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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Banner depicts Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton

October 22, 2008

By Peter Smith,
The Courier Journal
October 20, 2008

Forty years after two prominent 20th century spiritual figures met
and changed each others' views about their respective religions, an
interfaith group has unveiled a banner in downtown Louisville
depicting the Dalai Lama with Thomas Merton.

As part of a quiet ceremony this morning that drew about 100 people,
Tibetan Buddhist monks chanted, a Roman Catholic priest prayed and
others lay flowers.

The often-reproduced photo on the banner shows the then-young exiled
leader of Tibetan Buddhists meeting Merton, a Catholic monk from the
Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, during Merton's fateful trip to Asia
in late 1968.

Merton, who died accidentally later in the trip, had written dozens
of books on prayer, peace and interfaith relations.

The banner of the image now stands on the exterior wall of the Center
of Interfaith Relations on Muhammad Ali Boulevard, less than a block
away from Thomas Merton Square.

"This is not just a commemoration of an interfaith meeting between
two wonderful men," said center executive director Jan Arnow. "This
is a reunion of their spirits."

Merton wrote in 1968 that the Dalai Lama helped show him how one can
be "perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment
and yet learn in depth from, say, a Buddhist or Hindu discipline or

And the Dalai Lama, when he visited Merton's grave in Kentucky in
1996, said the monk improved his understanding of Catholicism. "I
always considered him a strong bridge between Buddhism and
Christianity," he said at the time.

Tibetan Buddhist monks living in the United States and India, who
came to Louisville for a conference on meditation last week, opened
and closed the ceremony with chanted prayers. They tied prayer
scarves on a tree in the George Garvin Brown Garden, a park set aside
for quiet meditation along Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

The Rev. Bill Fichteman, pastor of the adjacent Roman Catholic
Cathedral of the Assumption, paid tribute to the fact that the men
respected and learned from each other without attempting to blend
their religious traditions.

"Grant that we may learn from them the way to dialogue and
understanding, the way to justice and peace," he said in his prayer.

Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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