April 2012


Doctrine divides, Action unites

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Youth and Students Engagement in Peace: Building through Dialogue

Bipul Alite Gonsalves

The root of the word dialogue is the Greek dia and logos, which means “through meaning.” Understanding dialogue in relation to discussion, in dialogue, people are seeking for a more complete picture of reality rather than breaking it down into fragments or parts as happens in discussion. Having dialogue is not about convincing others of a certain point of view; there is no emphasis on winning but on learning, collaboration and a synthesis of different points of view instead. Dialogue is towards a community-based culture of cooperation and shared leadership. Thus, a dialogue of life is one of the best ways to express ourselves for mutual understanding. Without dialogue, the world would be either silent or suffer from misunderstanding different voices.

Why dialogue with people of other religions?

This question is a burning issue of the present time. Religious pluralism has been a treasure of the Asian continent. On the other hand, it has been fertile ground for conflicts and communal violence. Although supposed to be a personal and community belief rooted in love and peace, religion, as used by vested interests, turns out to be an erupting volcano, causing countless suffering to the toiling masses and those already marginalized.

There must be a clear understanding that the many conflicts and problems occurring around the world presently are not caused by religions themselves but rather by a misuse of religious ideology. Moreover, religion should not be a tool to draw boundaries but a spirituality to overcome barriers for creating an inclusive environment. Looking into the social, economic, political and cultural context, youth and students should realize that dialogue is a way to move forward to build a just society.

Although the initiation of such dialogue is religion-based, it relies on justice for all, no matter whether people are believers or non-believers. A true dialogue is for the abundant life of all. Peace cannot be seen without justice, which can be achieved only when everyone respects all people and everyone can dialogue with each other.

During the last few years, I have worked with the youth and students. I believe harmony should be pursued and dialogue be practiced at the individual and grassroots levels. Living in the political tension of “minority” and “majority,” facing discrimination even by the legal instruments and feeling insecure, though there has been increasing legislation of national security policies in Bangladesh, the youth and students should read the signs of the time and be an instrument to develop alternatives and cultivate justpeace. We have to consider that dialogue is a part of life and an ongoing journey for a person to have holistic growth. Dialogue should be a sustainable process with humanity and utilize an integrated approach.

All religions speak about peace and harmony through forgiveness and reconciliation. Religions are positively teaching us to love our neighbors, including our “enemies.” However, the present situation is quite different and sometimes exhibits the opposite tendencies . Some people or groups even misunderstand and misuse religion.

Understanding that through religions cultures are defined and spiritually is inspired in history, we must acknowledge the historical fact that there are many different religions. Exclusivism is neither a solution nor an alternative, and we must stop the wider world from continuing to spread this vicious circle of insanity. We must meet others who are different, not in the old way, but with understanding and respect of their spirit of self-affirmation.

Realizing this burning issue, it is urgent to work with the students of different faiths and eventually build up an interfaith students’ network. Peace through dialogue is a key to uphold justice, which is the passionate desire to motivate people to work towards peace.

All people are unique masterpiece creations. We are born to be independent with human dignity and the aggregate rights and freedoms of all. As understood in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his [or her] religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his [or her] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” (Article 18) At the same time, the UDHR maintains that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms of this international human rights declaration without distinction or discrimination of any kind, including religion.

As one of the world’s religions, the Vatican Council of the Catholic Church has declared that every human person has a right to religious freedom, meaning that “all men [and women] are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his [or her] own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, on the Right of the Person and of Communities to Social and Civil Freedom in Matters Religious promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on Dec. 7, 1965).

After the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, the Catholic Church became more open for dialogue between different religions. Based on clear, specific and precise guidelines rooted in the teachings of Nostra Aetate of Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church understands interreligious dialogue with a definite meaning. In her practice, the Church approaches interreligious dialogue in different ways: reciprocal communication, an attitude of mutual respect and friendship, constructive common action, obedience to truth that transcends all and respect for freedom of conscience.

Pope John Paul II said, “The unity of all divided humanity is the will of God.” The Catholic Church in Asia at the seventh Plenary Assembly in January 2000 of the Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conference (FABC) stated that it regards interreligious dialogue as a priority in local churches. The FABC is very much concerned about interfaith issues. Therefore, the Church encourages every Christian to enter into dialogue with people of other faiths. The goal of dialogue is to bring both partners within closer reach of complete salvation. A continuation of awareness-raising and advocacy should be pursued.

In the past, the global community understood peace as the absence of conflict and war. However, in Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace in 2006 entitled “In Truth, Peace,” peace embodies its own truthfulness because of its undeniably “intrinsic and invincible truth” for reasons that peace corresponds “to an irrepressible yearning and hope dwelling within us.” Secondly, the truth about peace is that it is “the fruit of an order which has been planted in human society by its divine Founder . . . which must be brought about by humanity in its thirst for ever more perfect justice.”

Presently, I am working with Youth Net, which is an interfaith youth network. During our meetings, we feel, and everyone realizes, that religious freedom is a basic human right. Respect for religion is an attitude for justice. Consequently, interfaith issues, developing a network with different faiths and organizing training programs on interreligious dialogue are given priority. Youth and students must continue to play the prophetic role to denounce any unjust practices. There must be efforts on critical study of the current realities and effective strategic planning for structural changes to ensure fairer and non-discriminative means of distribution of the world’s resources among all people and all nations of different religions. The intellect and skills of students should be developed along with dialogue. Hence, the necessary condition of dialogue is a mutual respect for the identity and belief of each party and the elimination of any impediments. The intention of dialogue is not to create one common religion but rather harmony with diversity.

* Bipul Alite Gonsalves is the executive secretary for programs of the National Council of YMCAs of Bangladesh, the national director of Y’Net Interfaith Youth Network and regional coordinator of the Ecumenical Asia-Pacific Students and Youth Network, or EASY Net. He participated in the Dialogue in Diversity interfaith workshop held in July 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, conducted by Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF). For a summary of this workshop in faith and peace, please visit <http://daga.org/icf/faithpeace/2011/110731a.htm>.
This article was originally published in the April 16, 2012, edition of the Independent in Dhaka, Bangladesh