HONG KONG (UCAN): While interreligious dialogue may be a more urgent need in Asia than ecumenical relations, Bonifacio Tago, from the Good Samaritan Colleges in The Philippines, believes that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity can serve as an impetus to rekindle appreciation of its value, as it is an appropriate time to pursue both avenues.
Tago says in a paper posted on the UCAN website that the urgent need for interreligious dialogue in Asia should be a highlight of the region’s observance of the global Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which took place between January 18 and 25.
He points out that Asia is the birthplace of most of the world’s mainstream religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Judaism and even Christianity.
These ancient religions have influenced to a great extent the cultures and, consequently, the very lives of people in the region. “Multiplicity of cultures and diversity of faiths characterise Asia’s people,” Tago points out.
He says that unlike the west, which separates the religious from the economic sphere, as well as political and social endeavours, Asia does not clearly draw a line through this dichotomy in life.
Rather it looks at the affairs of life from the perspective of a system and attributes to the highest authority in the land the divine the role of giver and provider of life, as well as regarding it as the director of human destinies and the ultimate source of law and order, as well as justice and peace in the universe.
Tago says that these earthly representatives of the divine—bishops, priests, prophets, monks, imams, lamas—are highly regarded in Asia as true and legitimate messengers of God’s word for humanity and for all creation.
In the context of Asia, these religious leaders not only have moral authority over people, they also influence and mobilise them to action on behalf of justice, as well as in the transformation of the world.
He points to the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, from The Philippines, as a classic example of this religious authority, when he mobilised the people against the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, during the People Power Movement in 1986, becoming a vital player in changing the political landscape of the country.
But Tago notes that Asia is a complex reality beset with much inequality, as it is home to the largest human community where the majority live in poverty, hunger and misery due to the corruption of those running the affairs of state, violent political and social systems, as well as an economic world order that favours the west.
In this context, Tago believes that interreligious encounters have become an urgent need in Asia, saying that it is high time the various religions came together to help shape the Asian landscape and turn it into a land flowing with milk and honey for all of its people.
He is pushing for a unity through religious dialogue that builds bridges among peoples of different cultures, ideologies and faiths, as a dialogue of the lives of people who open their hearts in compassion to one another.
Tago says that it is crucial that Asia’s religious men and women take the lead role in facilitating dialogue, as this should be the core element of our prayer and action during the annual celebration of the week of prayer for unity.
The Christian attitude towards the need for interreligious dialogue in Asia can be modelled on the incarnation, where God, from his divine state, communed with humanity.
Through this mystery, God dialogued with humanity, affirmed human dignity and celebrated the divine presence in every human being, irrespective of religion.