response to Pius XIIs 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 lImplantation
Monastique. It now stands for Alliance for International
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
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 monasticsthat
is to say, as people searching for Godwith 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.