Christians, Muslims in Thailand gather to promote harmony and peace

Msgr Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan 1 at the Interrelgious dialogue symposium hosted by the Islamic Center of Thailand Apr 2 2016 Credit CBCT CNA 4 11 16 Participants at the interreligious dialogue meeting hosted by the Islamic Center of Thailand in Bangkok, April 2, 2016. | Catholic Bishops' Conference of Thailand.

Catholic officials attended the inauguration of a new mosque in Bangkok earlier this week, in an effort to foster interreligious dialogue, and harmony between their communities in Thailand.

"We need to build more solid bridges and destroy many walls of hatred and prejudices," Monsignor  Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary-general of the Thai bishops' conference, told CNA April 7.

"We have to … optimistically look to the actual empirical realities and pastoral concerns, taking our strong faith, love, and hope to effect interreligious dialogue and peace."

Msgr. Vissanu formerly served as undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and he was among the keynote speakers at the April 2-4 gathering, which also marked the 60th anniversary of the headquarters of the Islamic Center of Thailand.

The seminar discussed how to maintain harmony among religions in Thailand's multicultural society. Both Muslims and Christians are minorities in the country, where some 93 percent of residents are Buddhist.

Msgr. Vissanu urged the participants that dialogue is the key for living and growing together humanly in a pluralistic, multicultural society and emphasized, "it's possible."

"The differences of religions and traditions should not be a cause of conflict, and the quest for peace is the responsibility of all believers."

He also apprised the Muslim community of Pope Francis' exhortations to people of all religions to unite in efforts for peace, and pointed to local Catholics' constant effort to build peace.

Msgr. Vissanu said the atmosphere at the gathering was welcoming and friendly, and that the Muslim leaders "appreciated the efforts of Pope Francis, and the local Church's attempts at collaboration and dialogue with Muslims."

"Interreligious dialogue should not be just an event or a show," he added. "We need to join hands with humility so that we can concretely explore new areas and share religious values … however, we should be careful not to fall prey to syncretism."

The priest told CNA that in the Asian context, interreligious dialogue is particularly important because of growing persecution and absence of peace.

The celebrations at the Islamic Center of Thailand included an interreligious march for peace, in which many Christians participated.

"We further hope that we can can share the ideas of dialogue to the youth in schools," Msgr. Vissanu concluded.

The Catholic and Muslim communities also exchanged gifts, to strengthen the bonds of friendship and their commitment to continue to work for peace, harmony, and development in Thailand.

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