In April I participated in an SMA Commission meeting dealing with interreligious, intercultural and ecumenical dialogue. On returning to Benin, I was curious to understand how dialogue is practiced in the daily events of life among our people in Bariba land.
Dialogue difficult for young
During the recent Regional assembly (Benin – Niger 2016) and on other occasions when we gather, I put the same question to my SMA confreres in order to understand better what dialogue means for them. I got many different answers. Some said that the simple and friendly visits by the religious and local leaders helped to establish a healthy relationship; and then with this fraternity dialogue was possible for them. A few others said that social welfare and development activities often paved way for friendship and community living. Among the different answers a particular reply caught my attention. An elderly and experienced SMA missionary responded to my question with a deep sigh and pain as he said that dialogue was much easier and possible to create with the elderly people rather than with the youth of today. I think, the response reveals to a large extent the actual reality among the Bariba people today. Now the Youth seem not to have an attitude that is open to dialogue. Therefore, it is necessary that we ask ourselves why Dialogue? And this applies to interreligious, intercultural and ecumenical dialogue.
Little interest for culture
First of all, with regard to the question of intercultural dialogue, the Bariba Youth do not seem to show any interest or appetite for their cultural heritage. Many of their traditional dances are almost forgotten while the modern dancing is their preferred choice. In the past, for all important occasions such as marriages and the remembrance of the dead, the traditional dancers, story tellers and other cultural groups were invited to animate such gatherings. There, people danced, sang and organised traditional plays etc. But now, the life style has changed enormously. Today, for these kinds of celebrations people bring the loud speakers and an amplifier and music resounds in the village throughout the three days and nights of the ceremony. It is the same with the dress, food and life style. Young people are not aware of the slow disappearance of the richness of their culture and values of life. When one questions the Youth on this issue, one learns that they do not realise that the cultural and traditional practices are gradually disappearing. The elders blame “education” as the cause for the growing lack of respect for the culture and traditional practices. It is not quite true. At the religious level, dialogue does not seem to be important for most of the Youth. They do not show a thirst or deep longing for the community living or the peace found through mutual respect for the faith of each individual. The Spirit of Faith is lived in an atmosphere of competition; people argue about the number of believers and the number of places for prayer. This lack of understanding and mutual respect leads to mistrust. in the end, mistrust and concurrence create obstacles to dialogue. Why?
There is a dangerous attitude these days among the Youth. It is the tendency for immediate and unreserved satisfaction, the desire to possess all and all at once. It is an attitude to possess not because one is in need of something, but because others have it. Even worse is that the urgency with which something is sought after. For example, a school going boy of 14 years envies his elder brother who owns a brand new bike. He was so attracted to it that the next day he went missing. People searched for him everywhere but in vain. There was no news of him. After a few months, he came back to the village with a brand new bike which he got as payment for his work in a farm in Nigeria. This is an example of the urgency to possess things. Such an attitude causes an unrelenting thirst for money. Because it seems money can do everything, buy everything and replace everything. One is ready to abandon everything provided he/she gains money immediately. On one hand there are such tendencies, while on the other hand there are visible signs of the lack of love or the desire to preserve the cultural and traditional treasure and values of life. In my understanding of life, I consider a life lived in harmony and peace as a treasure and these form the basic values of life. In daily life, harmony and peace play a vital role. These values are basic pillars for life. In the light of these values, everything used to be organized and all disputes were solved down through the ages. It was for this reason that the life values were preserved and carefully transmitted. But today, the values are shifting, often overturned and sometimes swept away. Youth today tend to minimize the spirit of harmony, peace and unity.
We live in a critical moment. The rapid shift from traditional and cultural values to modernity creates a frightening and stressful situation for the future. That is where the need for dialogues is seen to be important and urgent. In our parishes, seminaries and in all gatherings with the Youth, it is important to reflect and awaken in them a sense of respect for the values of life. It is important to promote various cultural activities especially those that are dying off.
It is also important to reflect on the role of money and the desire for material goods. It is an urgent call for the youth to assume their role in the society; to be seen as builders in the construction of peace and unity.
Vincent Xavier Dominique