Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue

Understanding Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue

What is Ecumenism?

Within the Catholic Church, the term Ecumenism refers to efforts of different Christian Churches to develop closer relationships and develop better understandings of their shared faith. While interfaith dialogue is the means of co-operation with those people of Non-Christian religions.

Refugee Week -Multifaith Prayer Service for Peace

The Diocese of Wagga Wagga encourages and welcomes initiatives to promote Christian and Interfaith unity in the diocese.

Refugee Week is Australia’s peak annual activity to inform the public about refugees and celebrate positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. Refugee Week provides a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the country. The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.

NSW Ecumenical Council

Churches working together in mission

The NSW Ecumenical Council comprises of eighteen churches in the state of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Its ecumenical endeavour is about churches working together in mission. This mission has three foundations: maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace” [Ephesians 4:3], being committed to the Gospel and to proclaiming it together, and living out the implications of the Gospel for service in the world.

National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) is an ecumenical organisation in charge of bringing together Australia’s Christian churches in dialogue and practical cooperation.

The NCCA collaborates with state ecumenical councils around the country. In association with the World Council of Churches, the NCCA is a member of the Christian Conference of Asia and a partner of other national ecumenical bodies throughout the world.

For more information, please visit the National Council of Churches website.

Interfaith Dialogue

It is more than 50 years since Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions was published and transformed positively the Church’s attitude to believers from other religions.

Since this time further teaching documents have been published and statements have been made which encourage dialogue between Catholics and people of Non-Christian religions.

“Interreligious dialogue is a meeting of people of differing religions, in an atmosphere of freedom and openness, in order to listen to the other, to try to understand that person’s religion, and hopefully to seek possibilities of collaboration. It is hoped that the other partner will reciprocate, because dialogue should be marked by a two-way and not a one-way movement.”

– Cardinal Arinze, Meeting Other Believers (1997)

The expressions “interreligious relations” and “interfaith relations” are often used interchangeably with interreligious dialogue.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is responsible for guiding this dialogue work at the Vatican level.

In Australia, the Bishop’s Commission Christian Unity and Inter-religious Dialogue works to educate and form people for dialogue with believers from other religions though the Secretariat for Church Life.

On a practical level, in 1984 the Secretariat for Non-Christians published The Attitude of the Church toward the Followers of Other Religions: Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, known by the abbreviated title Dialogue and Mission.

Among other things, this document introduced the four forms of dialogue:

  • Dialogue of life – sharing the events of our daily lives at home, work and play with our neighbours of different faiths;
  • Dialogue of action – based on shared religious and moral values, working together on matters of common social concern for the betterment of society;
  • Dialogue of theological exchange – sharing and discussing our religious beliefs to better understand one another and identify more precisely what we hold in common and where our differences lie;
  • Dialogue of religious experience – sharing about the spiritual practices and fruits of prayer and worship in our respective traditions.

What can you do?

There are many ways of building relations with people of other faiths.

All members of the Catholic Church are called to build relations with believers from other religions. Each is to do it in his or her own way, according to their state in life, in response to the shared call to mission.

Following one or more of the four forms of interreligious dialogue (mentioned above) – dialogue of life, dialogue of action, dialogue of theological exchange and dialogue of religious experience – can open many possibilities.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Meet and greet your neighbours and work colleagues from other religions; offer congratulations for a wedding or a birth, offer condolences on a death; a smile can make a world of difference.
  • Learn about the faiths of others from a reliable source; the best way to break down stereotypes is to meet with one of the faithful, so that their religion is not just an idea, but has a face and a name.
  • Be curious; ask questions; do not be invasive, but a sincere, respectful enquiry will almost always allay fears, elicit a genuine response and lead to better mutual understanding.
  • Visit the place of worship of another religion to experience their sacred space; some mosques and temples have guides who explain the beliefs and practices of the religion.
  • Invite a representative from another religion to address your class, school, congregation, church or social group.
  • Work together on matters of common social concern, justice and peace issues, education, child-care, social services, aid to those in need and care for the environment.
  • Offer greetings on major feast days, such as Deepavali (Hindu), Eid al-Fitr (Muslim), Pesach (Jewish) and Vesach (Buddhist).
  • Attend celebrations of major feast days as a gesture of solidarity and interest.
  • Learn about and practice The Golden Rule, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Mt: 7:12)
  • Pray for believers from other religions; on special occasions such as feast days, include them in the prayers of the faithful.
  • Take part in multi-religious events for various occasions, celebrating national days, praying for peace, showing shared religious solidarity in the face of natural and other disasters.

Remember – Be open to be guided by the Spirit who is constantly inspiring and animating all people towards harmony in diversity in accord with God’s plan.

Source: Extract from ‘Nostra Aetate Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Anniversary Reflections’ by The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2015