Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

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

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 65 – February 2010

Archbishop Vincent Nichols' address at Hindu Mandir, Neasden

Dear brothers and sisters,
Let me thank you first of all for the generous invitation and warm welcome that I have received in your unique and beautiful Mandir. I thank your spiritual leader, Sadhu Yogvivek Swami and the trustees of the Mandir for their invitation, especially as it falls on the celebration of the birthday of your worldwide spiritual leader, His Holiness Pramukswamiji Maharaj. The story of the building of this Mandir is well known. Indeed I was glad to visit it not long after its opening in 1995. It is moving to see that even the architecture of this special place symbolises co-operation and peace between the cultures. The structure of the haveli, built from Burmese teak and English oak, is a poignant sign of how cultures and religions can join together to build something beautiful and enduring.

It is always good to come together like this, to strengthen each other, to learn of each other's faith and to rejoice in a spirit of dialogue and love. Indeed for a long time now, the Catholic Church has made dialogue with other faiths a priority in her actions, for the Church urges us to appreciate that the entire human race shares a common origin and a common destiny. This human and spiritual unity in our origins and our destiny impels us to seek common elements in our path through life as we play our part in the quest for fundamental values so crucial in our time.

This is, in part, why the Catholic Church, and many others, is insistent that every human person has a right to religious freedom. Such freedom means that all should have immunity from coercion, that no-one should be forced to act against his conscience in religious matters, nor prevented from acting according to his conscience, whether in private or in public, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. There are some today who seek to set aside the right to act on the basis of religious faith in a reasonable manner in the public forum. Yet we know that religious faith cannot be left alone at home and still retain its integrity. It requires public expression in word and deed. This is an essential part of the right to religious freedom. This is something to which we must all be alert today.

We as a Church feel very strongly that religious sentiment and beliefs of the majority of the citizens of this country are important factors which can contribute significantly to the building up of a true culture of peace and harmony. They are not a matter of private conviction to be excluded from the public forum, but crucial elements of a true and generous citizenship in this land.

We are, for example, all convinced of the unique value of prayer in the search for peace. In fact it is impossible to have peace without prayer, the prayer of all, each one in his own identity and in search of the truth. The experience of prayer is a manifestation of the unity which binds us together, beyond our differences and distinctiveness. Every authentic prayer, we believe, is under the influence of the Spirit "who intercedes insistently for us ... because we do not know how to pray as we ought." Yet every person, all of us present here, is capable of prayer, that is of submitting ourselves totally to God and of recognising ourselves to be poor in front of God. Prayer is one of the means to realise the plan of God among us. It shows us that the world cannot give peace, but that peace is a gift of God and that it is necessary to entreat it as a gift by means of the prayers of all.

Both of our religions teach us that we fall short of the fullness of being to which we are called. We share the sense that we are to consistently seek to be more authentic, more generous especially in helping those in need. Indeed the search for peace in prayer goes hand in hand with the strong responsibility for helping those who are at the margins of society, and are in dire need of care and support. We are aware that many people live in fear and insecurity, and we consider it our duty and our privilege to extend a helping hand where we can.

Particularly in a time of economic hardship, this helping hand becomes important and valuable. It is thus with great pleasure that I see the continued efforts around this Mandir to serve the community in its many worthwhile projects, providing support to an admirably wide range of people, and offering diverse services that reflect the needs of the whole community – be it education for children, opportunities for young people or support for parents in raising children.

The needs of elderly people are especially close to my heart. We know the plight of the elderly in our society. We face the real danger of seeing the elderly not as the gift of wisdom and experience they embody, but as a burden. Instead, we need to recognise the contribution that they bring society. The Mandir is making a very important contribution to this in organising events such as the recent Health Fair that empower the elderly to live life to the full. Thus, we are joined together in our concern for the elderly and their well-being, as we are joined in our concern for everyone who is vulnerable and in need of attention in our society.

It is also very good to see that young people are at the heart of your community and that they are offered opportunities to develop both their physical and spiritual health. Providing young people with opportunities for exercise can give them a positive focus for their overflowing energy, and those who "come to play can learn to pray" to use your own words. Again and again, it has become clear during interfaith week that our hope and our trust must be placed in the young generation of today, so that they in their boundless and admirable enthusiasm, may try to achieve for future generations what this society has not been always able to offer – peace, understanding and community.

It is with admiration that I see the many events and opportunities on offer in this complex for the wider community, and I salute the valuable contribution that you are making to the peaceful world we all strive to create. The concern and care that is shown here for our natural environment is just one example of the many causes on which we can work together. In these and other ways I hope we can work together for the common good of all members of society.

So, once again, let me thank you for this wonderful opportunity of dialogue and of being together to pray, and for your very warm welcome to all your guests here this evening. It is truly inspiring to see the beauty of this place, and no less inspiring to see the commitment to helping the community that comes with it.

My hope and my prayer is that the simple candle, which I am pleased to bring to you this evening, may be a sign of the lovely light of God in our lives and a sign of the prayer which, in return, we offer to God. May peace and truth be the gift that God bestows on us all.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

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