CHALLENGES OF SPIRITUAL SUPPORT IN MULTIFAITH SURROUNDINGS – A PATH TO PEACE
Being a Christian priest anywhere in the world is not an easy task, and it is especially challenging in a non-Christian country. Prolonged stay in Thailand, a devoted Buddhist country, is at the same time a rewarding experience and a challenging pastoral task. Veneration of Buddhist monks in Thailand is huge, sometimes incomprehensible for a cleric from the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam). At the same time, in Theravada classical Buddhism, monks are expected to pray and give general advice, but not to be engaged in worldly matters. This is also different from preaching and acting synergy in Christianity. And here I am, an Orthodox Old-Catholic priest in faraway Thailand, together with 22 fellows from 18 countries, out of which many Christians. What should a priest do in such circumstances?
History teaches us that Christianity was from the beginning free to incarnate different cultures, accepting truly human values of others. Today we also have to incorporate Christian values in pluralist societies, loyal to its aims but at the dame time free to accept the values of others. There is a clear danger to simply denounce others by their nationality or nominal religion. At the point when a priest becomes “a lantern on a table”, he is open to every human being regardless of his or her nationality or race, social positions, philosophical or political orientation. It is difficult to expect a long-term success through traditional acceptance of faith through the socialisation model because there is no ideal status of Christianity anywhere in the world, and pastoral care is often directed primarily to adults.
My pastoral care and religious duties are also under many challenges. This work is almost paralysed as a basic liturgical space is not present, I am isolated from the Church’s hierarchy, there is no regularity in the liturgy. However, even the smallest nucleus of pastoral care become in time core of a new Church life and new space of freedom and peace. It is very nice to have support in Finnish and Macedonian Orthodox believers among the fellows, together with conservative Anglicans and Catholics from African countries. I feel deeply that every fellow has a sense for religious matters, as peace cannot be understood in its entirety without inner peace and spiritual balance. To accept these values and to consider all religions and religious/spiritual identities as peace-loving and deeply personal matters is a moral and civilisational imperative of contemporary world. For me, it also includes a pastoral preparedness and strength to answer all these challenges.
Thankfully, class 28 began in January, time when Christians from all around the world unite in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year’s topic was particularly helpful for us to get together, to pray and contemplate in many ways about eight main topics which can be so easily tied to peace. To understand the role of inner peace is often difficult without some sort of religious belief or spiritual understanding and the topics have been very instrumental for me and helpful to fellows.
The eight topics are Reconciliation (throwing the cargo overboard, any cargo which keeps holding us back in our pursuit of right doing); Enlightenment (seeking and showing forth God’s light, as this light is a sense of mercy and clear understanding of everything we do); Hope (incorporated here primarily as Paul’s message to his fellow travellers, but which was greatly visible at one of our facilitators’ class, when we were listening to beautiful verses of the Greek poet Cavafy, recited by Sean Connery); Trust (Do not be afraid, believe; with fear we can do little, and with faith we can reach the farthest points in cosmos); Strength (as visible in breaking bread for the journey to the unknown); Hospitality (show unusual kindness; so important in today’s world full of refugees, migrants and people who need real hospitality, where the guest or passer-by is always welcomed with respect and whom help should be given, no matter the circumstances); Conversion (not converting one’s religion, nationhood, or any particular identity, but changing our hearts and minds); Generosity (receiving and giving, without asking for it).
These eight topics made us aware of our work, but also made us closer as fellows. As such, this experience will not only contribute to my knowledge of peacemaking, it will also make me, God willing, unusually kind.
Vedran Obućina – Croatia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28