MUMBAI, India – Catholics and Taoists discussed “Cultivating a Harmonious Society through Interreligious Dialogue” at a conference in Hong Kong earlier this month.

Taoism a diverse tradition indigenous to China emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao—generally understood as being the impersonal, enigmatic process of transformation ultimately underlying reality. It serves as both a religion and a philosophy, with some members of other religions – including some Christians – claiming to follow the Tao philosophy.

There are an estimated 20 million people following Taoism as a religious faith, the vast majority of them in East Asia.

The conference – jointly organised by the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue and Hong Kong’s Catholic Diocese and Taoist Association – has gathered together scholars and experts from across Asia, as well as some European countries.

“The conference was a huge success,” said Msgr. Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage, the under-secretary of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue.

“Everyone was very happy. Their hospitality was great. There was a spirit of openness and listening to each other,” he told Crux.

“The Taoist were very happy, this dialogue is not something new,” he said.

Cardinal Stephen Chow, the Bishop of Hong Kong, told Vatican News the purpose of the conference was to “demonstrate how religions can join hands to become constructive partners for building our society.”

“The vision of the Taoist religion is to foster a movement of the world toward peace and unity, where humanity and the Way – we would say the ‘Logos’ – are connected,” the cardinal said, adding that the hope is that recognition of this shared spirit of service will help “the value and meaning of religion [to be] better appreciated in China.”

The cardinal told Vatican News that Christianity and Taoism “share the values of mercy, simplicity, and not striving for worldly achievements.”

He said the Catholic Church accepts that other religious traditions are “also blessed – though to different degrees – with divine revelation for the understanding of life and spirit of living.”

Chow offered the model of Father Matteo Ricci, the 16th-century Jesuit missionary famous for his knowledge of Chinese language and culture.

“Father Ricci the role model for dialoguing between religion and culture, integrating the spiritualities of the Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists with our Catholic faith and spirituality,” the cardinal told the Vatican.

“This has won much praise and respect from the Chinese people and the Chinese government,” Chow said.

However, Indunil emphasized to Crux the purpose of the meeting was to foster interreligious dialogue.

“We didn’t enter into politics as it is not our competence … Ours is interreligious dialogue,” he said.

“This conference was earlier scheduled for 2019, but was postponed due to COVID pandemic,” Indunil told Crux.

“This was the third conference. In 2018 the Chairperson of the Taoist attended the conference in Singapore. There was respectful dialogue between the six religions, and there was genuine warmth and fraternity between the religious leaders,” the Vatican official added.

“Everyone was happy, the Chairman of the Taoist Association of Hong Kong publicly thanked everyone. This conference served to deepen our friendship with religious leaders and enhanced mutual understanding. We invited Taoist from other countries and even Singapore. This was an eye opener to others,” Indunil said.