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Reading the Gospel from the underside

The person who lives at the margins of the dominant social, political, economic or religious culture, is both at the heart of the Gospel and an integral part of the interfaith journey.  This was the beginning point for Eileen Glass, the first speaker in the public lecture series, People in Dialogue - Living in a Multifaith Society (the editor’s desk, OLC #91). Ms Glass who has spent more than 30 years with the L’Arche Community, says that she has learnt to read the Gospel “from the underside, to discover the radical nature of the Good News proclaimed to the poor, and in that process to face something of my own poverty and need for healing”.  In a poignant address, she used the experience of the communities of Asha Kiketan, in India, to place the poor at the heart of the Gospel and integral to the interfaith journey.

In part, she said:  “L’Arche did not go to India to create interfaith communities. Interfaith communities have grown up as a consequence of the response of L’Arche to people with intellectual disabilities. We had to learn as we went along because 35 years ago there were no models for this type of community.   It needs to be said that learning has happened over time and not without difficulty. It has called for much prayer, reflection, dialogue, learning about the particular faith traditions within each community, and a willingness on the part of each one to forgo expressions of faith which might be held dear. I am not speaking here of letting go of faith but rather of rituals or practices.

As an example, let me tell you about the development of the prayer rooms in Asha Niketan. The people who began the community in Bangalore had by and large received their formation in L’Arche in France, though the Board of Directors were all Hindu. Having no model other than what they knew from France, they set up a simple prayer room with the Bible, a candle and an icon. A week later, one of the men they had welcomed placed an image of Ganeesha alongside the icon. Others followed with images of Krishna and other images of God. One of the realities of prayer in L’Arche and Asha Niketan is that many people cannot read, so images can be important. Singing (even if it is not always tuneful!) is also important…

“Along with the images brought by our Hindu brothers, came incense, oil lamps and bells… Missionaries looking on at this emerging new group charged us with syncretism; others judged us for failing to proselytise.  Having come to India to respond to the needs of people who were outcast, we found it was impossible to do that effectively without entering into the deeper issues of interfaith dialogue.

“The first principle which underlay this important reflection was that we are primarily communities of compassion; we are not missionaries. And compassion, as I said earlier, is at the heart the revelation of God in Jesus. In L’Arche compassion is expressed in the quality of presence of one to the other. If we believe that each person, especially the poorest, is a sign of the presence of God, then we need to honour that presence by honouring the integrity of the person. Each one needs to feel at home in the times and places of prayer.

“The Prayer Rooms in Asha Niketan today give central place to the scriptures. The Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Koran are enthroned side by side. A book of readings has been developed drawing parallel texts from each of these scriptures, to be used in daily prayer and the celebration of festivals. People may sing chants and songs from their own traditions. Hindus have had to agree to dispense with numerous images in places of community prayer; Roman Catholics have had to become more open to different ways of praying; Muslims and Protestants have had to accept oil lamps and incense.

“In Calcutta, the community assembles each morning before work and spends 15 minutes in silent meditation. A single oil lamp illumines the meditation room; in alcoves on the wall are enthroned the scriptures of seven of the religions of India. As in the Sikh tradition, each Holy Book is wrapped in silk. A different scripture is given the place of prominence each day and because the Books are wrapped no-one knows what the scripture of the day is. Sometimes it is at the point of the deepest letting go, of praying silently before the God who knows all and who cannot be truly known, that one experiences the deepest unity with sisters and brothers of different faiths…”

The public lecture series, People in Dialogue - Living in a Multifaith Society, developed jointly by ACU National and the Commission for Australian Catholic Women, continues until May 1. Last Monday, Townsville’s Bishop Michael Putney, spoke on “living ecumenically”.  Bishop Putney is the Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Interfaith Relations.  “Ecumenically living” will be picked up by scripture scholar and feminist theologian, Rev. Theresa Angert-Quilter, a minister of the Uniting Church, this coming Monday, February 27, at Room 10, Blackfriars Building ACU National Canberra Campus, Watson from 7-8pm.

Being with each other (text)

Australian Catholic University

Commission for Australian Catholic Women


Campaign calls for end to media stereotyping of young people

Young people are unfairly represented in Britain’s media as dangerous, rude and out of control, according to a Catholic church organisation.  The Young Christian Workers (YCW) will conduct an enquiry into the media portrayal of young people after a youth gathering representing the views of more than 1000 said it was the issue that most upset them.    The campaign, called New Media – New Image?, will argue that young people are unfairly depicted, denied a voice, and have become the scapegoat for many of society’s problems.  Members will spend the next months surveying the depiction of young people in newspapers and television, and asking how young people feel about it. More than 3000 young people will be surveyed by means of questionnaires and a postcard campaign – the “see”, of the YCW slogan, see, judge act.  In May members will “judge” their findings in the light of their faith and then resolve to “act” together on local, regional and national levels to make a difference.

The campaign has the backing of the Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, who says the negative media stereotypes feed young people’s lack of self-respect. 

“Young people today are very self conscious and are often lacking in self confidence. This can relate very directly to how they see themselves reflected in the media. Occasionally that can be very inspiring, but for the most part, the image of young people in the media is one that must make young people feel discouraged and unappreciated.  I hope this campaign, which could be vital for young people today, helps them to have a much clearer critical view of the media so that they can be good contributors and users of the media in a way that is good for all.”

The YCW’s national president, 26-year-old Danny Curtin, from London, says:  “We are not naïve about editorial values. We know that young people who appear in crime and violence stories have often been involved in crime and violence. But we also believe that the media generalise from this minority to create a stereotype which denies young people dignity and worth… We need to listen to the thousand young people who have told us what they care about. The negative stereotype that exists about young people is largely because of how there are seen in the media.  Young people have dignity and worth. We need to find ways to make the voice of young people heard in the media and ensure the good things that young people do are heard.”

danny@ycwimpact.co    (Danny Curtin, National President)  



Indonesia must confront its past

In light of the recent meeting between the presidents of Timor-Leste and Indonesia, the East Timor and Indonesia Action  Network (ETAN) has called on Indonesia to fully accept the findings and enact the recommendations  of Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth  and Reconciliation (known by its Portuguese acronym, CAVR). The presidents are expected to discuss the report and the bilateral Indonesia - Timor-Leste Commission on Truth and Friendship.

“Indonesia bears primary responsibility for the illegal invasion and occupation of East Timor,” said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of  ETAN. “Instead of seeking to bury the past, Indonesia should ensure that those responsible for crimes against humanity and other systematic human rights violations in Timor-Leste are brought to justice. This would send a strong message to a still recalcitrant military,” he added.   “The cycle of impunity in Indonesia cannot end and democracy fully flourish until there is real justice for Timor-Leste.”

According to ETAN, the CAVR report is the product of three years of intensive research by hundreds of East Timorese and international experts and is based on information from more than 8000 witnesses and victims. The report found that at least 102,800 people died from 1975 to 1999 as a result of Indonesia's invasion and occupation.  The report is critical of the Commission on Truth and Friendship.

ETAN has posted the full CAVR report on its website


Liberal archbishop installed in San Francisco

American Catholicism’s most progressive archdiocese has warmly welcomed its new head and his message of inclusion. At Wednesday’s installation Mass in San Francisco, Archbishop George Niederauer was handed the crosier by his predecessor, Archbishop William Levada, who the Pope named last May to succeed him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  The new Pope’s first major appointee in the United States indicated that Benedict’s recent encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, would “guide” his stewardship of a diocese known for its significant contingent of gay Catholics and its efforts in caring for the sufferers of HIV/Aids.  Archbishop Niederauer had been Bishop of Salt Lake City Diocese.

The Tablet

Writings, Archbishop of San Francisco   (including his installation homily)


Hamas and Abbas clash over path for Palestinians

A new Palestinian parliament dominated by the militant group Hamas was installed on Saturday, and immediately President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas lawmakers set out on a collision course over the need to honor existing agreements with Israel and conduct negotiations with it to achieve Palestinian statehood.

The New York Times


America heads towards Animal Farm:  senior Anglican

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has launched a passionate attack on President George Bush, saying his administration's refusal to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay camp reflected "a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm".

Common Dreams headlines

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