Catherine Cornille: Interreligious Processes as Witnessing Imbued with Humility

Catherine Cornille‘s contribution to the Dublin Concilium encounter, “The Role of Witnessing in Interreligious Dialogue”, opened up some interesting perspectives on interreligious processes from a perspective that I would venture to call “Ignatian”. Her perspective emphasizes attitudes amidst intercultural and interreligious encounters, which she qualifies with words as humility, empathy, hospitality, embrace, etc. There is a kind of humility that removes the sharp and agressive features often associated with witnessing, that allows for a witnessing that does not aim at converting the other, but rather at calling forward a similar humble witnessing from the other, so that a more discerning interreligious and intercultural space is opened. This reflects awareness of the inevitability, in a world in which we cannot escape the challenge to co-(in)habit, of vulnerably witnessing to whom we are and of opening up to the witnessing of the other as a contribution to our own lives, individually but also together. In that sense, I would push C. Cornille’s expression “inter-witnessing” somewhat further into “trans-witnessing”: the process of fragile and vulnerable interactions of witnessing, testifies not only to each one of us as separate, but also to the new “body” that emerges from our interactions. In these conversations and encounters, new reality arises, new identity – if one likes to use that word – is being created.

I felt very stimulated by Catherine’s contribution, particularly at the end of the Concilium encounter. In a way she set another tone, focussing on the constructive and creative aspects of the quality of encounter and, thereby, avoids cold categories such as the distinction “exclusivism – inclusivism – pluralism”. Moreover, I find in what she says some distinctive “ignatian” perspectives that allow for viewing interreligious encounters as processes of genuine common apostolic discernment (apostolic, while reflecting the inevitability of our lives together and the necessity to clarify and share our goals with regard to this life together). This was so stimulating, that I would like to add a couple of ideas and suggestions that seem crucial to me for a sound approach of interreligious dialogue.

(1) The praxes of common apostolic discernment (CAD), that are key to understand the foundation of the Society of Jesus, reflect criteria for the quality or our interactions if these want to become fruitful and allow for the emergence of new, future oriented and creative “bodies”. What strikes me in CAD processes is, on the one side, the time and energy invested to come to know one another from the inside (how does God speak in each one of us at the benefit of each of us and of us all – this enacts the narrative moments that are crucial to emphatic and humble inter-witnessing), and, on the other side, the wealth of levels of reflection that are articulated within the encounter (asking for and reflecting about consolations and desolations, about attitudes that foster or diminish our capacity to “humbly” interact with one another – humility is also in the ignatian perspective a crucial perspective). CAD processes are risky, because they reflect our vulnerabilities in our interactions and also because their outcome cannot be defined before the process begins (a phrase that John d’Arcy May used in his final conclusions applies perfectly here: “dialogue is like a raft that needs to be constructed while it keeps you afloat”).

(2) CAD reflects a process that is analysed mainly in studies on spirituality, but it provides the basis for collaborative theologies (another expression used by John d’Arcy May) and it finds support in more “secular” models, such as relational constructionism (as developed, for example, by Kenneth J. Gergen and René Bouwen). Here the creation of the community that addresses the issues at hand is paid at least as much attention to as the “solution” of the issues: optimal heterogeneity and attention to forgotten or discarded voices are emphasized in the awareness that real knowledge arises “not primarily between ears, but foremostly between noses” (an expression of R. Bouwen).

(3) During six years, I had the joy to work together with Luc Reychler, a specialist in conflict transformation processes, on a now defunct trans-disciplinary advanced master in conflict and sustainable peace at the K.U.Leuven. I learned to appreciate that conflict and sustainable peace studies may well provide a helpful frame to discuss and advance interreligious and intercultural processes, and this beyond the usual discussions of the role played by religions in concrete conflicts and peace processes. This lends support to the argument voiced in Dublin today, that interreligious and intercultural processes are crucial for sustainable and dignified life together and for the very survival of our planet, threatened by global conflicts of injustice and environmental changes. Of course, one could also rightly argue that praxes developed in the context of interreligious processes (such as, for example, the eschatological dimensions as expressed in the vision of the Kingdom of God) may provide creative and suggestive tools and approaches to conflict transformation and peace building studies.

(4) Elias Lopez’ (SJ) stimulating doctoral thesis on Excessive Love amidst the Unforgivable: Political-Mystics & Mestizo-Forgiveness in Conflict & Peace, suggests to me to also use, in the context of interreligious processes, the ideas of Virgilio Elizondo on Mestizo-Theology, as well as Daniel G. Groody‘s approach to migration through the theological reflection on the experiences of migrants. These theologies pay attention to the lived experiences of people while also focussing on the future of dignified life for people. When talking to Will Storrar about the need for theologies built up out of and from and with the experiences of children (oriented towards the future world that will be theirs) and about the work of Pamela Couture, he pointed me to a book Honouring Children, published by K. Marshall and P. Parvis at the University of Edingburgh Centre for Theology and Public Issues. From my interest in environmental theology, I am deeply convinced that we have to move even beyond the absolutely necessary eco-feminist theologies, to a new type of theology that can take account of another set of forgotten voices that hold the cry for a sustainable and dignified future, a theology from the perspective of children (another theology that is necessary here, but some developments are available there, is a theology that takes account of the voice of the earth, of the planet, of the solar system, of the milky way, etc, and of the universe itself). What do interreligious and intercultural processes look like when viewed from the perspective of children who are full of hope towards the future?

(5) I was particularly happy when C. Cornille said that her approach allowed to have a constructive look at the sometimes rejected theologies of Karl Barth and Karl Rahner. The latter’s idea of “anonymous Christians” has challenged me into a concept that I find appealing: “reciprocal or mutual anonymity“. I think that we have to understand the idea of anonymity in Rahner from a really theo-logical viewpoint: the anonymity does not primarily indicate that some non-Christians fulfill certain Christian dogmatic or moral requirements, but rather that God invites us to respect this others in the same way as we respect (or at least are expected to respect) our fellow Christian sisters and brothers. Christians dare to expect that the others, with whom they engage in interreligious processes, will also treat them as anonymous Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, etc., i.e. that they will be treated by the other with the same respect as the other treats his or her “same”, and this because of the deepest and most intimate religious convictions of the other. Of course, we can never really demand that the other treat us as anonymous, but this is not a reason not to treat the other as an anonymous Christian. In the concept of anonymity as explained here, there is no desire to convert the other, but rather to show to the other the respect due to someone through whom God speaks to us. My favourite biblical story to illustrate this is the trinitarian intimacy that surfaces in the encounter of Jesus with the Syro-Phoenician woman. I find this reflected in the spiritual diaries of a Belgian Jesuit Worker-Priest, Egied van Broeckhoven, who, in his experiences, co-articulates incarnation and trinity into what I would call a movement of “trincarnation“.

(6) Interreligious and intercultural processes are inevitably connected to issues of identity. It is not possible, unfortunately, to develop this theme in a few lines, although it was and will continue to be over the next days, a major discussion element amongst young theologians in Dublin. Identities, so it seems to me, have to be seen as dynamic, articulating both a core (that is difficult to define with precision) and a movement. Moreover, identities are always “interconnected”: identity is a social feature of human life, that arises deeply out of the foundational interconnectedness of the whole of creation (lotsverbondenheid). Although, therefore, identity is a principle of differentiation, it, as such, reflects fundamental co-belonging and interdependency. In that sense, identity is closely related to the body (another topic that proved to be very important in the Dublin interchanges of ideas): apart from allowing insight in bodies, identities, in their interrelations, trans-move into new bodies that introduce new actors, and, therefore, new identities on the scene. Another important feature of identities seems to be, at least to me, that they can be constructive or destructive and that criteria of discernment can be developed at this stage, as has been done, for example, by Amin Malouf in his Identités meurtrières (Murderous Identities) and by Amartya Sen in his Identity and Violence.

Of course, other perspectives could be added to these summary ideas. By presenting them, I just wanted to offer a tribute to Catherine Cornille. I will never forget a conversation we had in Leuven, when she opened my eyes wide for the fact that in the face of the religious other there is not only a cry for respect but, most of all, a joyful invitation of God to deepen my and our relationship to reality and to God. I felt that deep optimism and joy in her contribution today, and I am very grateful for this wonderful oportunity.

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One response to “Catherine Cornille: Interreligious Processes as Witnessing Imbued with Humility

  1. Pingback: From World Mission to Interreligious Witness: Why Dialogue? « Gladys Ganiel

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