Fr. James Ngahy, M. Afr.
The author starts with the fact that as human beings we ought to live together though we are different from each other and that dialogue is needed to lead to positive understanding, appreciation of one another’s uniqueness and peaceful coexistence. People who hold different religious values or ideologies, he adds, have often given into painful conflicts leading to violence resulting in constant source of discord and in some circumstances disaster like that of Jos Plateau and Bauchi in Nigeria.
The world of globalisation in which we live today consists of an amazing multiplicity of ideologies, cultures, principles and religions. However, it is a natural fact that as human beings we ought and must live together though we are different from each other. In fact, even twins or members of the same family are indeed different from one another. Positive dialogue that will lead to a positive understanding will result into peaceful coexistence appreciating one another’s uniqueness. Elizabeth Johnson confirms this point as she writes: “It is not envisioned that everyone be the same, but that the uniqueness of each be equally respected in a community of brothers and sisters” (Consider Jesus, p. 32).
Of course, it is fact that ‘othering others’ who hold different religious values or ideologies have often been the cause of painful experience of conflict leading to violence like that of Jos Plateau and Bauchi in Nigeria or Palestine. This remains to be a constant source of discord and in some circumstances disaster. Intense and positive dialogue among and with Muslims, Jews, Traditional believers and Christians will indeed bring understanding and ways in which we can accept each other; hence, live together harmoniously. Otherness should not be a threat to the other but rather should be a source of integration of whole humanity. Not because one is a Tiv or Ibo, Hausa or Yoruba, Edo or Masai, Tanzanian or South African that he/she is a threat to ‘me’. Not even because one is a Muslim or a Traditional believer, Hindu or Buddhist, Jainist or Confucianist, Taoist or Shintoist, Catholic or Christian of other denomination that he/she is not of ‘me’. We ought to remember that we are all of and from the same roots, of the same Father, God the Creator. “Joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, trustfulness and self control are the fruits of the Spirit (of God) and there is no law can touch such things as these” (Gal. 5:22-23). It is for this very reason that positive dialogue is important for peaceful coexistence.
There are some people who talk about dialogue without grasping and comprehending its requirements and its methodology. It has nothing to do with the extremes of either a facile syncretism which would make all religious alike, or a compromising polemic stance which would deny that different religions can ever meet each other. Marston Speight sees dialogue as a “daring adventure engaged in by people desiring mutual enrichment from their different ways, fellowship in sharing common values and openness to whatever way the Lord might speak to them in the intimacy of their conscience” (Guidelines for Dialogue Between Christians and Muslims, p. 10).
For Christians who want to be faithful to the Gospel values, they cannot be indifferent to the true encounter with those who, although they do not have the same faith, are nevertheless seeking to honour God as they proceed on their own particular way towards Him. Therefore, positive dialogue does not will or intend to convert other people of different beliefs to one’s own religion at any cost. Nor does it try to make them doubt the faith in which they were raised. On the contrary, positive dialogue seeks essentially a better understanding of one another and a deepening of one’s faith and religious awareness; hence peaceful coexistence. Helping one another becomes more closely conformed to the path which the Lord has indicated to them, and thus, draw closer to Him in the practice of active goodness (Qur’an 5:48).
Positive dialogue brings a good quality or condition of being good neighbours and not enemies. ‘Charity begins at home.’ Or ‘a cup can only be truly clean if it is cleaned from inside, not from without.’ It is, therefore, of extreme importance for us to begin this positive dialogue from our families, within the Church (among parishioners, catechists, priest, bishops and religious communities), among religious groups and movements.
As a great witness of positive dialogue, Late Pope John Paul II on the 16th of April 1986 became the first Pope in the history of the Church to visit the Jewish Synagogue in Rome. In October 26, 1986 the same Pope presided over an Inter-faith prayer in Assisi. Many people came to a better and positive understanding of and about Catholic Church and her stand on positive dialogue. On the 12th of March 2000 (first Sunday of Lent), Pope John Paul II extended the gesture of positive dialogue when he took initiative of reconciling with all those that the Church failed to dialogue with in the past. In this way, the Pope was able to show the realistic possibility of positive dialogue in the multiplicity of ideologies, cultures, principles and religions. Why then should we continue to fight and kill each other at this age of globalisation? Positive dialogue is surely a way forward to peaceful coexistence!