Today I spoke at a Women's Convocation held at St. Christopher's in Speedway, IN. I've given various talks at St. Christopher, and several of our family's close friends attend services there. The women were an amazing bunch... warm and welcoming, open and deeply spiritual, you could just feel the goodness oozing throughout the room.
Sad to say, before the Convocation began, other people, not so welcoming, were outside handing out anti-Islam leaflets. They were quite clever... the simply welcomed the women who were arriving and handed them a pamphlet. Possibly some of the women thought they were handing out brochures, or programs, for the conference.
The head organizer was in tears over this incident (which left me at a loss for words... the depth of compassion she had for my feelings was very touching). Of course, it represented the exact opposite of what she had tried to achieve by inviting me -- a chance for Catholic women to gain some insight into Islam, the lives of Muslim women, and to be able to ask those questions they always wanted to ask.
For me, the incident really raised the issue of what is the purpose of interfaith dialogue. Initially, the point is to simply be informed of what other people believe. But at some point, dialogue about theology needs to move into real touching as people. I remember the Focolare event where people of different faiths weren't sharing "what my faith says about family" but rather, their own experiences of family. Of love, and loss. Yes, their experiences were colored by their faith, but essentially they were human experiences that we could all relate to.
I think we need a lot more of that. We need to have dinners together, be in book groups together, talk about our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows, because in the end, we are all the same. Only once we have made that human connection will racism, ethnocentrism, religious bigotry, homophobia, etc, fade.
Either way, interfaith dialogue is not about converting people. I briefly glanced at the pamphlet. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. For instance, is stated, Muslims don't believe Jesus is God. Well, that's true. Of course, I wasn't going to try to sneak in under the radar on that one. But some of the other stuff was not so accurrate. Clearly, the authors of the pamphlet, and those who were handing it out, didn't want good Catholics to be seduced by "false" religion.
But that wasn't the point at all. The point was to share info and to build a relationship, a sense of common ground, either theologically or as humans. Unfortunately, the people who really needed that, didn't come inside.