Sikh-Catholic consultation discusses the urgency of living with compassion in their respective traditions

WASHINGTON (July 2014)—Representatives of the WorldSikh Council-America Region (WSC-AR) and the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (SEIA) of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) gathered for the fifth bi-annual meeting from June 27th-29th at St. Therese's Retreat Center in Columbus, Ohio.The purpose of this meeting, entitled "Sikhs and Catholics Together: Bringing Compassion to the World," was to discuss the nature and role of compassion in Sikh and Catholic tradition as well as to share best practices and plans for collaborating on common issues of concern at the local level.The meeting was chaired by Dr. Satpal Singh, Dr. Tarunjit Butalia—both former Chairpersons of the WSC-AR—and Dr. Anthony Cirelli, Associate Director of the SEIA.

The retreat consisted of four sessions, each of which was dedicated to the topic of compassion.

The first session addressed the general understanding of compassion in the Sikh tradition and was led by Dr. Satpal Singh.In his presentation, Dr. Satpal Singh articulated the rudiments of compassion that are contained in the sacred text of the Sikh tradition, i.e., the Guru Granth Sahib.At the center of his address, focus was given to the notion of radical equality between persons across cultural, social, and political lines.This notion of equality derives from the status of created beings as participating equally, in virtue of their created status as human beings, in the divine essence.The divine essence, in turn, is at its core daya or compassion.Humans, therefore, are called to embrace their great call and dignity, which is to reflect most perfectly that which constitutes and grounds them, namely, the divine essence that is compassion.By manifesting compassion, Sikhs believe that humans most fully reflect the divine and, in so doing, bring healing and well-being to the world.The practice that best reflects this Sikh understanding is the common meal, the Langar, which Sikhs everywhere offer to the community from their place of worship and fellowship, that is, the Gurdwara.

The second session addressed the general understanding of compassion in the Catholic tradition and was led by Bishop Frederick Campbell of the Diocese of Columbus.In his address, Bishop Campbell focused his attention on the importance of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a way of conveying the meaning of compassion from the Catholic tradition."The Sacred Heart of Jesus teaches us," the bishop asserted, "about the vulnerability of God, the humility of God, indeed, the compassion of God, whose love for us was transmitted in the flesh through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.""Through Jesus, God touches humanity in their weakness, their brokenness, their sadness – indeed, as the latin root of compassion, i.e., com-passio, suggests— this nearness to us, this compassion, means that for Catholics God desires to share our suffering."The bishop then moved on to a discussion of the relationship between compassion and the triune life of God in the Catholic understanding, asserting that "if God is love, there must exist in him the fundamental quality of love, a communion of love…which requires persons.God's compassion is such that we are drawn into this life."

The third session addressed compassion from the perspective of commonalities in the Sikh and Catholic tradition and was led by Mr. Ipninder Singh, the former president of the interfaith youth network.In his address, Mr. Ipninder Singh provided an extended meditation on the similar efforts and fruits of the missionary work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Bhagat Puran Singh, both of whom are considered to be modern-day Catholic and Sikh holy persons of great renown.What we find in both, he argued, was a real sense of and devotion to the radical equality of persons in both "saints."For these two great figures, "no recognition of caste," is evident—and this constitutes their great power in bringing healing to the world through compassion.For Sikhs, he further commented, "the Langar meal is the great equalizer" that reflects this fundamental position of all saints.

The fourth session was led by Dr. Christina Butler, the current president of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio, who presented a paper entitled "Compassion: A Covenant among Equals."In her presentation, Dr. Butler asserted that Jesus' own compassion serves as the example by which Christians understand the meaning of true compassion in the world."All humans are vulnerable to unprovoked attack and violence," Dr. Butler asserted, "as we saw in 2012 at Oak Creek."For Christians, even God in Jesus Christ "was rejected and killed unjustly."In so many instances, what leads to such violence is the vulnerability that comes from those who strive to live with compassion.Such vulnerability makes people targets for abuse.Jesus himself lived and called-for a life that is determined by compassion – indeed, his mission was in part to "call for a culture of compassion, which alone can heal the brokenness of human lives."That Jesus persevered in this "call" demonstrates that his activity was "boundary shattering."His compassion teaches that violence must not have the last word.Furthermore, to live with compassion is to establish a "field of energy" that will have transformative, positive effects on the world.

In addition to the leaders and presenters, the following attended the retreat: Narinder Kaur, Gurpreet Kaur, Dilpreet Singh, Anhad Singh (Jolly), Pat Hardesty,Erin Cordle,Margaret Kelly,Stephanie Rusher,Don Mitchell,Pat and Margaret Mooney, and Judi Longdin.