On October 4, 2007, Gerardette Philips rscj spoke during the General Assembly’s Informal Interactive Hearings with civil society on Best Practices and Strategies on Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation Going Forward. Gera was one of ten Presenters chosen to speak from among 175 nominees. The hearings with civil society were part of a two-day High-level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace, held by the General Assembly at the UN on October 4-5, 2007. For the text of Gera’s presentation, please see below.
Best Practices and Strategies for Interreligious and Intercultural Co-operation Going Forward
Sr. Gerardette Philips, RSCJ
Islamic College for Advanced Studies/Religious of the Sacred Heart
Thank you for inviting me to the UN. We are in the Holy Month of Ramadan and I would like to share an experience that I had in this month only because it shows us how our hearts long for peace. Peace is intelligence of the heart.
It was in the year 1995 when a 12 year old Christian boy in Pakistan was to be sentenced to death for scribbling graffiti on the walls of a Mosque. The night this was to take place, the University in Delhi where I was studying invited the staff and students for the evening prayer and the breaking of the fast. The women prayed for the 12 year old to be freed and given back to his mother. The next day, before dawn I was asked by some students to give them quotations from the Bible which spoke of forgiveness, compassion and peace. When I reached the University, I saw verses from the Quran and Bible pasted on the walls and bulletin boards of the university with the notice that the boy in Pakistan was freed! The women in Delhi had the faith that their deep prayer had the power to free a child in Pakistan. But they did not know that they brought the essence of two world religions together.
Their attention on the pain around them and their intention in prayer was manifested in freedom. As women they knew the meaning of giving birth and birth rights every individual. War in the name of religion and its effects brings to a time to remember our true nature, our peace.
Our practices are:
2. Be not afraid
3. Return to the Center
4. Encounter the ‘religion of the heart’
To do this our first practice is to Relax. We usually think that when we are with people of a culture or religion other than our own we need to be different, we are not relaxed in each others presence. When we are relaxed our Eternal Spirit is free to act and we meet at the deepest level of each other’s religion and culture in trust and freedom without fear. This takes us to the second practice.
Be not afraid: Fear is stifling. We know that only love can dispel fear but to love we need to learn to see ourselves as others see us. How can we do this? Our third practice will help.
Return to the Center: One can only penetrate into the inner mysteries of the other if one is daring enough to return to the Center, to that which is most inward, this means to return to our own hearts and find in there the quiet truth of who we are. This can happen with the fourth practice.
Encounter the ‘religion of the heart’: - The heart of religion is the religion of the heart wherein all external forms are transcended. It is here that we find the eternal wisdom or Sophia whose brilliance emerges from the center of every Divine message. In this time of hostility toward each other only this wisdom can give to us the light of harmony and the warmth of compassion and love.
Just as I offered you four practices I offer you four strategies:
1. Live the message
2. Open Integrity
3. Communion beyond dialogue
4. Negate the negative
The first is to Live the Message. In the Quran it says, “Say (O Muhammad s.a.w) O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) Come to a word that is just between us and you, that we worship none but Allah (Alone)….” Al-Imran 64
The meaning of ‘a word’ in Arabic is referred to as Kalimatun Sewa – Common Platform. How do we come to that common platform? When Muslims and Christians live from the depth of their own Revelation then this gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
The second strategy is an Open Integrity. If followers of each religion claim to have the truth and are committed to that truth the question that follows is - can people of different faiths and cultures learn to truly listen to the each other? The challenge is to learn how to cross religious and cultural frontiers while preserving our own integrity.
The third strategy is Communion beyond Dialogue. To live an open integrity we need to be in communion with each other. Human beings are created in God’s image to give each other life and to be in communion. However, our dialogue is not based on communion but on mutual justification, this does not solve conflicts but deepens them. For us to be in true cooperation there has to be an inclusive we to communion. Perhaps the last strategy that follows will enable us to be in communion.
Negate the negative. The light of faith in our traditions gives us a map to help us orient ourselves in the chaotic situation of the modern world. However, for us to be able to do this free from prejudices, our best strategy is for us to negate the negative. We need not to believe in the worst of each other but in the best, instilling in our world a positive energy that will awaken the consciousness to the goodness that exists in our world, especially relationships among Muslims and Christians. In this way we are molding the present times according to what we know and believe, and most importantly giving hope to our children who so deserve it.
Our opening story had to do with the boy who experienced forgiveness. Like those women of faith who reminded us of this sacred duty during the month of Ramadan, may we go forward in a spirit of openness to forgiveness, to meet in deeper communion.
Let the women teach us the intelligence of their hearts!