That's the theme phrase for the Monterrey International Interreligious Encounter that had its formal opening last night. The event took place in Monterrey's cavernous arena, where concerts and sports events are often held; there was an eerie smell of popcorn in the air.
The streets of Monterrey were clogged this evening as Mexico's president arrived to open an 80 day named the Universal FORUM of Cultures, Monterrey 2007. The hotel lobby of the Holiday Inn swarmed with bagpipe groups in kilts, and a group that looked like medieval troubadours. I am here to participate in a first event of the Forum, which is an interfaith meeting, called the International Interreligious Encounter. A group of about 40 people from all over the world, scholars, practitioners, preachers, from a feast of different faiths, are arriving. We received a program book with a dizzying array of events â€“ plenaries, performances, panels, life stories, introductions to religious traditions, and so on. Some 15,000 people, we were told, will attend a program with up to 15 sessions running in parallel.
A mere walk through the streets of Santiago gives one the impression that Chile is a very Catholic country. Many of the streets are named after Catholic bishops, archbishops, and priests. Most of the schools one passes by, from grade schools to universities, are private Catholic schools named after saints. Many of the social justice organizations one may pass—such as the Hogar de Cristo (House of Christ), which provides a home to those on the street—have religious names and are funded by the Catholic Church. A glance at the calendar gives one the same idea: Chile’s national holidays include not only Christmas, but also the feast day of the Virgin of Carmel (Chile’s patron saint), the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and many other religious holidays. In fact, one of the main events of Chile’s Independence Day is the Te Deum, a celebratory Catholic Mass that is celebrated in Santiago’s main cathedral. It’s also interesting that apart from the Virgin of Carmel, there are two other highly revered Catholic saints in Chile: Father Alberto Hurtado and Saint Teresa of the Andes. The former was a Jesuit who founded the Hogar de Cristo and who, because of his work with Chile’s most marginalized sectors, is considered the patron saint of workers and unionism. The latter, a discalced Carmelite nun, was Chile's first Catholic saint.
In his seminal work Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville describes with great admiration the symbiotic relationship between government and religion in the colonies. It is possible that de Tocqueville was particularly struck by the American political and religious climate, as this element of synergy was noticeably absent in his native France. De Tocqueville’s comparison was particularly prescient, as he lavished his praise on the nascent United States over half a century before the 1905 law that would officially establish laïcité (secularism) in the French Republic. This uniquely French invention insures the clear division between the private lives of governmental figures and their public functions. Now, over a century later, the issue of separation of church and state in France is as hotly contested as ever.
-Film, The Gods Must be Crazy
Jamie Uys' 1981 film The Gods Must be Crazy introduced the world to the San, a small group of people indigenous to Southern Africa. The film depicts the naiveté of the "pre-historic" community, as their social order descends into chaos when a Coke can ominously falls from the sky. The film was a huge Hollywood success, banking millions both domestically and internationally, and spawned several sequels. For the San community, however, the film was simply another example of Western exploitation and misrepresentation of their cultural and religious beliefs.