After the visit of Francis Pope and his historical meeting with Buddhist guests in Loppiano, we interview Donald W. Mitchell, professor emeritus of Asian and Comparative Philosophy at the the Purdue University and permanent visiting professor at the Sophia University Institute, founder of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies.
1) At what point is the dialogue between Buddhists and Christians: what were the most important steps recently?
The dialogue between the Catholic Church and Buddhists reached a new high last year when the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue hosted an all Asia dialogue with both Catholics and Buddhists from Asia from Mongolia to Cambodia. In the past the dialogues were small groups from select parts of Asia. Those at the dialogue were formed to return to their countries to collaboate in addressing issues of importance in their cities. This is a move beyond talking to doing.
2) What significance can we give to the meeting of Pope Francis in Loppiano with Buddhist exponents?
Buddhist leaders from many countries have visited Loppiano and Sophia University over the past years. They come from East Asia, Southeast Asia as well a from other regions. Buddhist delegations have come to Loppiano for 20 years. The Pope speaking at Loppiano and about Sophia convinced the delegation from Thailand that now is the time to take a big step forward. Sophia will send a delegation to Thailand to meet with Buddhist leaders and also laypersons and youth about Buddhist students attending Sophia University Institute. And in exchange, Sophia students can take courses at Buddhist institutions in Thailand. This is a first for the academic dialogue after 20 years of building a deep report.
3) What can the citadel of Loppiano give and what can the University of Sophia give to this path?
Loppiano will continue to provide a spiritual life of unity in diversity as they have in the past. The Thai Buddhists said that they want their Buddhist students who attend Sophia to experience the spirituality of unity of the Focolare. They feel it will strengthen their ethical life as well as their spiritual life. Loppiano has done this for decades, but now with Sophia the students who come here can benefit from what has been built for a dialogue of life and spirituality at Loppiano.
4) On what topics is a strong alliance between Buddhists and Christians possible?
In 2015, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican supported a dialogue at the Mariapolis Center in Castel Gondolfo that included Buddhists and Catholics from the United States. All who attended were committed to addressing social ills in their cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and New York City. They discussed how they could collaborate in their cities. Now some of the cities are doing local social action projects together. But in three of the cities we now have multi-million dollar green affordable housing projects for the homeless, poor elderly, and immigrants. In Brooklyn, there will be housing for elderly now on the streets or in basements with health and social services provided by both Catholics and Buddhists. In Chicago, there will be housing for homeless families facing gang violence. In Los Angeles, the homeless in the famous area called Skid Row with 6,000 homless in just a few blocks will have housing for women and children as well as a section for homeless men. The All Asia dialogue last year hopes to see similar collaborations in the future.