Hindus, Catholics dialogue in Fairfax

First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

The Arlington Diocese participated in the country's first Hindu-Catholic dialogue overseen by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue May 23 at Durga Hindu Temple in Fairfax Station. PCID President, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, presided as the distinguished guest, with leaders and scholars from both faiths reiterating the need for mutual respect not just in India but around the world.

Several speakers also mentioned the fact that Hindus and Catholics believe in the same God, with Hindus clarifying that it is a common misconception that their faith is a polytheistic one. Rather, they believe in multiple facets and manifestations of one God.

Father Donald J. Rooney, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, served as the event's diocesan liaison. He said, seven years ago, he was driving past Durga Temple when he told himself to stop, take off his shoes and see who he met. It was then that he met Sant Gupta, who heads interfaith relations and education at Durga Temple, and they began discussing the possibility of an interfaith dialogue.

As he introduced Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Father Rooney credited the bishop with giving his permission for the day's program to take place.

"I'm pleased that we can be together to witness what may become a national dialogue," said the bishop, later explaining that, as a diocesan bishop, he has the responsibility to "foster dialogue between diverse groups."

The event's keynote Catholic speaker was Father Francis Clooney, who specializes in Sanskrit and Hindu India's Tamil traditions as a professor of divinity and comparative theology at Harvard University. The keynote Hindu speaker was Anantanand Rambachan, a professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

During his talk, Father Clooney said, "We (Catholics and Hindus) are human. We realize we share the same divine mystery."

Rambachan, whose talk followed Father Clooney's, said that navigating the relationship between Hindus and Christians is "complex" because it requires "social and political considerations."

"But we must be sure that our focus (on what is essential) is not displaced," he said. "To be religious is to think of all dimensions of God. … Respect for (people of other faiths) should not be conditional on their transformation into our likeness. … We must not in haste or arrogance denounce other traditions because they differ from our own. No single way of speaking is exhaustive. No single way says everything about God … God is always more than we can understand with our finite minds."

Rambachan added that there are immoral ways - both Hindu and Catholic - to speak about God in an effort to legitimize hate and violence. He proceeded to talk about the issue of Christian evangelization in India, which he described as "an invisible" but "dangerous elephant" that marks a fundamental divide between the two faiths.

"Hindus are suspicious of programmatic conversion and missionary strategies," he said, because in their religion, there is no call to evangelize or seek converts.

"Religions cannot be served if converts are gained unethically," he said, citing the example of evangelization efforts implemented "during times of material and emotional need."

Prior to the keynote speakers, Gupta, the event coordinator, made the opening remarks. Suhag Shukla led the invocation and prayer according to Hindu tradition. Other speakers included Anuttama Das, Bishop Loverde and Abhaya Asthana. Each speaker was introduced by a different member of the Catholic or Hindu community. Bishop Mitchell T. Rozansky, chair of the USCCB Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, also was present.

Cardinal Tauran closed the talk with brief remarks on the "groundbreaking" Nostrae Aetate, a 1965 Vatican document that "expands on reasons to enter into dialogues with other faiths." He concluded by saying he looks forward to future dialogues of "friendship."

Because the program was formatted as a series of disparate talks, there was no opportunity for rebuttal, questions or clarification. An exchange of gifts and a visit to the temple prayer hall followed, with an Indian-style lunch wrapping up the event.

According to Father Rooney, the USCCB and the Vasihnava Hindus have been in dialogue since 1999, but, prior to the program at Durga Temple, the Vatican had not previously organized a U.S.-based dialogue between Hindus and Catholics.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015