Many of the wishes and prayers for our world at the beginning of a new year contain the hope for “peace.” We wish that we can somehow get beyond the conflicts and divisions, and start fresh again.
The prophet Isaiah described a vision whereby “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid…. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox” (Is 11:6-7). This vision is referred to as the “Peaceable Kingdom,” where animals go against their instincts of friend and foe to live in peace and harmony.
Such a vision is not only for the animal world part of God’s creation, but for all of creation, including humanity. The entire universe was intended to reflect the image of the Creator, that of love and justice for all. And not by everything being the same—animals are not all cows—but a unity of diversity. In terms of human beings, the “other” is to be acknowledged and respected in his/her “otherness,” while also acknowledging and respecting all as children of God.
However, as social beings, people are conditioned and socialized to see humanity as “us” and “them.” We consider our own ways of being and acting as better than that of the others, and we “naturally” prefer to be with our own “kind”—according to culture, race, nationality, or religion. And yet God calls us to live with others as God intended, as sisters and brothers. We are to go against our “naturally learned instincts.”
In December, I was invited to Rome as a member of an international commission of my religious missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) to prepare for a worldwide event (General Chapter) in 2012 around the theme of “From Every Nation, People and Language: Sharing Intercultural Life and Mission.” By the way, the term “intercultural” implies two-way respect and enrichment. The ten of us on the commission represented Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Americas as places of birth, and only one of us had not worked outside of his own region of the world. The reports we initially read and studied came from our members working in about seventy countries. They addressed two dimensions of the theme. First of all, what are the potential and the challenge for true intercultural sharing ad extra (“outside”) in the context where we work as missionaries? Secondly, what are the potential and challenge for true intercultural sharing ad intra (“inside”) within our own multicultural missionary communities? How can we talk about intercultural sharing “out there” if we are not walking the talk “in here”? The image that surfaced in the deliberations of the commission was that of building bridges between cultures, races, religions, and rich/poor, young/old, men/women, etc. However, the process of building bridges with two-way traffic for mutual enrichment requires a sincere and deep transformation of minds, hearts and spirits—from exclusion to inclusion, from ethnocentrism to ethno-sensitivity, from prejudice and superiority to a willingness to try to understand and learn from the world of the other, from their perspective. Those last three words indicate that this is a life-long process that will never be fully achieved.
While in Rome, I met Pat Murray, a CTU graduate, who is coordinating an effort of peace and solidarity by twenty-five religious congregations among the people of southern Sudan who are scheduled to conduct a referendum for independence in January of 2011. Many fear that the results of the vote will lead to renewed violence and destitution in Sudan. Pat explained how her work involves bridge-building both with the Sudanese (ad extra) and among the men and women of the religious communities (ad intra). Let us hold Pat and the people of Sudan in our thoughts and prayers this month.
Of course, we don’t need passports to be instruments of building Isaiah’s “Peaceable Kingdom.” All of us can do this in our neighborhoods and cities, our places of work and worship, and even or especially in our homes. It does require a transformation from our “naturally learned instincts” and prejudices to a spirit of trying to be and act according to how God created and sees humanity and all creation.
May we begin 2011 with both a prayer for peace and a commitment to building bridges, one step at a time.
By Roger Schroeder, S.V.D, Professor of Intercultural Studies and Ministry© Copyright 2011 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved.