WASHINGTON (October 26, 2006) — Representatives of the World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) and of the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met October 5-7, 2006 at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, Long Island, New York for a three-day Catholic-Sikh bilateral retreat. Each evening, the participants attended the evening prayer service at the nearby Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara (Glen Cove, NY).
The objective of the retreat was for the Catholic and Sikh communities to explore the spiritual teachings of the two communities, following up on their first consultation hosted by Religions for Peace - USA on May 20, 2006 in New York City.
The Catholic delegation was headed Rev. James Massa, Executive Director of USCCB's Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs with assistance of Rev. Canon Francis Tiso, Associate Director of the Secretariat. Other Catholic participants included the Rev. Donald Rooney, Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; Rev. Alfonso Kim, M.M., the Vocation Director of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers; and Mr. Gregory Mancini, a candidate for the Master of Divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School. The Sikh delegation was led by Dr. Manohar Singh, Chairperson of WSC-AR with assistance from Dr. Tarunjit Singh, Chair of Interfaith Committee of WSC-AR. Other Sikh representatives were: Mr. Kavneet Singh, Chair of the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Committee of the WSC-AR; Dr. Anahat Kaur, Chair of the WSC-AR Education Committee; Mr. Yashpal Singh of the Philadelphia Gurdwara Sahib; and Mr. Anhad Singh of the Palatine Gurdwara Sahib in Chicago. Two observers of Religions for Peace - USA also attended the first day of the retreat.
Father Massa said, "We value this developing relationship with our Sikh brothers and sisters. The retreat was an opportunity for our two communities to share our worship experiences, readings from our sacred texts, and community issues."
Dr. Manohar Singh said, "This continuing dialogue with the Catholic community deepens our mutual respect and understanding. It has helped us to identify our commonalities and honor our differences. The kind hospitality of the Diocese of Rockville Centre's Seminary of the Immaculate Conception is very much appreciated."
The retreat began on Thursday, October 5 with a welcome by Monsignor James M. McDonald, Rector of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. Sikh introduction to "Praying with Siri Guru Granth Sahib" was presented by Dr. Manohar Singh, Chairperson of WSC-AR followed by the Catholic introduction to "Praying with the New Testament" by Monsignor Charles Fink, Spiritual Director of the seminary. The Catholic participants joined in the evening Eucharist with the seminary community. The Sikh participants reverently attended the liturgy as a group. Afterwards they traveled to Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara for Sikh worship service and langar (Sikh community meal).
On the second day, Friday, October 6, following Catholic morning prayer with the seminarians, the Catholic and Sikh communities shared two sacred readings and reflections. The Sikh readings were led by Kavneet Singh, Member of Executive Committee of WSC-AR, and Yashpal Singh, Sikh community representative of Philadelphia. Mr. Singh's selections from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred scripture of the Sikhs, included those Sabads (mystical songs) that emphasize the kinship among all persons and in all of creation. Thus "No one is an enemy, no one is a stranger… The One God pervades all." And: "May wisdom be our mother, contentment our father, let service of mankind be our brother." For: "You are our mother and father, we are your children… the whole of creation is strung upon your thread." The Catholic readings were shared by Rev. Canon Francis Tiso. Without prior knowledge of the Sikh selections, Fr. Tiso chose Mark 3:31-35 in which Jesus says: "Here are my mother and my brethren! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Everyone marveled at the parallelism in the rhetorical force of the Sikh and Christian sacred texts. The second Christian text, the hymn in Ephesians 1:3-14 was more challenging for our reflection because it is a strongly confessional doxology of the plan of salvation in Christ. It allowed us to share our respective ways of nurturing tolerance and respect for differences in belief and practice. Both sides were convinced that strong faith convictions are not an obstacle to dialogue; rather, dialogue is strengthened by a willingness to share that which is distinctive to our traditions.
At lunch, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre shared his commitment to interreligious dialogue and encouraged the Catholic-Sikh dialogue to make progress on the basis of mutual trust. In the afternoon, the participants shared touching personal perspectives on "Why Faith is Important to Me?" In several of the testimonies, it was clear that there is a strong link between personal faith and the experience of suffering. In the evening, the Catholic and Sikh delegations again visited the Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara for a Sikh youth led worship service and langar. Dr. Manohar Singh and Father Massa addressed the Sikh congregation on the importance of the bilateral dialogue underway between the two national religious organizations.
The retreat ended on Saturday, October 7 with a discussion on "Developments in the Life of the Sikh Community and the Catholic Church" which enabled each side to have a clearer sense of the recent history of our communities. The Sikh and Catholic communities expressed their ongoing concerns over the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the US, the curtailment of religious freedom and human rights in South Asia, and the challenges of secularism to both religious communities. This was coupled with an exploration of future plans for this dialogue, including hopes for engaging youth and young adult leadership in the programming.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is an assembly of the Catholic Church hierarchy which works together to unify, coordinate, promote, and carry on Catholic activities in the United States; to organize and conduct religious, charitable, and social welfare work at home and abroad; to aid in education; and to care for immigrants. The bishops constitute the membership of the Conference and are assisted by a staff of lay people, priests, deacons, and religious.
The World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) is a representative and elected body of Sikh Gurdwaras and institutions in the United States. Its members include 42 Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) and other Sikh institutions across the nation. WSC-AR works to promote Sikh interests at the national and international level focusing on issues of advocacy, education, and well-being of humankind.
For additional information, please contact Fr. Francis V. Tiso, Associate Director, Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB, 202-541-3022, firstname.lastname@example.org; Manmohan Singh, Secretary General, World Sikh Council-America Region, 972-684-4638, email@example.com