The Commission for Interreligious, Intercultural and Ecumenical Dialogue met in Rome from 4 to 8 April, 2016 Two of the meeting’s participants responded to our questions to present the work that they had done. These were Fathers François de Paul Hounguè and Dominic Xavier.
Who organized this meeting, and for what purpose?
The General Council. For years, it has ensured that a “Commission for Interreligious, Intercultural and Ecumenical Dialogue” would help the confreres throughout the Society to be aware of and active in these areas of dialogue. In all of our missions, we have many opportunities to carry out efforts in these areas and we still need to pay attention to this. The current General Council, elected in 2013, has therefore renewed the Commission which it inherited from the preceding Council. This was an opportunity they gave for this renewed Commission to meet and to set goals.
Who was invited to your meeting?
Our meeting brought together on OLA sister and four SMA fathers. Sister Kathleen McGarvey, Irish, has gained solid experience in dialogue with Muslim women in Northern Nigeria, and she has earned a doctorate in missiology in Rome. On the side of the fathers, we have Simon Onoja, also with a PhD, but in Islamic Studies, who teaches about Islam at the l’Institut Catholique Missionnaire d’Abidjan (ICMA), and who is a formator in the Foyer d’Ebimpé near Abidjan. Then we have a Community Superior, Robbin Kamemba, who serves in Cairo, Egypt. Next is a priest who works in a parish in northern Benin, where interreligious and intercultural dialogue is the daily bread: Dominic Xavier. And finally is the General Council member responsible for this portfolio, François de Paul Hounguè.
What have you done during this meeting?
First of all, we looked at what the various preceding Commissions had planned to do and what they has been able to do. They placed the focus primarily on Muslim-Christian dialogue; they campaigned so that SMA could still be present in Egypt today. After an evaluation of their work, we developed a three-year plan for more involvement of SMA in the field of dialogue: dialogue not only with Islam, but also with traditional African religions, with other Christian denominations (ecumenism) and finally with the cultures in which we find ourselves. This plan covers 2016–2019. It will be submitted very soon for the approval of the General Council prior to being shared step by step for the attention of the confreres.
What is this program planning?
This program first needs to receive the approval of the General Council. However, some of its contents can be made known in the meantime.
We observed that there are two important moments in the year with regard to interreligious, intercultural and ecumenical dialogue: October 27 (which was chosen a few years ago as the SMA Day for Dialogue) and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, from 18 to 25 January, which is a Church event. Our Commission will send a letter to all of our communities to prepare each of them for these two events by suggesting some concrete activities. In the SMA we already have some specialists in Islam–Christian dialogue. But we do not yet have, in the young entities, specialists in dialogue with traditional religions. We are going to invite our confreres to become interested in African religions…and to propose to some of them to receive additional training in this area. In Benin, the “Voodoo Priests” (i.e. of traditional religions) have shown during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cotonou that they were open to the idea of meeting with the Church. We would like to seize upon this willingness.
In addition, we would like to benefit from the existence of our website to make available an ongoing training for our readers: each month a member of the Commission will send an article. We would like to review all that has already been published on this topic so as to make accessible today older writings that have been forgotten.
In the year 2017, we foresee sending each member a questionnaire on the subject of these dialogues so that they can express their achievements and their needs. We hope to publish the results obtained in an SMA Bulletin from Rome in 2018.
Our European and American houses will be invited to promote African cultures by devoting a room for the display of objects coming from Africa, witnessing to the culture of a people. In Africa, the parish priests can promote “cultural days” to encourage an exchange among the cultures present in the parish. The experience has already been attempted here and there, and has brought much success. It is up to us to make it known.
Other propositions were made which will become known later.