Interfaith dialogue requires good formation - and a sense of humour

In order to take part in interfaith dialogue, we need to be well informed about our own faith. That was the message delivered by David Jackson, Interfaith Coordinator for the Diocese of Leeds, to a gathering of Justice and Peace groups at St George's Cathedral, Southwark, on 20 November Addressing the Autumn Assembly of Southwark Diocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, David Jackson said the church was a "'treasure house" but as Catholics, we "punch below our weight." In his keynote speech on 'Offering the hand of friendship to members of other faiths', Jackson stressed that the obstacles of syncretism, indifference and relativism need to be combated. The effort needed to make friends with members of other faiths "is often extremely difficult", he said. "But Christianity has a well developed theology of dialogue. We've got to search for a theology and spirituality of interfaith dialogue", he said. He urged people to "find a basis for interfaith dialogue in the reading of Scripture'" because "to be ill-equipped is dangerous'" John O'Toole, director of the Christian Education Centre in Tooting, said people are afraid they will be asked a question and won't know the answer. "You need an openness and confidence'". he said, adding that humour was also important. "You can only laugh about what you're closest to." Daphne Phillips, leader of the Justice and Peace group at St Boniface in Tooting, south London, said some people felt threatened by interfaith dialogue and sent their children to Catholic schools to learn about Catholicism, not Sikhism. "The conflict between Christian countries and Muslim countries spills over into how the communities regard each other", she said. Sister Pat Trussell, Justice and Peace Coordinator at Southwark's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office, said: "the whole question of adult formation is a problem. People are afraid that if they go into a Sikh gurdwara they might become a Sikh," she said. But for Brian Gribben from Rochester, formation was not a problem. A member of a group of Muslims, Sikhs and Catholics that visits each other's places of worship, he said: " We meet together and respect each other's humanity. We only have a limited period to share our life with those we love."