Seeking answers among experts from various disciplines, a panel discussion organized by Sophia University Institute, the Giorgio La Pira International Student Center in Florence and Good World Citizen was held in Florence on September 29th, 2022. The prompt for the panel came from the book: Religions in Dialogue and the Charism of Unity by sociologist Callebaut.
Does interreligious dialogue really exist? Where is it going? And, most importantly, is it realistically serving any purpose? These are ethereal questions, the subject for compact circles of specialists. But perhaps that is not true for it was precisely this subject that was addressed September 29th, 2022, in Florence, a city that pioneered dialogue and still one of the most advanced in Italy for the interfaith trialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews. Convening the meeting were the Sophia University Institute, , il the Giorgio La Pira International Student Center and the Good World Citizen an organization founded in Florence by Muslim intellectual Haifa Alsakkaf.
The idea behind the discussion arose from the book entitled Religions in Dialogue and the Charism of Unity (published by Città Nuova and Sophia University Institute), written by Bernhard Callebaut, , a full professor of Sociology at Sophia. The title of the panel discussion, “Beyond Interreligious Dialogue”, sounded like a challenge concerning the future and an assessment of the present. On this note, Sergio Givone, philosopher, , professor emeritus of the University of Florence, asked: “Are you sure that interreligious dialogue really exists? For me, it is still to come, to be built. All religions have a universal message, but in their history, conflict has prevailed over fraternity.” He added: “The experience of dialogue began in the 1960s, and stemmed from the desire to know the other and discover something that one does not have.” But that will not suffice. For Givone it is necessary today to: “not stop at religious identities but to search together.”.
Rita Moussalem spoke of “the contribution of the Focolare communities throughout the world that have created oases of peace and dialogue with the people around them, without any proselytizing, but with an attitude of listening and welcoming, which allows one to purify oneself, learn and be enriched. Dialogue implies a change of heart.” University professor and Focolare Movement interreligious dialogue co-director, she emphasized one condition: “If you do not have a deep spirituality, it is difficult to start dialogue with another.” ».From her experience as a Lebanese, she delivered a word of caution: “Dialogue in the European context is one thing, dialogue in the Middle East, where Christians are increasingly a minority and it is increasingly difficult, is another.” The way? “Create spaces of encounter between people of different faiths.”
“We are in times of absolute selfishness, where we want individual desires to become rights,” affirms Vannino Chiti, former president of the Tuscany Region and national parliamentarian for several terms, a leftist and scholar in the Catholic world. “If we do not develop a shared ethic, there will be no future. Today, either there is fraternity or we don’t come out of it.” From this conviction, he states: “…in this, religions can play a great role, but there is need for religions to be in dialogue.” In today’s dramatic context, “where challenges already seem lost,” Chiti sees the task assigned to religions to be that “of pointing out that the impossible is possible,” quoting Florentine poet Margerita Guidacci: “Do not obey those who tell you to give up the impossible. The impossible alone makes man’s life possible.”
Mohamed Bamoshmoosh, a Yemeni, Muslim, former student at the La Pira Center , and an exponent of interreligious dialogue in the Florentine world, has no doubts. . “Let’s not forget that for scholars, interreligious dialogue is a given. Now it is necessary to look to the future.” Thus Sergio Sereni, of the Scolopian Fathers, , pointed out that “dialogue is oriented toward saving our common home, seeking common goals on the basis of shared values, in the light of the universalism of love.” “On the defense of man and his rights, religions are called to speak clearly.”
Beyond interfaith dialogue, then? For sociologist Callebaut, ,”…dialogue does not serve itself; it is a means” which “does, however, produce an impact in societies and whose effects need to be studied more and more.” His belief is that “…another world is possible, because dialogue between different people is possible.” He pointed out, “This idea of humanity as one family is fragile, but it goes ahead.” From his point of view, he believes that “…alone, the Catholic Church will not be able to succeed on the big issues, from social injustice to the environment,” so “…we need to work more and more with others, even if we do not agree on everything.”