialogue is also to listen to the cries of the world, to feel its pain and to try to sow a seed for dialogue and unity.
I am a Catholic nun, involved in interfaith relations for many decades. For me this has been an exciting and sacred journey which I would like to share with others.