Columbus, Ohio, USA— Members of the United States’ largest faith tradition are meeting with members of one of the country’s smallest faith traditions in Columbus this weekend in an effort to build understanding and friendship.
“Catholics and Sikhs Together: Bringing Compassion to the World” is a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Region of the World Sikh Council. It is the fifth such meeting between the two groups since 2006, and the second in Columbus.
Goals are to increase understanding and friendships and to forge “a sense of solidarity” that they can work together, said Tarunjit Butalia of Dublin, who previously served as secretary general of the Sikh organization.
Anthony Cirelli, assistant director for interreligious affairs at the bishops’ conference, said sharing prayer, meals and dialogue with groups that are viewed as the “other” can transform prejudices and create a “culture of closeness” advocated by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
“Our goal right now is to implement what Pope Francis is talking about, … which is to really focus our attention on a robust intercultural exchange,” Cirelli said. “We want to promote a culture of friendship and closeness.”
Speakers planned for the event at St. Therese’s Retreat Center on the East Side include Columbus Catholic Bishop Frederick Campbell and Satpal Singh, immediate past chairman of the World Sikh Council’s American Region.
Participants will share prayers, Catholic Mass and a Sikh worship service at the local temple, called a Gurdwara, at 3745 Business Park Dr. on the West Side. The Sikh service, with remarks from participants, runs from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and is open to the public.
The monotheistic Sikh faith was founded about 500 years ago in southern Asia, and men can often be identified by their turbans, uncut hair and beards. Adherents believe in 10 teachers, called gurus, who have led to the most recent teacher, which is the Sikh scripture called Guru Granth Sahib.
The Association of Religious Data Archives’ 2010 census counted about 250 Sikh congregations in the U.S., compared with about 20,600 Catholic congregations.
Christina Butler, a Catholic who heads up the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, will be participating in the retreat for the first time.
She said the compassion theme emerged from the 2012 shooting rampage that killed several Sikh worshippers at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis. She will make a presentation on “Compassion: A Covenant among Equals.”
“Real compassion occurs only when we accept our oneness … with all human beings,” she said. ” For us Christians, Jesus set the stage — and the high standard — for living a compassionate life by erasing all the boundaries between people. The kingdom of God that he consistently preached included all of us.”
For Catholics, interreligious exchanges stem from the Vatican’s 1965Nostra Aetate declaration, which Cirelli describes as the “Magna Carta for the Catholic Church to engage in interreligious dialogue.” The document, he said, was initially meant to foster healing with Jews but blossomed to include other faiths.
In the U.S., Catholic interfaith dialogue is newer, with the first official interaction starting in 1996 with Muslims, Cirelli said.
Butalia, who attended a Catholic middle school in India, had some sense of the Catholic faith but still finds himself learning from the retreats.
“In dialogue, you look at others’ religious tradition, and you grow in understanding of your own religious tradition as well, because you look deeper and you delve deeper,” said Butalia, who serves as vice moderator of Religions for Peace-USA.
“It has helped me as a Sikh to look at another religious tradition, at someone who practices another faith, and to recognize myself a little bit.”