On 25 September 2019, Tomsk State University, together with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC), held the ‘Dialogue through social service: The Roman Catholic Church in Russia’ roundtable. The event was held in a conference room within the walls of the parish house of the Roman Catholic Church.
Besides Catholic representatives, the roundtable was attended by Muslims, Baptists, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, followers of Agni Yoga, and representatives of other religious movements.
The meeting began with a speech by Roman Bykov, associate professor of the TSU Department of Sociology and associate expert of the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, who moderated the roundtable. He outlined the format of work and suggested the following questions for discussion:
- What determines the selfless activity of religious people and what is the basis of social service in the Roman Catholic tradition and other religions?
- What makes people take care of the homeless, drug addicts, the poor, and other people in difficult situations?
- What is the difference between the activities of secular organisations, in their social ministry, from religious organisations?
- Is it possible to prevent attitudes of dependency in the implementation of these activities?
Fr. Michael Desjardins spoke about the activities of the Catholic Church, different kinds of social services, including projects like ‘The Right to Life’ and ‘My Baby’ that provide support for families in trouble and promote the idea of giving birth and raising children. He also spoke about the activities of the Caritas Society. It was emphasised that the basis of the work is the Gospel principle of love for one’s neighbour.
Fr. Wojtek Ziolek said that the main thing is to do everything with love by approaching people personally and listening to them. This is the only way to help. According to Fr. Ziolek, any ministry is a test of sincerity because it is extremely difficult to “wash dirty, immobilised people for a long time, making it the meaning of one’s life, as is done in the Order of Mother Teresa”.
Associate professor of the TSU Department of the Ancient World, Middle Ages and the Methodology of History, Oleg Khazanov, made a brief presentation on understanding the importance of cooperation between people in the sacred texts of Judaism. Jews have faced lengthy periods of difficulty and without mutual support they would not have been able to maintain their ethnic identity, he said. At the same time, he emphasised the importance of putting order in one’s own environment in the first place and only then, when possible, helping someone else. According to Khazanov, one cannot go to help others while leaving one’s own children hungry.
Representatives of several religious movements spoke of the importance of cultivating social ministry and missionary activity in orphanages. According to them, talking about God and other religious issues in orphanages is possible only if children themselves ask about it.
Baptists representatives noted the importance of evangelism, especially when working with drug addicts, since most addicts need spiritual values in order to recover.
Representative from the Dagestan diaspora spoke about the importance of cooperation between ethnic groups and religious groups and suggested implementing a joint project of social ministry in prisons. The most active people in this kind of activity are those with a strong faith who practice loving their neighbours. It was noted that in society today, there is often a lack of spiritual leaders who have authority among the youth. This problem is particularly relevant for Dagestan, where in the 1990s more than fifty spiritual leaders of this kind were killed.
Opinions were expressed at the meeting on the importance of the ministry of secular organisations, and the Soviet period was presented as an example of a time when a lot of people were actively involved in social work.
A number of participants in the meeting noted the relevance of universal principles of coexistence, by which people are able to support each other regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
During 2019, employees of the Tomsk universities, together with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, will continue to hold meetings on interreligious dialogue.