In response to Pius XII’s encyclical Fidei donum (1957), Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries began to make foundations in countries where Christianity had only recently been introduced: the so-called “Young Churches.” In order to provide support for these new ventures the AIM Secretariat was created in 1960. At that time the anagram stood for Aide à l’Implantation Monastique. It now stands for “Alliance for International Monasticism.”

As AIM became more aware of the problems facing these new monasteries, it set up meetings for superiors. The first took place in Africa (Bouaké 1964) and was followed by a meeting in Asia (Bangkok 1968). The Buddhist setting of the meeting in Bangkok helped the monastics who gathered there come to a deeper understanding of the necessity of dialogue with monastics of other religions. The message that Paul VI sent them confirmed their conviction and encouraged them to engage in this pursuit. In October 1973, in Bangalore, India, Christian and non-Christian monastics came together for the first time in history to talk with one another about the most basic issue of the monastic life, namely, the experience of God. The success of this meeting prompted Cardinal Pignedoli, who was then Prefect of the Secretariat for Non-Christians, to ask Abbot Primate Rembert Weakland to encourage Benedictines to become involved in interreligious dialogue because, as he put it, “monasticism is the bridge between religions.”

As a result, AIM organized two meetings between monks and specialists in 1977, one in the United States (Petersham), and the other in Europe (Loppem). These meetings led to the creation, in 1978, of two sub-committees: NABEWD (North American Board for East-West Dialogue), now known as MID (Monastic Interreligious Dialogue), for North America; DIM/MID for Europe (Dialogue Interreligieux Monastique, MID for German-speaking countries.) Thus, what had been the work of individuals like J. Monchanin, H. Le Saux, Bede Giffiths and Thomas Merton was now given institutional status within the monastic world.

DIM/MID and NABEWD-MID established contacts between Christian monasteries of the West and those in Asia, especially with Hindus and Tibetan and Japanese Zen Buddhists. With the latter a program of “Spiritual Exchanges” has been taking place ever since 1979.

The gathering which took place in Assisi in 1986 provided a great stimulus for dialogue, and the work of the European DIM and the American NABEWD became too important for them to remain mere sub-committees within AIM. Thus, in 1994 they were established as a Secretariat similar to AIM, and, like it, common to both the Benedictines and the Cistercians. As the movement of dialogue continued to spread, national and regional centers were created, whose activity is coordinated on the international level by a General Secretary.

A broadening of perspectives has accompanied this organic development. In the beginning the only dialogue envisaged was that between monastics of different religions. However, even though Judaism and Islam do not have any monastic institution, they are in dialogue with Christian monastics. The dialogue of our brothers in Atlas with Islam is a case in point. On the other hand, the Asian religions are increasingly present in the West where they have many devoted followers and a notable presence on university faculties. Those Westerners who have been influenced by Asian religions seek out Christian monastics and invite them to take part in their colloquies. On various continents DIM/MID also collaborates with other groups involved in interreligious dialogue.

This change of perspective led to the idea that monastic interreligious dialogue can also mean engaging in dialogue “as monastics”—that is to say, as people searching for God—with other searchers, no matter what their status or their religion. Dialogue thought of in this way strives to become a dialogue of religious experience. Such dialogue takes place primarily in “spiritual exchanges,” but it also includes others forms of dialogue that are in some ways preliminary and preparatory.