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Italian adventures in inter-religious dialogue

By Brandi Friesen Thorpe
Aug 17, 2015

The Italian Alps, near the Agape Ecumenical Center in Prali, Italy. (Photo by Brandi Friesen Thorpe)

I have spent the last week in the beautiful Alps of Italy, at the Agape Ecumenical Center, gathering with an international community to delve into interreligious dialogue. I am the only Canadian and the only Mennonite. But considering how often this happens when I travel abroad, I have stopped being surprised by this.

Speakers and participants come from across the globe, from every continent, and with a plethora of languages. They speak of the conditions of dialogue, of reconciliation, forgiveness, and cultural perspectives that influence religion. Translations happen simultaneously in at least four languages, and meal times become amusing moments of bilingual shared fellowships.

As we attend to the materials presented to us, we not only discuss but practice inter-religious dialogue. Stories are shared from every corner, from Myanmar to Senegal to Chile to Iraq and back again. Amidst the exchanges there is vast wisdom shared, and little nuggets tucked into the corners of our minds and hearts, to carry homeward.

I can observe in this week that inter-religious dialogue requires one not only to encounter the other, but to confront one’s own religion. When genuine dialogue is encountered, genuine relationships are formed, and you begin to love the person you speak with. You then learn to ask: Are there ways in which I practice my faith that are harming the person I am trying to speak to? If the answer is yes, you begin to examine how this can be reconciled, for you do not wish to harm a person you love.

This process further pushes me to continue examining how I analyze the theology and faith practices that I have inherited. If there is any traumatic theology that I hold unwittingly, it must be reconciled. I myself must be changed in order to enter inter-religious dialogue with the justice, mercy, and humility that is required. If I cannot expect myself to confront my own faults, an interreligious dialogue that is defined by our differences will not find a peaceful place to continue. Overcoming prejudice, racism, and hate that occur when one religion judges another will happen only when one confronts one’s own systems of prejudice, racism and hate.

This is but one small wisdom I have encountered in the beautiful mountains of Italy. It is the one I take home and offer to you, my own religious community.

See further reflections on this event.


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