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Sikh-Catholic Consultation Discusses Four Levels Of Dialogue

June 1, 2012

WASHINGTON—Representatives of the World Sikh Council-America Region (WSC-AR) and the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (SEIA) of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met May 18-20 in Washington. The purpose of this gathering was to discuss the four levels of dialogue as presented in the document Dialogue and Proclamation, issued by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 1991. The meeting was chaired by Satpal Singh, Ph.D., chairperson of the WSC-AR, and Anthony Cirelli, Ph.D., associate director of SEIA.

The retreat consisted of four sessions, each dedicated to a specific level of dialogue: theological exchange, life, religious experience and action.

The first session addressed the dialogue of theological exchange. The Catholic perspective was presented by Pim Valkenberg, Ph.D. of The Catholic University of America (CUA). In his presentation, he articulated the basic form of this dialogue as it appears in Dialogue and Proclamation and then discussed where such dialogue is producing tangible fruits, most notably the Building Bridges Seminar and the Catholic-Muslim forum. From the Sikh side, Kuldeep Singh, Ph.D., pointed out that theological exchange is understood in the Guru Granth to be an “intentional engagement with the theological traditions of cultures.” Sikhs, he asserted, who are committed to overcoming religious prejudice, are thus required to engage in this type of exchange.

Ravinder Singh and Karen Korol of CUA led the second session on the dialogue of life. Singh’s presentation identified active and intentional learning about the practices and experiences of the other as key to any successful dialogue of life. Only in this context, Singh said, will “the fragrance of spirituality” as understood by Guru Nanak emerge among peoples and create greater harmony and peace. In her presentation, Korol appealed to salient passages in the papal encyclical Redemptoris Missio and anecdotes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi to articulate her own position that effective interfaith dialogue of life should include a willingness to learn of, and cultivate compassion towards, the sufferings of the other.

The third session addressed the dialogue of religious experience and was presided over by Daniel Tobin of CUA and Simran Jeet Singh of Columbia University. Tobin focused on Christian forms of prayer, including the Our Father, lectio divina, liturgical prayer and charismatic prayer. Singh focused on models of religious experience, which he identified as falling into two distinct categories: lived revelation and scriptural revelation. For Singh, the lives of the gurus serve as models for lived revelation. He cited the poetic and musical character of the Guru Granth Sahib as an example of scriptural revelation in that its participatory nature produces a religious experience.

The fourth session addressed the dialogue of action and was presided over by Kirsten Evans of SEIA and Savraj Singh. Evans asserted that dialogue of action seeks the development and liberation of peoples that is brought about through interfaith collaboration in the areas of service and advocacy. These areas represent “the space where two (i.e. religions) come together, converge on values and engage the world.” She added, “The unifying principle in a dialogue of action is this place of convergence, which is beyond any particular belief.” Singh’s presentation focused on the notion of saiva, or selfless service, in the Sikh tradition that originates with the public meal that Guru Nanak instituted, which included those at the lowest order of the caste system in India.

In addition to the leaders and presenters, the following attended the retreat: Bishop Barry Knestout, auxiliary bishop of Washington; Father John Crossin, executive director, SEIA; Father Don Rooney, ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia; Father Avelino Gonzalez, ecumenical officer for the Archdiocese of Washington; Neil Sloan, doctoral candidate, CUA; Jon Douglas Anderson, doctoral candidate, CUA; and Rebecca Cohen, graduate student, CUA.


Keywords: Catholic, Sikh, guru, dialogue, levels, religious experience, action, The Catholic University of America, Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, U.S. Conference of Cathlolic Bishops, USCCB, U.S. bishops, World Sikh Council-America Region, WSC-AR, Anthony Cirelli, Satpal Singh

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Don Clemmer
O: 202-541-3206


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