Ever since his election, Pope Francis has been promoting synodality as the path “which God expects of the Church of the third millennium”. The word synodality comes from the Greek preposition συν (syn = with) and the noun όδός (odos = path). It means following a path together, walking together.
A synodal church is laity, priests and bishops journeying together, listening to and learning from each other in mutuality and equality, based on a common baptism. However, if the church is truly synodal, its members also journey together with believers from other religions – with Buddhists, Baha’is, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs – and other worldviews, listening to and learning from them, showing the exact same respect they show their fellow Christians, for they are equally God’s beloved created, “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:26).
The Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations put interfaith synodality into practice by inviting a Jewish Rabbi and a Muslim woman scholar to share their hopes and expectations of Catholics. Interfaith solidarity can be ordinary actions like cleaning a cemetery, teaching and promoting interreligious dialogue, or the dramatic martyrdom of laying down one’s life for others.
Interfaith synodality is Christian and Muslim women working together on issues such as health, illiteracy, unemployment, domestic and communal violence, sharing hospitality, and providing shelter. It is fostering universal fraternity, where all are sisters and brothers. It is also women finding new ways to influence male-led religions. Christian-Muslim relations are especially important with Christianity and Islam as the world’s two largest religions, and Muslims set to outnumber Christians before the end of the century.
“There is no alternative: we either build the future together or there will not be a future,” Pope Francis said in Abu Dhabi on 4th February 2019. Some 84% of the world’s population identify with a religion. 33% of the world’s population are Christian. Interreligious dialogue is how the Christian 33% engage with the other 51% of religious believers, just over half of the world’s population. It’s as simple – and as complicated – as that!
There are many reasons for dialogue. There is the very practical one, that we all share this one planet and we need to get along. There are also common beliefs which unite us across some religions. For example, the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all believe in the one God who is Creator, who speaks to us in scripture, and who is a merciful judge – but we each understand those divine blessings differently!
Ultimately, each religion must find in its own traditions reasons for dialogue that are convincing to its followers. As a Christian, for me, the most compelling reason for dialogue is the Holy Trinity. God is a community of infinite, eternal love between the Father and the Son which is the Spirit. God is dialogue! This love between the three Persons overflows in creation and redemption. We are made “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen 1:26), that is, in the image and likeness of relations, of dialogue. We are made for dialogue with God, with each other, with all our sisters and brothers.
I cannot truly be a Christian if I do not reach out in love and service towards my sisters and brothers of other religions whom God also loved, created and redeemed through his Son. Interreligious dialogue is believers from different religions relating to each other. In recent decades, with waves of migrants seeking a better life, the relative ease of international travel, and refugees fleeing famine and conflict, believers from different religions are now living, working and playing side-by-side in cities and towns across Britain and Ireland. This mixing of people from different religions is unprecedented.
In this new situation of religious diversity, or perhaps more accurately, of religious proximity, interreligious dialogue is simply following the Gospel command of “love your neighbour” (Mk 12:31). How we relate to believers from other religions, whether across the fence in our physical neighbourhood or online in our virtual neighbourhood, is interreligious dialogue. Whatever our faith, let us all be ‘synodal’. Let us journey with our neighbours and together serve those in need in our society, growing a just, fraternal, harmonious and resilient society.