I've been involved in interfaith encounter, dialogue, relations for decades now but I'm not sure I could assess it's impact. There certainly are more interfaith groups around and government authorities have equality officers whose remit includes religion and belief. The main motivation for this is that's it a statutory requirement and also a desire for a peaceful and harmonious society. This becomes even more crucial with every terrorist attack. Some people of faith are involved in interfaith relations because they want to be sure they are known or that their community is part of civic conversations. Is this self serving? Well I suppose it is but maybe there's no harm in that. I remember how touched I was when the late Ernest Levi, a wonderful man and a holocaust survivor, said he had often pondered why the Jewish community were treated the way they were. He said he had concluded that one reason was that the Jewish community had kept to itself. Only a Jew could say this and I thought it brave of him to say so. I also thought he was being generous because Jews had been hounded into ghettos to keep them apart from the rest of society and forced to wear a yellow star by a Church Council to show they were different. Ernest's time in Auschwitz and his subsequent reflectons so convinced him of the need to be known and estàblish good relations that he hardly ever missed a meeting of the Council of Christians and Jèws untill he was too ill to attend anymore. He was a great inspiration to me,ànd still is, because he showed me the importance of fidelity and commitmment to a cause even when the going gets tough and unrewarding.
One of the motivations for dialogue is peace and in that we want to live in a peaceful world this too could be seen as self serving. As Pope John Paul said, either we live together in peace or tear ourselves apart. And Hans Kung says, no peace in the world withouto peace between the religions and no peace between the religions without dialogue between them.
All of us who want to make an impact in òur work. It would be great if all the time and effort that goes into interfaith relations resulted in peace in our world. We known from the media that this isn't so and it's easy to despair of our mad world when we listen to the news or read our newspapers. But in the grand scheme of things we have not been at dialogue very long. While there are instances of religions getting on well in history most of history has been about religious conflict. Intentional interfaith dialogue is fairly new. For the Catholic Church it began with the Vatican 2 document on the Church's Relationship with Non-Christian Religions, a title which immediately dates it for we wouldn'call anyone non -anything anymore. The World Council of Churches also has it's cdocuments and committees for relationship with people of otnr faiths,. There are now many interfaith organisations, with employed staff, seeking to promoterespect and understanding among the faiths, that go to troubled parts of the world to preach and witness to the fact that good relations between the faiths is possible. I believe Pope Francis when he told the Grand Imam of Al'Alaska Mosque that the meeting is the message. I do believe that good interfaith relations are a non-violent protest and witness that the world can be a better place.
The idea that much of interfaith work can be self-serving is a good challenge in the day to day putting on of events and organising meetings. Perhaps one of the ways to safeguard against it is not to be disappointed at small numbers or feel successful if large numbers attend an event. This requires faith and an inner conviction that every attempt to bring people together is a seed for peace and who knows where it might flourish.