Interreligious Relationships

18 June 2018 | General Interest


I have been fortunate to have been involved in the ministry of interreligious relations for many years. It has been a journey that has been full of inspirational moments, deep engagement and learning – a spiritual journey as well as in other aspects of relationship in the Australian context.

Having grown up in an increasingly multicultural Australian society in the years after the second world war, one of my early ministries as a Dominican religious woman was as Catholic chaplain to a large secular university in Sydney. Here my work was ministering to people of all faiths and none. I became aware of a need to be more familiar with Catholic teaching in the area of ecumenical and interfaith relations. This led me to further studies which included a M.Phil. at the Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College Dublin, followed by a doctorate in Islamic studies at Sydney University.

One cannot be involved deeply in interreligious relations without also learning and growing in understanding of one’s own faith.

First, on the personal level we must be sincerely grounded in the knowledge and practice of our own faith – otherwise we have nothing to share with others. This does not mean that we must have all the answers. Learning and growing for everyone involved is an important part of interreligious relations. A most important aspect of dialogue is being able to really listen. Secondly, growing interreligious relations in the social and political context is important on three levels which interact with each other – the personal, communal and political. At the personal and grassroots level, this can begin with even a few committed people. At the wider community level, engaging influential community leaders and organizations such as business and sports groups, church communities in interreligious activities is paramount. In the larger political and social context, a society needs symbolic actions from political and religious leaders to provide positive role models and examples of interreligious relations. Our recent popes have been exemplary at this. If any one of these levels is missing a society is likely to experience difficulties in its intercultural relations.

As Australian Jewish commentator Rachael Kohn observed: ‘No one today can watch the news and not realize how precious and rare our gift is. We owe our society much more than just being good Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus….. We owe to the whole society our commitment to produce harmony, understanding, compassion and above all a great and deep respect for human life and dignity. If we do not, then who will?’

Sr Patricia OP