“The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers.  This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity.” (LS, 201)

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With this sentence Pope Francis is telling us something that is widely acknowledged on an intellectual level but has little meaning in the hearts of most Chileans: that although there are billions of “believers”, most of them are not Christian. Globally we Christians are in the minority, although we are overwhelmingly the majority in our own land of Chile. I came to this realisation while living for six years in Asia during the 1980’s, specifically in Vietnam and Nepal, a continent where Christians make up a tiny minority of the population and where the Christian faith is practically unknown to the vast majority. It was there that I learned to be humble in my faith and to appreciate the great moral and cultural richness of these ancient civilizations, observing them with respect. Respect is the basis of the dialogue to which Francis is calling us; a respect that presupposes a certain degree of humility in relation to our own faith.

Years later, in the mid 90’s, several encounters and circumstances led me to devote myself primarily to promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace both on a local and international level. It was then that I helped to create the Foro Espiritual de Santiago por la Paz (Santiago Spiritual Forum for Peace). These experiences led me to the conviction that, even though the beliefs that the followers of the various religions profess are often difficult to reconcile with each other -not even the belief in a creator God is shared by all -, there is noticeable common ground in terms of their values. The so-called Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or put more positively, “treat others as you would have them treat you” – is, in one way or another, embodied in all religions. Love of neighbor, justice, compassion, solidarity, these are all values that are shared.  And what Francis is calling us to, is a dialogue that does not dwell on ideas and beliefs but rather one that moves us to take action, to interfaith cooperation, based on shared values and towards common goals, such as caring for our common home, defending the poor and building networks of respect and fraternity.

In our Foro Espiritual de Santiago por la Paz, the Christian majority who participate– with their own internal diversity – come into contact and dialogue with groups who, in Chile, are in the minority but who in countries of other continents make up the majority religion or important communities, such as the various streams of Buddhism and Islam, Jews, Sikhs, and followers of the Bahai Faith. It is a real gift to have them here in Chile and through them and thanks to them, to enrich our own spirituality with the ancient diversity they pass on to us.  On September 21st, the International Day of Peace, the Forum got together to celebrate an interfaith prayer service for peace. Prayer leaders from fifteen denominations and spiritualities, including the Mapuche spirituality, took part. It was a magnificent show of religious diversity united on a common goal. We all ended up standing and reading aloud a Declaration for Peace in the World, which concludes by saying “Building this peace is everyone’s job. Together we can do it. “

Collaboration: Gerardo González Cortés, Coordinator, Foro Espiritual de Santiago por la Paz.

 

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