Week 1: Communicating with God in nature
Religion must help us to recapture much of the respect and reverence which earlier generations had for the natural world. There is, however, no way we can simply return to some idealised rustic past and forget the knowledge of the world which modern science has communicated to us. In fact these insights into the physical, biological and spiritual emergencies of our Earth can help us to go beyond the respect our ancestors had for the world. We see in the beauty and diversity of the myriad of life-forms a wonderful closely-related community which is fruitful if cared for but proves fragile when abused. It is a world that evokes awe, reverence, gratitude and prudent use, traditionally called husbandry.
The natural world is important for every religious tradition. In its beauty and abundance it is the primary revelation of God to all men and women. Like tribal people around the world, we must once again commune with God in nature.
Sean McDonagh in ‘To care for the Earth’ (Philippines, Ireland)
Reflect: What aspects of our religion could help us to recapture a respect for the natural world?
Week 2: Alienation
Xenophobia, a common problem throughout Europe at present, frequently leaves immigrants with few options. There is a hesitancy to assert one’s presence and participation if the covert, and sometimes overt, message being received is one of being unwanted and being a burden or a risk to local security, culture and identity. There is lately a tendency in the European Union for member states to define themselves by those with whom they differ rather than by their own unique worth, value and belief systems.
The language being heard by immigrants in the heat of such encounters sends a message that they are seen as a problem, under suspicion and unwanted when at the same time immigrants know that the economy would not function without them. This unwelcoming atmosphere coerces immigrants to retreat into ethnicity leading to pools of disaffection that expresses itself in extremism of both left and right fundamentalism seeking identity elsewhere and posing a threat to general security.
Bobby Gilmore (Philippines, Jamaica, Ireland)
Reflect: Why is xenophobia – a dislike of foreigners – abhorrent to followers of Jesus?
Week 3: Inter-religious dialogue
Many prominent religious people are enthusiastic proponents of inter-religious dialogue. The Dalai Lama, for example, justifies it in words which capture the attitude of many contemporary Christians. He says that of the many problems we face today, some are natural calamities and must be accepted and faced with equanimity. Others, he says, are of our own making, created by misunderstanding and can be corrected. These arise from the conflict of ideologies, political or religious, when people fight each other for petty ends, losing sight of the basic humanity that binds us all together as a single human family.
In other words, inter-religious dialogue helps to mobilise the good-will and optimism which are required if the world’s major problems are to be effectively tackled – problems of poverty, environmental destruction, drug abuse, AIDS, racism, sexism and the depersonalising impact of technology. In the midst of such serious problems it would be a great tragedy if religious leaders worried only about their own internal affairs.
Sean Dwan (Korea, Ireland)
Reflect: How true is it that the world’s great faiths have enough in common to enable them to work together to tackle the world’s major problems?
Week 4: Human Trafficking
Trafficking in people is becoming widespread, and now occupies third place after trafficking of drugs and arms. In fact, as the laws and punishment for drug dealers get tougher, many of them are now turning to the more lucrative and less law-controlled trade of slavery in women and children.
It’s crucial to look at this complex problem from many angles and the causes must also be addressed. Trafficking is not just a problem of migration but is a violation of human rights. It’s important to understand how gender-based discrimination and systems underpin the phenomenon. Without the racial stereotypes of the exotic – but passive – women from Third World countries, trafficking would not exist; nor would it without the male demand for prostitutes in the industrialised countries. Sexual advertising on the Internet implies that, for certain women, prostitution is a natural way of life. Even the mainstream tourist industry fosters and perpetuates these stereotypes.
Sr Mary Neylon (Philippines, Peru)