[Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in the 15th century in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. With an estimated 30 million followers, it’s the ninth largest religion in the world, and Sikh bodies have engaged in longstanding dialogues with various Catholic bodies, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Archbishop Felix Machado, a former Vatican official and today the President of the Office for interreligious dialogue for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India as well as the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, recently sent greetings and best wishes to Sikhs celebrating Gurpurab, meaning the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
For the occasion, Machado visited a gurdwara and spent around an hour sitting in reverential silence, then later he shared a cup of tea and met with Sikh families. The following is Macahado’s message.]
The religious tradition founded by Gurunanak is, relatively speaking, one of the most recent ones. The inspired word is most important and at the center of Sikh, which means, “disciple” (shishya).
Gurugranth, or the Book, is the master, and it is this book which is placed at the center of all prayer and worship. Gurunanak compiled this book, and its sources are Hindu and Islamic in origin. However, there is nothing eclectic or syncretic of any sort. It has a distinct coherence and identity of its own.
The Sikhs (followers) are distinguishable by their turbans – they do not cut hair but groom it and tie it tidily, covered with a turban – and the same is done with the beard.
There are five distinguishable marks of every Sikh male. Males and females enjoy equal respect and dignity.
The Sikhs are traditionally concentrated in Punjab in the northwest of India. They are very religious and enterprising. It’s a compact community, now spread throughout the world. One of the reasons for their spread is that many of them formed part of the British army, and thus they were migrants wherever British colonies existed.
I am struck by the wisdom I find in the Sikh tradition, particularly on the “mercy and compassion of God.”
God is the source and core of all virtues. The most important virtue, and God’s very nature for Sikhs is that God is love, mercy and forgiveness. The Sikhs call God, “Deyapati” (the Lord of all mercies, all compassion).
Deya (mercy) is a divine quality and the highest of all virtues. The day-to-day life of every Sikh is asked to be founded on mercy, which is to be shown to the neediest. The Granthsahib proclaims that the Sikh religious tradition is the child of compassion and mercy.
Love all living beings – to love all living beings, and to have compassion on them, is considered a more noble religious deed than to visit all religious temples or sacred places or to donate huge sums for charity. One is encouraged to die to serve the needs of others rather than letting that needy person die for the lack of what they require.
No one should ever give excuses for not serving the needy, because there are so many opportunities in one’s life to serve. Share your wealth in order to love, have mercy and compassion on the poor and the needy. The Sikh Gurudwaras (temples) are always busy cooking food for those who are hungry. All the hungry must be fed. The only condition is that they all sit on the same level and sit one next to the other, without demanding a higher status over the other.
Sikhs are encouraged to share one-tenth of their income with the needy. Do all that you do without attachment to honor, glory or strings attached of any kind. Where there is forgiveness, mercy and compassion, there is God. Do not be jealous, do not insult others, do not discriminate, do not judge others.
I have many friends who are Sikh.
While in Rome I tried to help Sikhs who sometimes are victims of discrimination for their dress or customs, such as carrying a symbolic “sword”. When a Sikh leader, the highest authority from Amritsar (Punjab), was invited for the 2002 Day of Prayer in Assisi soon after the 9/11 tragic events in the U.S., the Sikh leader had his “kirpan” (symbolic religious sword) with him.
In India he is always asked to remove the sword and put it in a box for a check through metal detectors, which Sikhs consider equivalent to a Catholic Bishop being asked to remove his pectoral Cross. The symbolic religious sword is a sign of readiness to protect the weak. I requested the Italian authorities to respect the Sikh leader, and they did. He had tears in his eyes for the respect shown to his religion.
I have organized festive meals for the abandoned children who live on train platforms or loiter around streets in Mumbai, and the Sikhs have been the first to help me. Once at the Parliament of Religions Assembly the Sikhs participated in the meetings by cooking and serving food to the participants. They spent their own money to buy foodstuffs, and there were thousands of participants.
The Sikhs are very religious. They spend all their free time singing the glories of the Lord in their Gurudwaras.
The Sikh community fight for their rights, and that brings some of them into violence. However, the majority, almost all of them, are peace-loving people. Gurunanak, whose memory the Sikhs celebrate today, was a very peace-loving man and he always spoke of peace, justice, love, compassion and mercy to his disciples, the Sikhs.
There is a group of Sikhs, almost two million, who live in Birmingham in the U.K., and this group is led by a very holy Sikh, Bhai Sahibji. He was given Papal Knighthood by Pope Benedict XVI, and that was conferred on him by the Archbishop of Birmingham in the Catholic Cathedral. Bhai Sahibji is a very dear friend of mine. He has promoted many initiatives for dialogue, not only in Great Britain, but also in India, the U.S. and Canada.
There is also a Sikh lady in Great Britain, Mrs. Ajit Singh, and she is the head of their education department in London. She also has participated in many Sikh-Christian dialogues, at the Holy See as well as in World Council of Churches in Geneva.
The Sikhs are very open to dialogue, and it is a joy working with them.