world council of churches

An Interfaith Greeting at the Assembly
Anantanand Rambachan

On behalf of the guests of other faiths, members of African Traditional Religions, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims and Sikhs, I want to thank you for your warm welcome. Your generous invitation to all of us to be present at this Assembly, to listen to your deliberations and to share our beliefs and hopes in various sessions, is an expression of the importance which you give to the religiously diverse character of our world.

Your decision to involve us in the Assembly, however, is more than an acknowledgment of religious diversity. As turmoils around the world repeatedly remind us, our lives, at the end of the twentieth century, are irrevocably interrelated and interdependent. We cannot hope to find acceptable and enduring solutions to any of the major problems afflicting our world without the involvement and cooperation of people of diverse faiths. Actively extending our hands in friendship and fellowship across the traditional boundaries of our faiths in a search for mutual understanding and collaboration is not an option. It is an imperative of our common existence and survival. If there is to be hope for a future in which we can rejoice, arrogance, hostility and indifference must give way to humility in our relationships and attentiveness to each other's experience of the sacred.

We are not here as your guests and members of the world's religions because we are naive and innocent about the conflicts and struggles which have characterized our relationships in the past. We are painfully aware of continuing tension and hostilities among the followers of our faiths in many communities even as we speak here today. We are not here because we think that there are no philosophical or theological differences among us or that these can be overlooked or minimized. Our commitments differ, and ignoring or trivializing the distinct character and insights of our respective traditions will not foster truth and integrity in our relationships.

Why then are we here? We are here with you because in spite of the indelible scars of the past and the antagonisms of the present, in spite of our different and often-conflicting claims, we feel that mistrust and animosity do not circumscribe the kinds of relationships which are possible for us. We feel the need to seek new relationships which are nurtured in the soil of mutual understanding, trust, and love. We cannot say with certainty where such new relationships will take us, since our journey is one of hope, and hope is one of the key words in the theme of your Assembly this year.

But, those of us who have traveled along this road with companions of other faiths have reason for hope. We have experienced the joys of crossing the divide of our estrangement from each other, discovering our common humanity and the possibilities of an enlarged sense of community. Those of us who believe that our world has its source, support and goal in a transcendent absolute know how much our experience of God has been challenged and enriched by our pilgrimage with each other. We have a renewed sense of what the greatness and infinity of God mean. These experiences are the sources of our hope and our reason for being here.

Last but not least is the fulfillment of human friendship and trust. Your Office on Inter-Religious Relations continues to be staffed by informed and caring leaders, and we are here because of their commitment and friendship. They have convinced many of us that for the World Council of Churches "interfaith relations" is not just a new expression of the proselytizing zeal of the church, but also a sincere quest to grow in the understanding of God and for the realization of a just and inclusive human community. On behalf of the all the guests of other faiths, I thank you for the opportunity to be among you and for your hospitality and kindness. May the fruit of your deliberations be a blessing for our world.

Dr Anantanand Rambachan is a Hindu scholar from Trinidad and Tobago and professor of religion at St Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA.

Return to Current Dialogue (33), July 1999
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