Dicastery’s Secretary renews interreligious friendships in Thailand and Cambodia
by DID Staff
2 June 2023
Msgr. Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K., Secretary of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, travelled to Thailand and Cambodia, May 19-29, 2023, to renew the Dicastery’s relationships with Buddhist and Muslim partners in interreligious dialogue efforts, and to plan for future events to strengthen collaboration in Southeast Asia.
Seventh Buddhist-Christian Colloquium
The fast-approaching Seventh Buddhist-Christian Colloquium will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, in November, and Msgr. Indunil’s visit was a timely opportunity to participate in its planning, together with the Scientific Committee that has been formed for the purpose. On May 21, the Committee met at the Apostolic Nunciature in order to discuss the program and the logistics of the major event. The Committee includes representatives from both Maha Chulalongkorn Raja Vidhyalaya University and Maha Makut Buddhist University, both of which Msgr. Indunil had visited on May 20, and a representative from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand.
The Buddhist-Christian Colloquia sponsored by the Dicastery began in 1995 with the aim of strengthening friendship between Buddhists and Christians to contribute to the building up of peaceful, plural societies. Previously held in Taiwan, India, Japan, and Italy, the 7th Colloquium will be the first one in Thailand and the first in Southeast Asia.
The Colloquia focus on strengthening understanding of certain core themes in both religions, such as “Word and Silence in Buddhist and Christian Tradition” (1998) and “Buddhists and Christians walking together on the path of nonviolence” (2017).
Key to the success of the 7th Colloquium will be the cooperation of two Buddhist universities, Maha Chulalongkorn Raja Vidhyalaya University and Maha Makut Buddhist University, from the Theravada and Mahayana traditions, respectively.
The Colloquium will be held at Maha Chulalongkorn Raja Vidhyalaya University.
The universities have Buddhist studies programs, frequented by Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople, which emphasize dialogue and openness to those belonging to different religions and cultures. Students come from Vietnam and Myanmar and study alongside Thai students.
During the Secretary’s visits to the universities, the Dicastery’s Vesak message for 2023, entitled “Buddhists and Christians: Healing Wounded Humanity and the Earth through Karuna and Agape,” was read and discussed. The Feast of Vesak is a major celebration for Buddhists and an occasion for interreligious exchange and festal greetings.
Connection with Muslim Representative
In addition to strengthening ties with Buddhists, while in Bangkok Msgr. Indunil also visited Professor Prasarn Srichareon, Counseloor of the Chief of Muslims in Thailand. He delivered the Dicastery’s message for Ramadan for this year. The importance of religious liberty and interreligious collaboration were discussed during their meeting.
The Secretary’s visit in Cambodia provided many opportunities for connecting with local Catholic Church leaders and people, as well as leaders and members of the Buddhist, Muslim, and Baha’i communities.
Bishop Olivier Schmitthaeusler, M.E.P., Vicar Apostolic of Phnon-Penh, introduced Msgr. Indunil to the many apostolic, educational, and cultural works of the Church in Cambodia. He also attended the significant moment of meeting with the Patriarch, Venerable Tep Vong, the Supreme Patriarch of Mahanikaya Sangha in Cambodian Buddhism.
Time was spent at the Society of Jesus’ Reflection Center (Metta Karuna Center) for interreligious activities, education, and care of those disabled because of injuries during Cambodia’s civil war and genocide.
Msgr. Indunil also visited several Buddhist monasteries, the Xavier Jesuit School, and Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University, Anna Home, a center for orphans, and Lidy House, a center for poor students. All enjoyed a moment of gathering, prayer, and a tree planting ceremony with youth from Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, and Baha’i traditions, held at the Jesuit Reflection Center.
The visit in Cambodia was culminated by the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, conferred by Bishop Enrique Alvargonzalez, SJ, Prefect of Battambang, at Pentecost Mass.
Collaboration with Local Church
On the journey, Msgr. Indunil enjoyed the hospitality and the collaboration of the local Catholic Church, its leaders, staff, and lay faithful, especially His Excellency Bishop Chusak Sirisut, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Thailand, and the Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Peter Wells. Bishop Siritsut is a Member of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue and a significant dialogue partner of Buddhists in Thailand. He was also warmly welcomed in Cambodia by Bishop Schmitthaeusler and many religious and lay collaborators.