First U.S. Catholoic-Sikh National Consultation
By Paul McKenna
Representatives from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and representatives of the World Sikh Council (America Region) met in New York in May 2006 for an historic day-long consultation.
Representatives from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and the World Sikh Council (America Region) meet in New York for the first Catholic-Sikh national consultation in US history. The Vatican was represented by Monsignor Felix Machado (third from right, back row), Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Visitors to a Sikh temple must remove their shoes and wear a head covering as a sign of respect for God.
The meeting's objective was for the Catholic and Sikh communities in the United States to meet formally for the first time and explore issues of common interest.
Representing the Vatican was Monsignor Felix Machado, Under Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. In his opening comments, Monsignor Machado said, "the Catholic Church at the highest level appreciates this dialogue with the Sikh community. Sikhs respect us, not suspect us."
Dr. Manohar Singh, chairperson of the Sikh delegation, said in his opening remarks:
"The universal message of Sikhism respects pluralism and we welcome our Catholic friends with open arms. This dialogue is an opportunity for our communities to begin a conversation at the highest level on how we may be able to work with each other in trust and friendship to make this world a more peaceful and just place for all."
At the consultation, the Sikh and Catholic communities expressed shared concerns over the challenges faced by immigrant communities in the US, the curtailment of religious freedom and human rights in South Asia, and the challenges of secularism to both religious communities.
At the end of the meeting, Catholic and Sikh participants visited the Sikh temple the Mata Sahib Kaur Gurdwara Sahib in Glen Cove, New York, and participated in the evening worship service at the temple. The consultation ended with langar (the Sikh community meal) served by Sikh volunteers.
In October, the two delegations met for a three-day prayer retreat in which they shared prayer traditions from both religions. The retreat took place at a Catholic seminary and at a Sikh temple in New York. The two faith groups will continue to meet at least once a year.
This important interfaith initiative in the United States is indicative of a larger international development. In various parts of the world, we are now witnessing the beginnings of a Sikh-Christian and a Sikh-Catholic dialogue. Scarboro Missions, for example, has conducted visits to Sikh temples in Toronto. And Sikh ministers are regular participants in the world religion retreat days for high school students sponsored by Scarboro Missions.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II invited religious leaders from around the world to participate in a multifaith prayer service in Assisi, Italy. Some observers claim that this was the most important multifaith prayer service in history. The seeds for this gathering were sown by an important Sikh leader, Yogi Bhagan. In a number of meetings with John Paul, Bhajan had urged the Pope to convene the Assisi event.