“Unity, dialogue, communion” – these three words describe the heart of the mission of the Focolare, and these three words sum up the commitment of Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, a faculty member at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. Therefore, his nomination for the 2016 Luminosa Award, was a perfect match, as several speakers mentioned at the award ceremony held Sunday, September 18, in the Focolare’s little city of Mariapolis Luminosa in Hyde Park, New York.
“Your decade-long tireless effort in building bridges on various levels between members and leaders of different religions deserves our admiration and deepest appreciation,” wrote Focolare President Maria Voce, congratulating Butalia. She continued, “We feel solidarity and fraternal ties with you and the Sikh community in promoting, together with others, peace and care for our common home.”
Butalia is one of the pioneers in Catholic-Sikh relationships in the U.S. He was invited by Pope Benedict XVI to the October 2011 prayer ceremony, commemorating the 25. Anniversary of the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy, on October 27, 1986. He is a trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, Parliament of the World’s Religions, North American Interfaith Network, and a special advisor to Religions for Peace – USA.
The Luminosa Award is not just one of many projects of the Focolare, but an expression of the essence of what Focolare is about: “a love capable of becoming dialogue and relationship,” said Antonio Vallejo, co-director of Mariapolis Luminosa, quoting the words of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich at a 2004 interfaith meeting in London. Speaking on behalf of the Focolare in North America, he emphasized Chiara’s firm belief that in today’s world, there can’t be peace without universal brotherhood, and religions play a crucial role in rebuilding peace.
Upon receiving the award, Butalia expressed his gratitude, saying, “I am more humbled than honored… victory always belongs to God.” He remembered how his contacts with the Focolare in Columbus, Ohio, through the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, started with an invitation to dinner, and soon he was participating in Focolare interfaith picnics and summer gatherings: “The friendship developed into trust.”
In his acceptance speech, he emphasized that faith always has a special role in the American society, a nation of immigrants. However, while former waves of immigrants seamlessly assimilated after a few generations, many immigrants from the last 50 years – like Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Jain and Baha’i’s – want to maintain their religious identity. “They have brought their faith with them to our nation, and for the better,” making the U.S. the most diverse nation in the world.
Thinking of this context, he shared several steps to help open one’s mind in favor of dialogue. First, recognize that one’s faith is not the only true one. Also, he suggests that people consider the failure of the concept of America as a “melting pot” where differences are regarded as not important. “Our differences can’t be sacrificed for the sake of unity,” he said.
Instead, he said that the “tossed salad model” recognizes pluralism, where each part maintains its identity and yet remains part of the harmonious whole. “We have to focus on building relationships,” he said. While this is not yet unity, “we are at the point where we can honestly talk about our differences and celebrate them.”
Butalia proposes to take a step further than the Golden Rule (“Do to others as you would want them to do to you,” see Mt 7:12). He calls this version the “Platinum rule”: “Do to others as they would want you to do to them,” moving beyond the assumption that other people would like to be treated the way that you would like to be treated yourself.
He then invited the 130 participants of the Award ceremony to “listen more than we speak” and to never compare “the best in our religion with the worst of the other.” While acknowledging that racial inequality still exists in our nation, he said, “Dr. Martin Luther King debunked racial superiority once and for all … but faith superiority still exists in many of our faith traditions.” Referring to Islamophobia, Butalia remembered that all religions are interdependent on each other and that we have to stand up against discrimination against any faith. “We are only as secure as the least among us,” he said. Closing, he quoted a verse translated from the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh scripture, as “No one is an enemy, none a stranger. I get along with all.”
The award ceremony was preceded by the 7th Catholic-Sikh retreat, organized by the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations. Twenty-five representatives of the Catholic Church and the Sikh American community gathered at Mariapolis Luminosa to get to know each other in a deeper way. “This meeting was a great example for the kind of dialogue called for by Pope Francis, which is the dialogue of friendship,” said Dr. Anthony Cirelli, Director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. The main focus is on building a network of relationships between the Sikh American and the Catholic Church. The retreat’s participants came from various parts of the U.S.
The Luminosa Award for Unity has been sponsored by the North American Focolare Center for Education in Dialogue since 1988. Past recipients include the late Cardinal John O’Connor, Archbishop of New York; Norma Levitt, former president of Religions for Peace (RFP) and honorary president of Women of Reform Judaism; Rev. Nichiko Niwano, President of the Japanese lay Buddhist organization, Rissho Kosei-kai; His Royal Highness Lukas Njifua Fontem, King of the Bangwa People of Cameroon; and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, American Muslim leader.
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