Sikhs and Catholics forge new understanding

 Archbishop Vincent Nichols welcomed delegates on behalf of the Holy See to the Third Bilateral Dialogue of Sikhs and the Roman Catholic Church, held in Birmingham, 10-12 April, writes Peter Jennings. The Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha and the Committee for Other Faiths of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, supported by the Archdiocese of Birmingham, initiated the dialogue, on the theme "Capacity for Dialogue". In his welcome, Co-Chairman, Archbishop Nichols emphasised that Pope Benedict XVI is: "A disciple of dialogue." Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman of an international Sikh community based in the Soho Road Gurudwara, assured delegates that: "Sikhs and dialogue are inseparable and inter-religious dialogue leads to the building of a harmonious society." He added: "We should welcome dialogue and not be fearful." A statement released at the end of the dialogue held in the Nishkam Civic Centre in Handsworth, emphasised: "Close bonds of friendship and open exchange have been fostered and cemented by the three days of discussion and prayer." The Catholic and Sikh delegates welcomed the attendance of the Jathedar of the Akal Takhat, who travelled from Amritsar, in India, to add his support to the dialogue. The statement emphasised that: "These initiatives can make a significant step forward to the future of both inter-faith relations in general and to the future of humanity." The statement added that the delegates: "Looked forward with confidence to increased engagement in dialogue between Sikhs around the world, the Catholic Church in Rome and the Akal Takhat in Amritsar." In particular, the delegates welcomed: "The developing means to engage Sikh presence in meetings on issues such as social cohesion, family values, cultural heritage and prayer, spirituality and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals." Following two previous dialogues with the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue in Rome, and the Peace meetings at Assisi, the Birmingham meeting generated warm and open discussion. The topics discussed included: The culture of dialogue, the theological basis of our understanding of God, outreach and engagement with the secular community, family life and the role of women, to faith schools and adult faith education. In his concluding remarks, the Archbishop of Birmingham said: "The unstinting courtesy and service in the name of God of members of the Sikh community picked up the theme of self-emptying as central to the spirituality of service. For Catholics such self-emptying is centered in the crucifix, the image of God in Jesus Christ, emptying himself in love for humanity." As delegates departed, Mr Bill Ozanne, Secretary of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue, added: "As Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) said recently: 'I should like to propose that this dialogue can be something continual, structured', and so, I feel, continue to draw not only the Christian and Sikh religions together but move towards an ultimate objective when all faiths walk together on the path to the divine Kingdom."

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