USCCB News Release
June 8, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sikh-Catholic Retreat Scans Common Theology, Youth Outreach
WASHINGTON—Representatives of the World Sikh Council-America Region (WSC-AR) and staff of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met in Columbus, Ohio, May 29-31, for a three-day Catholic-Sikh retreat on the theme “The Nature of God: Convergence, Divergence, and Our Spiritual Paths.”
The two faith communities have been meeting since 2006, when the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue encouraged greater contact between the two communities in the United States. Sikhs, among the fastest growing Asian religious communities in the United States, now numbering 150,000.
At this fourth USCCB-sponsored gathering participants explored what Catholics and Sikhs each understand to be the nature of God and how each tradition views the ways in which believers enter into a relationship with God.
“Both Catholics and Sikhs stress the common origin of humanity in God, from which is derived their respective teachings on the kinship of all people,” noted Father Francis Tiso, Associate Director for the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In a presentation exploring theological language, Father Tiso shared the Christian vision of eternal life by drawing on the final canto of the Divine Comedy of Dante’s Paradiso, which is a poetic meditation on the beatific vision.
Benedictine Father Philip Simo, of St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, presented a perspective on the believer’s relationship with God as a reflection of the community of the three divine Persons that comprise the Godhead in Catholic belief.
“The doctrine of the Word Incarnate, which is found in the Prologue of the Gospel of John, shows how Jesus Christ reveals God to humanity, while simultaneously revealing the true nature of the human person to mankind,” Father Simo said.
Kuldeep Singh, Chair of the Membership Committee, World Sikh Council - America Region, commented on the opening verses of the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of Sikh tradition. These lines, he explained, proclaim that “God is everywhere and eternal! There was never a time when He was not; no moment in time will see His end; every spot in all the boundless universes is filled with His glory.” Sikh texts include poetic celebrations of the love of God from several North Indian traditions, including Hinduism and Sufism.
Discussion further examined the nature of religious language and the challenge of translating profound insights into modern English.
Given the ongoing commitment of this bilateral dialogue to the concerns of young people, considerable attention was also given to the questions that arise in ministry to youth, where the basic questions about life and vocation are most urgent. Savraj Singh skillfully made use of computer technology to communicate the prayer and praise traditions of the Sikh faith to youth. Neil Sloan, USCCB staff and doctoral candidate at The Catholic University of America, discussed the process of vocational discernment among young adult Catholics.
The St. Therese Retreat Center provided as environment in which to explore the ways of prayer traditional to Sikhs and Catholics. Catholic and Sikh participants attended each other's prayer services throughout the weekend, including the Catholic celebration of Mass on Pentecost. The group also attended a special dinner hosted by the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, at which retreat participants and local leadership shared their experiences of interreligious cooperation.
The Catholic delegation was headed by Father Tiso, and included Sloan; Father Donald Rooney, Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; Father Philip, Paulist Father Vincent McKiernan of the Ohio State University Newman Center; Father Bill Ferguson, Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Columbus.The Sikh delegation was led by Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia. Other Sikh representatives included Dr. Manohar Singh, Chairperson of WSC-AR;. Savraj Singh (of the Sikh blog, www.SikhSwim.com); Atika Kaur; Kuldeep Singh, his wife Arminder Kaur, and their daughter. Suneet Kaur; MrSimran Singh; and Ravinder Singh.