Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 62 – July 2009

Promoting community cohesion

The Hounslow Friends of Faith, a local multifaith group of friends in Hounslow have, these last ten years, sought ways of promoting harmony among the different faith communities in their Borough. Regular peace walks, visits to all the local places of worship, the publication of a directory of all places of worship with relevant information and a mixed faith marriage conference last year, are some of the initiatives that have met with positive responses from local residents. On March 30th 2009, the HFOF held their second meeting for religious leaders, the first one having been held two years ago in the purpose built Gurdwara in Alice Way. This gathering of priests, imams, Hindu priests, Buddhist monks and Sikh leaders met at the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in Beavers' Lane. The guest speaker was the Rt Hon and Rt Rev Richard Charters, Bishop of London who spoke on "Living together in a multi-faith society". The high profile of the guest speaker drew an impressive array of religious leaders who were richly rewarded by what the bishop had to say on current interfaith issues in London. His advice was: "be convinced, be humble, be joyful and look cheerful in your faith". He stressed the fact that we had so much in common. We also had things we clearly disagreed about and we should be unapologetic about this.

Over the years we, the Hounslow friends of faith, have learned much about the art of interreligious dialogue – putting aside stereotypes and prejudices. Having fostered friendship on a personal basis we have learned to trust each other. We have learned to express ourselves with great frankness, not afraid to put our position to our friends but also not hiding our shortcomings. At times, I could not hide from my friends that I was concerned at some of the recent reported statements and actions of Pope Benedict, at least as reported in the media, much as Cardinal Cormac wrote to the Chief Rabbi when derogatory remarks were made against the Holocaust. I think my friends of other faiths saw my sincerity in this. I could then clarify things when clarifications were provided by the Pope's media spokesperson. When tensions arose, we met informally over a cup of tea and a samosa with our opposite numbers in the mosque or gurdwara and frankly expressed our concerns. A typical example of this was when the young Muslim from Hounslow, who studied at Cranford Community College and frequented our local mosque became a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv. I just went over to the Imam in the mosque and told him how upset I was. Muslims in the mosque were just as upset as I was. For them this was a quiet young man who went to the mosque and did not seem to have local friends. For them this was a shock, something they could not explain and that reflected badly on them and their way of life in the community. They were anxious about what the surrounding non-Muslim population was thinking. At such moments, people of faith need to take the right initiatives. It is then time to allay fears, to reassure people of our trust and esteem. Healing wounds, showing sympathy and understanding, standing by our neighbour is the Samaritan thing to do. I may be mistaken but I seem to be experiencing a growing sense of friendliness and warmth from Muslims in our neighbourhood of late. What better way of promoting community cohesion?

Alfred Agius

Return to top         Go to Newsletter Index

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict    Valid CSS!