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One Student's Experience with the Interfaith Dialogue Diploma

Posted : Dec-23-2020

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Marilyn Grace has a long connection to the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. Below she reflects on her most recent coursework at the university with the Diploma in Interfaith Dialogue, which is a joint offering of St. Michael’s College and the Office of Interreligious Dialogue, Archdiocese of Toronto. This reflection initially appeared in “InsightOut” and is published here with St. Michael’s College’s consent.

St. Mike’s has been a home away from home for me for many years. A connection with professors such as the late Fathers Bob Madden and David Belyea and Prof. Richard Marshall, was a gift that kept on giving. I have tried to stay involved with the community through participation in several committees — most especially the Kelly Lecture Committee.

In the 1990s I returned to St. Mike’s as a student once again to take a Certificate in Youth Ministry. As a teacher and chaplain this offered the perfect opportunity to learn and grow in my field. However, my current return to participate in the Diploma in Interfaith Dialogue has been a welcome opportunity to grow and develop in my field as a Retreat Facilitator.

The backstory is significant to my deciding to enroll in this diploma program. I have always been interested in spirituality and various religious traditions. I am touched by all that these traditions have to teach us. Influenced by great spiritual writers like Thomas Merton as well as the Catholic Church’s teachings on interreligious dialogue and the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate, I have been led to pursue a deeper understanding of different faith traditions. To quote Pope Francis: “I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity.” (Address to the Bishops of Asia, August 17, 2014)

I became involved with the Scarboro Missions Fathers as a retreat facilitator and worked, with Kathy Murtha and others, on offering retreats to young people with a particular focus on the Golden Rule. This experience has enabled me to grow and to enhance my understanding of other faith traditions. Taking a one-week summer course entitled Encounter World Religion in 2013 with Brian Carwana (check out his ReligionsGeek blog) was an experiential and academic introduction to many faith traditions! I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in truly getting a feel and taste for diverse religious traditions.

My participation in a Habitat for Humanity Women of Faith Build in 2008 was also another opportunity to get to know women from other faith traditions. This has been a real gift in my life … much more exciting than book learning as the women involved still meet occasionally to this day. Another Faith Build occurred in 2017 as a precursor event to the Parliament of the World’s Religions which was held in Toronto in 2018. The Parliament of the World’s Religions was another event that led me to pursue more studies and work in interfaith dialogue. As a participant and presenter, I was deeply moved by the diversity and gifts that so many faith traditions offer to the world.

All of this has led to my enrolment in the Diploma in Interfaith Dialogue offered at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto and financially sponsored by the Scarboro Missions. The diploma consists of 10 courses, two of which are foundational. I have been so blessed to participate as a member of the first cohort in this program. The foundational courses — Catholic Perspectives on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and Principles of Dialogue — were instrumental in setting the tone and feel for the program. The participants are people who are truly open to dialogue, to diversity and to learning about other faith traditions.

After completing the foundational courses, I have taken courses on Religion and Migration, Indigenous Sacred Traditions and Reconciliation, Judaism, and Sacred Architecture. All of them have been exceptional, with dedicated and knowledgeable professors guiding us. The courses are four weeks in length once a week and involve presentations, pertinent readings and responses. The passion with which the professors present their material is truly what stands out for me in this program. I look forward to the next two courses in which I will participate: Islam and Women in Religion.

The document Nostra Aetate (Vatican II) calls us to remember: “For all peoples comprise a single community and have a single origin, since God made the whole race…” (section I). Hence, we as Catholics are called to learn about our brothers and sisters of differing faiths. I strongly urge anyone interested in growing and learning about other faith traditions to enroll in this informative and challenging program.

The application deadline for the next semester of classes in the Diploma in Interfaith Dialogue is on January 15, 2021. To learn more about the diploma, please click here.