The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue
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- 1981 - The Rt Rev Gerald Mahon, Bishop in West London, asked Brother Daniel Faivre SG (Brother of St Gabriel), a Frenchman residing in Southall, to start working full-time in the interfaith field. Bishop Mahon was a Mill Hill missionary priest who had taken part in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and participated in the production of its documents. One of these, Nostra Aetate, marked the first time that the Roman Catholic Church had officially promoted interreligious dialogue. Brother Daniel himself had worked in Thailand for fifteen years and had been headteacher of a Catholic school where ninety percent of the students were Buddhists.
Southall in West London, with its rich cultural and religious mix, was an excellent location in which to gain experience in the ways and methods of interfaith dialogue. There had been some initiatives by other churches had but it was Brother Daniel who systematically built up the work, establishing and strengthening relations between people of different faiths, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
It was important to Brother Daniel to ensure that the teaching of Vatican II was made known and that the supreme importance of the dignity of the human person, irrespective of creed and culture or social condition, should be clearly affirmed. An interfaith group was established, where people of different faiths could meet on a monthly basis, exchange information, visit each other's places of worship and exchange good wishes on religious festivals. Their occasional leaflets about interfaith events were the predecessors of the Westminster Interfaith Newsletter. (Now circulated five times a year in printed and email versions to subscribers locally, nation-wide and overseas.)
The work has developed and flourished. Important areas have been the interaction with clergy in the deaneries and the visits to schools, both State and Church. As community awareness grew, other activities were started, the most significant of which were the get-togethers, prayer vigils and, most successful of all, the annual multifaith pilgrimages, a landmark in the interfaith scene in the UK since 1986. It is worth noting that among the supporters of the programme from the start have been women, especially Sr Elizabeth West and other women religious.
- 1991 - Fr Michael Barnes SJ who had been active with the movement for some years, became the Director of Westminster Interfaith. An academic, Fr Michael specialises in interreligious dialogue with a particular interest in the religions of the Indian sub-continent and has strengthened the theological underpinning of a movement that was breaking new theological ground. Fr Michael ran Westminster Interfaith for four years before moving to doctorate studies in Cambridge at which point Brother Daniel returned as Director for two years.
- 1998 - Alfred Agius, already associated with the work of Westminster Interfaith for some years, was appointed by the late Cardinal Hume to succeed Brother Daniel as Director. Alfred's background, living in India for twenty-five years and obtaining degrees in oriental languages, enables him to deal comfortably with people of different cultures and faiths.
- 2008 - Alfred continues to act as co-ordinator for the West London area of the diocese, but in June 2008 retired from being Director and has been succeeded by Jon Dal Din, a married permanent Deacon with experience in Further Education and in chaplaincy work with immigrant communities.
Westminster Interfaith functions as a team, with co-ordinators for various areas of the work in the archdiocese of Westminster. It has an Interfaith Office which serves as a point for outreach in the archdiocese and as a literature distribution and information centre.
Fr Michael Barnes currently teaches at Heythrop College where he heads the Centre for Christianity and Interreligious Dialogue. He, like Alfred, maintains close contact with Westminster Interfaith.