Where there is the possibility of bringing together the followers of the world’s great religions, monotheistic or not, to dialogue in peace about peace, perhaps it is possible to pray together for peace. Our model in this should not be Elijah and the prophets of Baal (cf. 1 Kgs 18) but Jesus himself, who accepted the other as brother or sister, sought common ground and encouraged their faith and upright living.
We offer you some hints for this type of meeting:
These suggestions for preparing a multifaith (interreligious) gathering are from the statement “Promoting Interfaith Relations: Guidelines for the parishes and agencies of the Archdiocese of Melbourne [Australia] to assist in the promotion of interfaith relations in general and especially in the preparation of interfaith gatherings”. (Link: http://www.cam.org.au/eic/public-statements-of-the-commission/promoting-interfaith-guidelines-second-edition.html). They are used here with permission. If reproduced, please acknowledge the source.
While civic leaders may initiate a multifaith event, the appropriate religious leaders are responsible for its structure and content. Given this basic premise, the religious leaders will maintain due regard for the intentions of the initiators and their legitimate role.
A balance needs to be maintained. Although one denomination or religious tradition should not dominate, neither may there be time in the celebration for every tradition to have a public role. The selection must be done in a spirit of wisdom and service lest the event be in fact counterproductive.
These events may involve Christians from a number of denominations: indeed multifaith gatherings are preferably undertaken on an ecumenical basis.
Any place can be used since a venue is made holy by the spiritual character of those who use it. It may sometimes be more acceptable to use a neutral location such as a hall. It may also be possible, depending on the wishes of the leaders organising the event, to use a mosque or synagogue or church or temple. It should be noted that images, whether paintings or statues, may be offensive to some participants.
There are very many religious festivals. In planning the gathering it is important to find a time-slot that is suitable. (It is best to agree on a date and time with the potential invitees before issuing the invitation.).
Terms such as ‘prayer’, ‘worship’, ‘God’, ‘faith’, ‘minister’ etc. do not necessarily apply in all traditions. Preference should be given to more inclusive terms. At the same time, distinctions should not be blurred.
A symbolic act or ritual can be more expressive than many words. Flame and water, flowers and bread, have a universal significance so that participants can attach their own meaning to the act and not feel constrained by any one interpretation.
The Jewish tradition requires food to be kosher; the Muslim tradition requires it to be halal. Hindus may insist on vegetarian food. Some Buddhists, in addition to dietary needs, may also have requests concerning timing of a meal. Participants vary greatly in attitude to the dietary requirements of their religion. It is best to seek advice.
There can be many formats. However, the following listing reflects the pattern of the ‘Ceremony for Peace and Collaboration among Religions’ held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne, on 11 June 2000, during the Great Jubilee.
1. The participants are greeted and welcomed; and the reason for the gathering is given.
2. There may be value in indicating at some point that the statements of faith made by some do not involve the assent of all, Participants can agree to disagree while at the same time coming together in harmony and mutual respect.
3. The various religious traditions make their distinctive contribution, which may be in the form of readings from the sacred texts, poems, teachings etc.
4. Music or song from the various traditions.
5. Periods of silence may be interspersed between the various contributions, during which participants transcend expressions and arrive at their source.
6. One or other leader may give some reflections appropriate to the occasion.
7. The term ‘prayer’ does not suit every tradition. Intentions or hopes, however, may be stated and agreed upon by means of some appropriate acclamation.
8. An element of ritual, carefully chosen to reflect the purpose of the event, may be incorporated.
9. A commissioning or blessing may be appropriate, sending the participants forth to live out the values of the interfaith experience.