Centre religion professor to meet Pope Benedict XVI
RELEASED: April 3, 2008
DANVILLE, KY—Ravi Gupta, assistant professor of religion, has been invited to greet Pope Benedict XVI on April 17 during the pontiff's visit to the United States.
The invitation came as a happy surprise for Gupta.
"At first I couldn't believe it," he says. "I thought it was a prank. But when I realized what was happening, I was deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity."
For the last two years, Gupta has attended a Vaishnava-Christian dialogue in Washington, D.C. (Vaishnavas are those Hindus who worship Krishna or Vishnu as the supreme deity.) Scholars from each tradition gather for a weekend of intensive discussion on a mutually agreed-upon theme.
Athough more than 200 interfaith leaders will have the opportunity to meet with the Pope, Gupta is one of only a small number of delegates asked to bring gifts to the pontiff.
The gifts symbolize the paths to peace revealed in the deepest teachings of each group. Gupta will be offering the sacred syllable Om on a brass incense burner. Hindus believe that Om is the sound of creation, by which God's liberating peace is made known. Bronze or brass is widely used for Hindu liturgical ornaments, and incense sticks are used in ritual worship among believers.
If given the opportunity to speak at length with Pope Benedict, Gupta says he would encourage the Catholic Church to open a formal dialogue with each one of the traditions represented at the event.
"When religious leaders come together in a spirit of friendship, this sends a very strong message to the world about the need for understanding and cooperation between religious traditions," Gupta says. "But this is only the first step in a long process of change. It's important for each one of us to return to our own communities and build this cooperation at a grassroots level.
"Education is key here, for ignorance of other traditions leads to misunderstanding and intolerance," he continues. "Here in the United States, we have a unique opportunity to make this happen. Many of the religions being represented at this event have their majority membership outside the United States, but the U.S. community often carries much influence back home, and our voices are heard carefully. I certainly hope all the delegates take this responsibility seriously and put it into action."
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