Interfaith gig at WYD

As Pope Benedict prepares for his official arrival in Sydney tonight, WYD organisers will today host a major interfaith summit.

The summit will bring together 30 representatives, most in their 20's and 30's, of the Islamic, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist religions as well as other Christians from the Anglican, Evangelical, Pentacostal and Eastern Orthodox denominations, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

"There is no threat to Catholics from understanding other faiths and reaching out," said Aaron Tang, a 29 year old children's rights lawyer and member of the Catholic Church's Sydney Archdiocese Commission on Interfaith Relations, which has organised the meeting.

"I can understand the fear that some might have of diluting their faith but if you are part of a dialogue like this you tend to be committed and know a lot about your faith because you're called on to share it."

The summit, before an estimated crowd of 2,000 at the Bayside Convention Centre in Darling Harbour, will focus on issues common to all religions, including the challenge of secularism, the rising levels of inequality and the threat to the environment.

Mohamed Dukuly, 35, is a Sunni Muslim who escaped civil war in Liberia, found his way to Nigeria where he met his Australian born wife, and ended up in Sydney, studying public policy and working with a service for victims of torture.

He blames religious misunderstanding for the violence that destroyed his homeland.

"My interpretation is that the cause of the war was difference between Muslims who believed they were always right and Christians who also believed they were always right," he said.

He said his Mandingo tribe was targeted because of its economic power and because some of his fellow Muslims "thought we were better than other people because we had the Muslim faith."

When he got to Liberia, he even changed his name to Momoh to avoid continued violence. "We have to explain our faith, be flexible, adapt and live in peace with other people," he said.

Judith Levitan, a 32 year old Jewish lawyer and member of the Orchadash Modern Orthodox congregation in Bondi, said she shared with other people of faith "the experience of something divine that punctuates our lives." "The thing that binds us is the challenge of straddling two worlds," she explained. "Living in a secular, modern world but at the same time being religious. I think we all fear the possibility of being judged or disrespected when we engage with other faiths."

She said many educated Jewish and Muslim women also shared the challenge of reconciling their commitment to feminist goals with their religious traditions, such as worshipping separately from men and the modesty rules for dressing. "The two are not mutually exclusive," she said.


An olive branch to other faiths


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