WASHINGTON (October 18, 2007)—Representatives of the World Sikh Council - America Region (WSC-AR) and the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met September 28-30 in Washington for a three-day Catholic-Sikh bilateral retreat.
The objective of this third meeting was for the communities to build on past retreats by exploring concepts of holiness and the spiritual path in the two communities.
The retreat opened with a presentation on interfaith understanding in Sikh belief, history, and practice by Dr. Tarunjit Singh, the leader of the Sikh delegation and Chair of the Interfaith Committee of the World Sikh Council – America Region. Additional sessions included a presentation on Catholic perspectives on spiritual progress by Father Francis Tiso, the leader of the Catholic delegation and Associate Director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Father Tiso surveyed New Testament and early monastic models of the stages of the spiritual life.
Sikhs and Catholics stress the common origin of humanity from God, from which is derived their respective teachings on the kinship of all people. Both hold that the path to holiness includes both inner conversion and outward manifestations of love for one's neighbors.
In subsequent sessions, participants reflected on the lives of those recognized by the communities as holy people. Yashpal Singh gave a presentation on the biography of Bhai Kanhiaya, who served water to both Sikh and Moghul warriors wounded during a battle in which the Moghul army had surrounded a Sikh city. Savraj Singh then introduced the group to Bhagat Puran Singh, a contemporary holy man known as the Sikh "Mother Teresa" for his radical
service to the poor, sick, and elderly. Neil Sloan spoke of Saint Gianna Berretta Molla, a 20th century married saint and medical doctor, who lost her life to save her unborn child.
Throughout the weekend, Catholics and Sikhs shared their personal narratives of seeking holiness. A tour of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was organized for participants. The many Marian shrines, which reflect the diversity to be found in the Catholic faith, sparked conversation about the unique characteristics of religious faith in the Americas, where immigrants who have sought to harmonize the rich diversity of cultures and religions have found a home.
Catholic and Sikh participants attended each other's prayer services throughout the weekend. Both communities found the dialogue beneficial in building trust among the two faiths. Their next retreat is slated for early 2009 on the theme of "The Nature of God: Convergence and Divergence in Our Spiritual Paths."
About half of the representatives of the delegations were young adults, age 35 or younger. The Catholic delegation was headed by Father Tiso, also included Neil Sloan, Program Assistant of the USCCB Ecumenical and Interfaith Secretariat; Father Donald Rooney, Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; Benedictine Father Philip Simo, St. Anselm's Abbey, Washington; Charles Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America; Julie Heldt, graduate of the master of theological studies program at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family; and Stephanie Almozara, candidate for the master of divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School.
The Sikh delegation was led by Dr. Tarunjit Singh. Other Sikh representatives included Dr. Manohar Singh, Chairperson of WSC-AR; Kavneet Singh, Chair of the Human Rights and Religious Freedom Committee of the WSC-AR; Yashpal Singh of the Philadelphia Gurdwara Sahib; Manjit Kaur Bains of the Philadelphia Sikh Society; Upneet Kaur, Student at Temple University; Gobind Singh Sethi of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Savraj Singh of the Gurdwara Sahib in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Anhad Singh of the Palatine Gurdwara Sahib in Chicago; and Kamaljit Kaur.
For additional information, please contact Father Tiso at 202-541-3022, email@example.com; or Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, Chair of the Interfaith Committee, WSC-AR, 614-210-0591, firstname.lastname@example.org.