From Prasun Sonwalkar
London: The Dalai Lama attended an inter-faith service in Northern Ireland during his recent visit to Britain. But his presence in the Church of Ireland Cathedral has since sparked off a row within the church community.
The service, called ?Way of Peace,? was held on November 22 last and included inputs from various religions?Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, Bahai. It attracted a large gathering that spilled beyond the St Anne'sCathedral in Belfast.
The service has divided the community with some opposing the Dalai Lama'spresence in the cathedral and others hailing it on the grounds that ?God can look after himself?.
Canon Norman Jardine, a member of the Chapter of Belfast Cathedral, expressed concern at the Dalai Lama'svisit, and wrote in a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette:
?Being unaware of this event until just before it happened, and being under the impression that it was to be a meditation event at which the Dalai Lama would be present, I was then amazed to discover that in fact a full-blown inter-faith service took place.?
?Like many others I welcome efforts to build genuine relationships and friendships across all forms of divisions and with them I am committed to working on the ground for all that promotes genuine peace.?
?In my parish we are aware of and pleased to welcome many new people from various racial, ethnic and faith backgrounds.?
?I consider, however, events such as this inter-faith service in St Anne?s, lacking in theological integrity are not only unnecessary and unhelpful but also call into question the expression of witness and worship for which St Anne'sand every other Church of Ireland was built.
I regret, for one, that I must dissociate myself publicly from it.?
Also criticising the visit in the Gazette was Canon Elizabeth Johnston, who served as a missionary for many years in India. She wrote that she had problems with the service.
?I am sure it is an excellent idea to have a forum where different faiths are enabled to share together. I would have no problem with such a gathering held in the Ulster Hall or the Waterfront (Hall), but not in the context of worship in a church dedicated to the worship of our God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.?
Expressing ?sorrow? over such comments, Canon Charles
Kenny said: ?We should not spurn a Gandhi or a Mandela or a Dalai Lama because of their religious or cultural background.
?How terribly sad to do other than welcome with thanks giving the vision of the Cathedral authorities. We can safely assume that God can look after himself and that erecting barriers around Jesus, as to protect him, is not his way.?
The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey, defended the service and stated in his Cathedral Digest magazine that it had been ?a wonderful experience of winsome evangelical contact.?
Noting that the service had been extremely popular, he said: ?There have been very few occasions in the history of the Cathedral when it was full to capacity. That should give pause for thought.?