KOLKATA, India : Senior Jesuit leaders from South Asia who prayed inside a shrine dedicated to a Hindu ascetic say the visit and prayers have "enriched" them.
About 20 provincials and regional superiors of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia spent 15 minutes at the shrine in Belur on Oct. 29, during an event designed to foster interreligious relations.
The Religious conference comprises provincials and regional superiors from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The shrine, which sits on the banks of the Ganges, north of Kolkata, is dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a 19th century Indian mystic, who claimed to have had visions of Jesus Christ. Swami Vivekananda, the mystic's most famous disciple, founded the shrine in 1886.
Calcutta Jesuit provincial Father George Pattery, who organized the visit, said the monks at Ramkrishna Mission, who manage the shrine, promote interfaith dialogue. The Jesuit priest has close ties with the monks.
Father Anthony da Silva, provincial of Goa, told UCA News the visit was "an enriching experience" and added the shrine's mystical atmosphere "greatly impressed" him.
Gujarat provincial superior Father Keith Abranches commented that the visit was "inspiring and enriching. It was another way of God-realization."
Dipankar Basu, a Hindu teacher at Kolkata's Jesuit-managed St Xavier's School, guided the group during their visit.
He said it was remarkable to see Catholic priests praying in their own way in a Hindu shrine. An event like this "is sure to have greater effects in creating goodwill, and help people of all faiths to have a change in attitude toward other religions," Basu told UCA News.
Swami Shantanu Maharaj, from the Sri Ramkrishna Mission headquarters, said Swami Vivekananda founded his religious order on Christmas night in 1886, after he and his friends spent an evening meditating on Christ.
He said Sri Ramkrishna had a vision of Jesus, after which he could not think of anything else for three days. Two of his disciples, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Shivananda, too had a vision of Jesus on Christmas eve 1903 at the Belur shrine.
Earlier in the day, the Jesuit superiors celebrated Mass at the tomb of Blessed Teresa in Kolkata and met Missionaries of Charity superior general, Sister Mary Prema.
The Jesuit provincial and regional superiors are attending their twice-a-year meeting at Konchowki, south of Kolkata.