Radhika Raman Dasa, religion professor at Centre College in Louisville, Kentucky, USA is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI in April.
Ravi Gupta, known to the ISKCON community by his devotional name Radhika Raman Dasa, will be meeting with Pope Benedict XVI next week in Washington, D.C. Below is an article about that visit from the Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky, USA). Anuttama Dasa, Director of ISKCON Communications, has also been invited to attend the Washington, D.C. meeting of interfaith leaders with the Pope.
Ravi Gupta thought someone was playing a joke on him when the Centre College religion professor received a phone call inviting him to greet Pope Benedict XVI next month during the pontiff's visit to the United States.
More than 200 interfaith leaders will meet with Benedict on April 17 in Washington, but Gupta is one of a handful to have an official ceremonial role.
"At first I couldn't believe it," said Gupta, 25. "I thought it was a prank call, ... but when I realized what was happening, I was deeply honored and humbled by the opportunity. It's very important in today's world especially for religious leaders to get together and show the world their intention of living together peacefully and trying to understand each other."
He added: "When religious leaders do that, especially people of the caliber of the pope, it really sends a strong message to those of us in the lay community that this is something we need to attempt at the grassroots level."
Gupta will be part of a small delegation bringing gifts to the pope. He'll be presenting an incense burner in the shape of the symbol of the Hindu sacred syllable, om, which Hindus believe is represents the unifying principle from which creation springs. Other religious leaders will be presenting the pope a gold-leaf-edged Quran, the Islamic holy book; a metallic cube representing Jain principles; and a bronze bell used in Buddhist practices.
At first, Gupta said he couldn't figure out why organizers of the papal trip had invited him. He later learned he had made a strong impression on Catholics who had attended an interfaith conference where he gave a Hindu perspective on the problem of suffering.
Gupta said he isn't offended by recent comments by Benedict and the Vatican reasserting the Catholic Church's view of itself as the vehicle to salvation. "The Catholic Church is no means unique in this," he said. "Religious organizations have repeatedly made these types of claims. ... It's important that whatever theology we might have provides room to give hope to our neighbors. No one is without hope, even if they choose to follow another path."
Although only 25, Gupta already has an impressive resume. His family is from India, and he grew up in Idaho and England. Because he was home-schooled, he had a head start on his university career at Boise State University and, later, Oxford University. He's been at Centre since 2006 and previously taught at the University of Florida, and he teaches an intensive summer course in Sanskrit for the University of Wales. He has several publications to his credit.
He won't be in Kentucky for much longer, however. He'll be moving to the College of William and Mary in Virginia this fall.
"It's been a difficult decision," he said. "I really love Centre." But he said the opportunity was too important to pass up.
"What I enjoy about my job is being able to show the dazzling array of religious belief that exists in the world to students of many different backgrounds," he said.