The Spiritan Forum on Interreligious Dialogue, jointly organized by the Spiritan Conference of Circumscriptions of Africa and the Islands (SCCAI) and the General Council was held in Zanzibar (Tanzania) from 3 to 9 December 2018. In this symbolic site of interreligious dialogue, which is also an important site for the history of our Congregation in East Africa, this forum brought together professed confreres and a lay associate working together in contexts of interreligious dialogue. The forum shared diverse experiences and expertise from Mauritania, Algeria, Nigeria, North Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic, Mauritius, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Tanzania, Netherlands, Belgium and the United States. Of note at this forum is the youthfulness of most of the participants with a good representation from sub-Saharan Africa, many of whom are recent arrivals at their places of mission. This highlights the importance the Congregation attaches to interreligious dialogue: it continues to find within itself the personnel that will enable it to be consistent with its missionary priorities.
The forum took place in a spiritan atmosphere, i.e. very fraternal and familial. Experts in interreligious dialogue, and those involved in its practicalities without any particular training on the subject, all appreciated the opportunity to share their experiences, their convictions and the joys and challenges of their ministries. All recognized the fundamental importance of interreligious dialogue, which has now become a sine qua none for advancing our Spiritan charism. In today’s world, dialogue must not be an optional commitment to be made among others, but a constitutive part of our missionary spirituality.
Our week together in Zanzibar focused on sharing practical experience articulated by using theological frameworks which allowed for a rich debate. Many elements, questions and suggestions were identified, constituting some strong points that could usefully provide material for the capitulants of the next General Chapter in Lichen, Poland, in 2020. One of the main objectives of this forum was to suggest concrete proposals to the Congregation, in terms of formation (initial and ongoing), the practice of dialogue in the field, and networking. This last point, whose practical modalities remain to be defined, was very quickly identified as a necessity to deepen the sharing between confreres and lay Spiritan Associates. It is also relevant in our Spiritan responses from the field with regard to the interaction between confreres on mission and their relation to other religious traditions.
A relatively new issue that emerged in Zanzibar 2018 is the violent contexts (tensions, civil war, attacks etc) within which our confreres are working, which leads to difficult situations in terms of accessibility (visas are increasingly difficult to obtain) and sustainability of the confreres in these demanding but fragile ministries. These situations of ethno-religious violence, social unrest etc further reinforces our conviction of the necessity and importance of interreligious dialogue, Peace building, conflict resolution, reconciliation efforts and witnessing to the Gospel of peace which we embody. The celebration of vigils on Friday evening, and the Mass on December 8, in memory of the 19 Algerian martyrs beatified that same day, resonated strongly in this sense in the hearts of the participants.
The participants in the forum also had the opportunity to confront the local realities of Zanzibar with the meeting of Bishop Augustine Shao, CSSp who welcomed us to his diocese, as well as two senior Lutheran and Muslim leaders who were committed to a dialogue that continues to bear fruit on this island with a large Muslim majority. Time was also given to visit some symbolic and historical sites that bear witness to the region’s heavy past as a hub of the slave trade.
We thank the province of Tanzania for its warm welcome and the Welezo Peace Centre where the meeting took place in very good conditions. Kwaherini wote, asanteni sana! (goodbye, and thank you very much!).
Mathieu Boulanger and Tony Neves