Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

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

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 59 - November 2008

My Personal Story of how God has prepared me to become involved in Inter Faith dialogue.

As a teenager growing up in Dublin which was 99% Catholic, I became aware of one Church of Ireland family living near us and the brief dialogue between us was "Lawrence, Why don't you become a Catholic?" To which he responded, "Why don't you become a Protestant?" End of story.

After a baby sister died due to the negligence of the local Catholic doctor my father chose a Jewish doctor, Dr. Joseph Miller, to become our family doctor. For more than 50 years he cared for us. When I visited my grandparents I became aware of the Jewish synagogue but never entered it. I stood outside the Church of Ireland, St. Patrick's Cathedral, near my secondary school when I was waiting for the bus but never entered it. When I became a sister of Marie Auxiliatrice in London I loved the words of our Foundress Blessed Marie Therese, "Lord you desire that our two lives become one, rather that mine should be lost in yours", to this day these are my favourite words together of course with the words of Jesus "Father, may they be one in us". When I was in France, I read the life of Fr. Paul Coutourier who introduced the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and there was a deep desire in my heart for unity.

In the early 60's, I went as a missionary to Japan after a year of Missiology in Paris with religions from all over the world. We were given a brief introduction to other religions we would encounter. On Christmas Day I was aware I wasn't in a Christian country. I was involved with the early formation of our Japanese novices and later by teaching English in our School of 1,000 students all of whom were Buddhists/Shintoists, I loved the reverence and discipline of the Japanese people but I was not involved in any interfaith dialogue as I don't think it existed then. All our Japanese sisters were converts from these 'faiths' but to this day I have never heard the stories of their conversion to Christianity. I only know they all had a Buddhist shrine in their homes and visited the temples on special occasions. I very rarely visited their temples and knew next to nothing about their 'religions'. Today I find this very sad but I can see how God was preparing me to open my heart to people of different faiths.

In the 80's, when I went to live in Bootle, Liverpool, I became involved in the local ecumenical group. At the same time I met the Focolare movement for the first time in the person of Anna from former Yugoslavia. I saw that she and those who lived the Spirit of Unity really lived Christianity by putting the Gospel into action. "Unity" and "love your neighbour as yourself, being the first to love. To this day I feel very much part of this movement by trying to live the Word of Life and keeping in touch with Dime and a small group of sisters who come together to kindle the flame of love.

When I came to live in Tottenham in the early nineties, I continued to be involved with Christians Together in Tottenham. Then I received an invitation to attend the Annual Westminster Interfaith pilgrimage for Peace. What a joy to meet the wonderful dynamic person of Brother Daniel Faivre who founded this pilgrimage 21 years ago. To walk as pilgrims for peace with people of other faiths and to visit their places of worship was a great joy. This date is kept annually in my diary as a sacred occasion, to have a heart open to the other. I was teaching English to the Kurdish people and gradually became aware of the Muslim time of Ramadan and the festival of Eid.

When the opportunity arose to apply for a place in the experimental course of "Faiths Together" in Heythrop it was 'the icing on the cake' or 'the jewel in the crown'. Fr. Michael Barnes S.J together with Tony McCaffrey as tutor,gave birth to this course in January 2007 to June 2008. We were 24 to begin this journey together learning from one another, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Anglicans, Quakers and Catholics. We have been encouraged to learn about different faith traditions. We visited De Nobili House in Southall which is the home of the Southall Jesuit community and we were made very welcome in the many places of worship in this "Holy City". This is where dear Brother Daniel lived and worked to build friendship With people Of Other faiths. I feel the Spirit of the Lord has led me to this sacred space to have my heart open to the 'faith and prayer life of the other', to love and respect each person as a fellow human being on life's journey or pilgrimage. Chiara Lubich in one of her recent Word of Life commentaries invited us to have a deep love and respect for all those of other faiths and none. Dialogue is the challenge facing all of us today.

Recently I attended our Clergy Police meeting and I was delighted to see the Draft for Consultation document of the Metropolitan Police Service Equalities Scheme 2006-2010. Phase Six: Faith and Religious Belief. This fills me with hope for the future. Tottenham is where the Haringey Peace Alliance began a few years ago. This led to a Peace March attended by our Muslim friends from the Wightman Road Mosque, which takes place annually in September. This has now spread to other boroughs in Westminster and further afield. We also kept a Service of Remembrance for the Jewish Holocaust and we have a Garden of Remembrance for the Jewish Holocaust and we have a Garden of Remembrance in Bruce Castle Park for all those who have experienced ethnic cleansing throughout the world. I never miss this gathering which is held at the end of January. We have also had interfaith meetings which we need to restart again. I have wonderful Muslim friends and was delighted when a mother and daughter attended my golden jubilee celebration at St. Ignatius. The Somali families celebrated the festival of Eid with all their children and invited me to attend. I hope to be able to start a group of women to be able to meet together to build friendship. This is where I feel real local interfaith work can begin so that we can overcome fear and prejudice and begin to work together in this community of Broadwater Farm. I am hoping to be able to set up this group with the help of my dear friend Rosie Clegg who was responsible for the faith education in her school and organised visits for the children to mosques, gurdwaras and churches.

In a world bedevilled by conflict and suspicion, our pilgrimage, drawing together people of different faiths, ethnic origins, nationalities and walks of life is a living testimony that trust, goodwill and friendship are possible and do exist. The visits show our interest and willingness to communicate at a level deeper than the superficialities of life. Our sharing of food is a sign of communion in spirit. As we go on our way let us continue to pray for peace in our times, for better understanding between peoples and a blessing on us all

Sister Eileen McGrath

Return to top         Go to Current Newletter

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict      Valid CSS!