Adrian Cristea (Ireland) has a background in sociology and social work. He is currently the Executive Officer of Dublin City Interfaith Forum. Adrian holds a Masters Degree from Trinity College Dublin. He played a key role in establishing the first official Interfaith Forum in Ireland launched in January 2012. He is passionately committed to the achievement of racial justice and interfaith dialogue. His interests include human rights, interculturalism, inter-religious dialogue and activity, and the role of religion in integration and social cohesion.
He was one of the speakers at the Face to Face conference - April 26-27, 2018 - https://www.pdcs-conference.sk/
Q: In Ireland almost all people are Catholics, so what is the purpose of interfaith dialogue? A: Ireland experienced a drop into a sea of multiculturalism very suddenly. Historically speaking, in 25 years we went from, like you said, a Catholic, mono-cultural, white society to a very diverse society. I think this is something we need to absorb.
When you look at places in Europe that had this issue for much longer, and at how they dealt with diversity – be it immigration, integration or assimilation – each jurisdiction throughout Europe had different strategies. They might’ve worked for them, they might’ve not. And I think that now we’re seeing some of the results of those decisions that were made some time ago.
So, for us, we’re in a good position, because we have this little window of opportunity, when we can look around like “Hey, that policy didn’t work there” or “It worked, let’s see if there’s anything that we can take and bring with us and apply in our own context and make things work for us?”.
Q: How the interfaith dialogue looks like in practice? A: I work for an organization called the Dublin City Interfaith Forum, which basically is a network of representatives and leaders of the diverse faith communities that are now part and parcel of the life of the city.
So, we have a broad and diverse network, we have representation from the Baha’i community, Buddhist community (I’m going now in alphabetical order), Christian communities – again, Christian communities are very diverse, with multiple denominations… You mentioned Catholic, that’s just one of them. Protestant – under Protestant we have the Church of Ireland, which is Anglican, Lutheran, we have Methodist, Presbyterian, Orthodox – both Eastern and Oriental, with representatives from India, Eritrea, or Ethiopia, we have representation from the Sikh community, Hindu community, Jewish – again, with different groups, some more progressive, some more conservative, Muslim – we have representation from four main city mosques. So, we’re about 25 to 30 people at full complement when we gather around the table. And we gather on a regular basis. What’s important for us is structure and continuity.
What do we do, in practical terms? We work with schools. We go to secondary schools and engage pupils in discussions about what do they see relevant in the different faith traditions. That kind of answers their questions where they are now. And that is topical – they talked about ISIS, and how that issue is affecting them, they talked about their own problems there, if they have any. So that’s one piece – schools.
Another piece is working with the city. We are connected with the local authorities and whatever events happen in the city, sometimes we’re part of it. We gather together and participate in different events. Our platform is important or the city because we offer an outreach to communities that otherwise would be difficult for the city to get out to. So, we facilitate that connection and engagement between city and different faith communities. It works for the faith communities, because they have, again, this platform where they can raise their issues. So, whatever concerns they have, it’s easy to air them and bring them over to the cities.
Q: What is the motivation of the municipality to support interfaith dialogue? A: First of all, they want to ensure that communities are getting along with each other, that services reach out to everybody, that whatever policies and by-laws they have, they adhere to. In a city where people get with each other, where the public square is equally shared and used, then you will have a population that’s relatively ok and happy. That prevents conflict and other forms of distress in the community.
Q: We live in digital age. Is it still important for people to talk face to face? A: This network wouldn’t exist if we didn’t talk to each other. We talk to each other at our meetings, we go and visit each other’s places of worship on a regular basis – we go to mosques, we go to churches, we go to temples, we go to gurdwaras… We go, and people talk to us about themselves very informally. They talk to us about their traditions, they talk to us about whatever else matters… We talk over cups of tea (we do drink tea), we talk about ourselves, our families. So, over the years, people have become friends.
Yes, I would not underestimate the importance of sitting down and talk – whether it’s about a soccer match or a very relevant issue, that concerns my community, or yours… But talking face to face is crucial, is vital.