CARDINALS' SYMPOSIUM, 15-18 OCTOBER 2003: TALK 5
Most Holy Father,
My dear Friends,
When our venerable Dean, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote to me requesting that I
review ecumenism and interreligious dialogue during the Pontificate of His
Holiness Pope John Paul II, I knew he was doing me a great honour. Nor did
I doubt that every honour is a heavy burden as the Latin proverb aptly
says: honor onus. Consequently, as I present my most cordial
congratulations to our Holy Father on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee
of his glorious, exceptional Pontificate, and thank God for giving his
Church such a worthy common Father to the faithful, I hope that this
venerable areopagus will not fail to show me its indulgence.
In my overview, I will, of course, take as guide His Holiness'
Encyclicals, Homilies, Declarations and the Addresses he has given at
meetings with representatives of different religions during his Pastoral
Visits throughout the world, which now number more than 100.
John Paul II and Ecumenism
I. Unity is what Christ desired
Christian unity was Christ's dearest desire. He expressed it in his
last testament as he walked toward his tragic destiny: the Cross. He
prayed in his priestly prayer "that they may all be one; even as you,
Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the
world may believe that you have sent me".1
So, Christian unity is a condition if the world is to believe. The Lord
himself said so. That is why the divisions of Christians are a serious
scandal, a stumbling block for non-Christians. The Second Vatican Council
highlighted this at the very beginning of the Decree on Ecumenism when it
said: "Certainly, such division openly contradicts the will of Christ,
scandalizes the world and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of
the Gospel to every creature".2 John Paul II already felt this
deeply as Father of the faithful at the time when he acceded to the throne
of Peter. And it is this that has impelled him to work tirelessly for this
unity, so deeply desired by Christ. "To believe in Christ", he says,
"means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to
desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds
to the Father's plan from all eternity. This is the meaning of Christ's
prayer: Ut Unum Sint".3
Far more, the ecumenical movement must be part of this context of the
Church's mission, which consists in bringing the Gospel to the world.
Unity and mission are inseparable. Were not the Lord's last words before
he left this earth to join his Father: "Go therefore and make disciples of
all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit"? After all, we have "one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of us all".4 The inability to share
the same Eucharist is a gaping wound that causes immense suffering.
According to John Paul II, "The entire life of Christians is marked by
a concern for ecumenism; and they are called to let themselves be shaped,
as it were, by that concern".5 And he adds: "Thus, it is
absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity,
is not just some sort of 'appendix' which is added to the Church's
traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and
work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does; it must be
like the fruit borne by a healthy and flourishing tree which grows to its
Canon Law, both Western and Eastern, also makes it an obligation for
Christians to help further this unity. The Code of Canons of the Eastern
Churches states: "The Eastern Catholic Churches are specially responsible
for encouraging unity among all the Eastern Churches, first of all by
prayer, by the example of life, by religious fidelity with regard to the
ancient traditions of the Oriental Churches, by collaboration and
fraternal esteem for things and spirits" (Code of Canons of the Eastern
Churches, c. 903).
II. Action to promote Ecumenism
1. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Since his election, Pope John Paul II has encouraged the Secretariat
for Unity, created after the Second Vatican Council and which, in 1988
during his Pontificate, became the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity. This Council has played and continues to play an
important role in encouraging the unity of Christians. On the one hand, it
helps to apply the Second Vatican Council's teaching on ecumenism in the
Catholic Church and to spread the ecumenical spirit; on the other, it
serves the Bishops' Conferences and Bishops in everything that has to do
In 1967, the Secretariat for Unity published the Ecumenical
Directory with a view to providing practical methods to bring about
this unity. In 1993, the Pontifical Council published the Directory for
the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism, a revised
edition of the earlier Directory. The Council also publishes a journal:
the Information Service, with three issues per year, that is a font
of information on everything that concerns ecumenism. It regularly
publishes the Holy Father's Addresses that have a bearing on ecumenism and
the declarations of the leaders of non-Catholic Ecclesial Communities.7
The Pontifical Council maintains close relations with a large number of
non-Catholic Churches, in particular with the World Council of Churches
and other international organizations that deal with the issue of
Christian unity. The Council has initiated quite a fruitful international
dialogue with almost all the non-Catholic Churches and Ecclesial
Communities, which has led to certain bilateral agreements.
It is possible to classify the Catholic Church's partners in ecumenical
dialogue, as was done in a special issue of the Information Service,
into five categories. These are primarily the Patriarchates of Alexandria,
Antioch, Moscow, Romania, Georgia and the Autocephalous Church of Greece.
Then come the Eastern Orthodox Churches: the Patriarchal Coptic Church,
the Ethiopian, Syrian and Malankara Churches and the Armenian Church known
as the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin, the Catholicosate of Cilicia based in
Lebanon, and the Assyrian Church of the East. In third place come the
Churches and Ecclesial Communities of Western origin: the Anglican
Communion, the Lutheran World Federation, the Alliance of the Reformed
Churches, The World Methodist Council, the World Baptist Alliance, the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Pentecostals and the
Evangelicals. Fourthly, there are the international Interconfessional
Organizations and fifthly, Judaism. We can say that dialogue with these
Churches or Ecclesial Communities has reached a fairly advanced stage. Its
aim for the Church is the achievement of the visible unity of the Church
and full communion in the apostolic faith and in sacramental life. Some of
the Catholic Church's partners, such as the Orthodox, the Anglicans, the
Methodists and the Lutheran Federation, think along the same lines.8
2. Prayer is a priority
The Catholic Church, through the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, fosters relations with the World Council of Churches of
which she is not a member. She has had annual meetings with this Council
and keeps in touch as the need arises. Since the 1960s, they have worked
together to prepare the texts for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
that takes place every year from 18 to 25 January. They also exchange
personnel in different areas, all due to the fact that their cooperation
in the field of ecumenism has advanced.
There is no doubt that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has made
them aware of the gravity of their divisions. It has convinced them that
prayer alone can overcome prejudices, change hearts, make attitudes
flexible and bring about reconciliation, without which no one can claim to
be a disciple of Christ. Did not Jesus say: "So if you are offering your
gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be
reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."?
Luigi Accattoli, author of the book Quand un Pape Demande Pardon
(When a Pope Asks Forgiveness), says that John Paul II has publicly put
Christ's recommendation into practice almost 100 times regarding questions
ranging from the Inquisition to the unjust treatment of women. And he did
something unheard of in the past by admitting the Church's guilt despite
certain objections or reticence expressed by various people in some
3. Ecumenism and conversion
Citing the Second Vatican Council's Decree Unitatis Redintegratio,
John Paul says in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint: "This change
of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for
the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole
ecumenical movement, and can rightly be called 'spiritual ecumenism'". And
he adds, "Love builds communion between individuals and between
Communities. If we love one another, we strive to deepen our communion and
make it perfect".10 "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the
name without a change of heart".11
4. Ecumenical dialogue
After prayer comes dialogue in its different forms. Ecumenical dialogue
"is an indispensable step along the path towards human self-realization,
the self-realization both of each individual and of every human
community.... Dialogue is not simply an exchange of ideas. In some way
it is always an exchange of gifts'". But, "when undertaking dialogue, each
side must presuppose in the other a desire for reconciliation, for unity
Furthermore, "ecumenical dialogue is marked by a common quest for
truth, particularly concerning the Church.... If on the one hand, dialogue
depends on prayer, so, in another sense, prayer also becomes the ever more
mature fruit of dialogue .... Dialogue also serves as an examination of
Far more, this dialogue becomes a dialogue of conversion, or a
"dialogue of salvation". "It... creates in brothers and sisters living in
Communities that are not in full communion with one another the interior
space where Christ, the source of the Church's unity, can effectively act
with all the power of his Spirit, the Paraclete".14
"Dialogue is also a natural instrument for comparing differing points
of view and, above all, for examining those disagreements which hinder
full communion between Christians". It requires: "love for truth, with
charity and with humility", in "searching together with the separated
brothers and sisters into the divine mysteries".15 Then comes
cooperation among all Christians which "vividly expresses that bond which
already unites them, and... sets in clearer relief the features of Christ
the Servant". As the Conciliar Degree on Ecumenism Unitatis
Redintegratio states: "Through such cooperation, all believers in
Christ are able to learn easily how they can understand each other better
and esteem each other more, and how the road to the unity of Christians
may be made smooth [n. 12]".16
5. Ecumenical Formation
The Ecumenical Directory insists on ecumenical formation by stressing
the need for it and its goal, and recommending adaptation to people's
concrete situations, means and suitable milieux. It insists on the
formation of those who work in pastoral ministry, especially ordained
ministers. It demonstrates the importance of specialized training in
dialogue, the role of Catholic universities, specialized ecumenical
institutes and the need for continuing formation. It specifically states:
"It is right to make the most of different kinds of spiritual encounters
to deepen knowledge of elements of spirituality that are shared and those
that are specific".17
6. Holy Father, Pilgrim of Ecumenism
For John Paul II, ecumenism is a definitive commitment made by the
Catholic Church. He has assured all the representatives of the Church and
the Ecclesial Communities of "his firm determination to advance on the
path of unity... and not to stop before reaching this goal... which is the
unity that Christ desired for his Church". "The commitment of the Catholic
Church to the ecumenical movement solemnly proclaimed by the Second
Vatican Council is irreversible". And even more, for the Pope, "ecumenism"
is at the heart of the Church: "It is a pastoral priority that the Church
cannot give up".18
Making personal contact with the different Church or Community leaders
has always been on the programme of John Paul II's Pastoral Visits. He has
made long journeys that have taken him to nearly all the countries of the
world. He was very pleased to meet one or other religious leaders, as he
has expressed in some of his Encyclicals. He did not fail to mention one
or other of these Visits in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint,
published in 1995. In it he says: "With regard to the Church of Rome and
the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the process which we have
just mentioned began thanks to the mutual openness demonstrated by Popes
John XXIII and Paul VI on the one hand, and by the Ecumenical Patriarch
Athenagoras I and his successors on the other. The resulting change found
its historical expression in the ecclesial act whereby 'there was removed
from memory and from the midst of the Churches' the remembrance of the
excommunications which 900 years before, in 1054, had become the symbol of
the schism between Rome and Constantinople".19
The Holy Father also recalls the meeting between Paul VI and Patriarch
Athenagoras I in Jerusalem, a meeting to which, as a Bishop-elect, I
accompanied Cardinal Patriarch Mιouchi,
my predecessor. Then, two years later, Paul VI and Athenagoras again
exchanged visits, and I also had the honour of attending in 1964. And two
years after he was elected to the throne of Peter, John Paul II met
Patriarch Athenagoras' successor, Dimitrios I, at the Phanar Dialogue
between the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox Churches in canonical
communion with the See of Constantinople. The two Churches began the
practice of sending delegations to visit each other to represent them:
from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to Rome for the Feast of the Holy
Apostles Peter and Paul, and from the Holy See to the Phanar for the Feast
of St Andrew.20
On this topic, John Paul II mentions two important events for
ecumenism: the Jubilee of 1984 to celebrate the 11th centenary of the
evangelization carried out by Cyril and Methodius, Co-Patrons of Europe,
and the proclamation of St Benedict as Patron of Europe with them. Indeed,
there is an ongoing dialogue between the two Churches: that of the West
and that of the East.21
Ecumenism is integrated into the daily ministry of John Paul II. He
mentions it in his Declarations, in his General Audiences on Wednesdays,
in reciting the Sunday Angelus, during the Bishops' ad limina
visits as well as in receiving guests from other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities at Private Audiences, and in the Letters accrediting new
ambassadors to the Holy See.
On 9 May 1999, during a solemn Eucharistic concelebration in Romania,
in the presence of Patriarch Teoctist, he ended his Homily by entreating
the faithful: "My fondest hope is that Jesus' prayer in the Upper Room:
'Father, that they may all be one' (cf. Jn 17:21), will always be on your
lips and never cease to beat in your hearts".22
III. Ecumenical Achievements
John Paul II devotes the second chapter of his Encyclical Letter Ut
Unum Sint to the fruits of dialogue. I shall content myself with
citing the subtitles of its paragraphs which are evocative in themselves:
"Brotherhood rediscovered, Solidarity in the service of humanity,
Approaching one another through the Word of God and through divine
worship, Appreciating the endowments present among other Christians, The
growth of communion, Dialogue with the Churches of the East, Resuming
contacts, Sister Churches, Progress in dialogue, Relations with the
Ancient Churches of the East, Dialogue with other Churches and Ecclesial
Communities in the West, Ecclesial Relations, Achievements of
cooperation". This chapter itself is 40 pages long.
In developing this topic, the Holy Father writes: "At times it seems
that we are closer to being able finally to seal this 'real although not
yet full' communion. A century ago who could even have imagined such a
1. With the Orthodox Churches
The same document, Ut Unum Sint, says concerning the Orthodox
Churches and the Catholic Church that it is already possible to speak of a
gradual rediscovery of one another as "Sister Churches". The term "sisters"
has a profound theological significance. It denotes recognition of the
other as having in Apostolic Succession, the same sacramental structure
concerning the Eucharist, the priesthood and the Episcopate.24
Fraternal relations were then re-established between the Catholic
Church and the Orthodox Churches of the East which had rejected the dogma
formulated by the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. The Orthodox Churches
concerned are: the Coptic, Syrian, Ethiopian, Armenian and Malankara
Churches. Their leaders have at last declared "our common faith in Jesus
Christ, true God and true Man".
These declarations took place successively under Paul VI with Patriarch
Jacob III, Head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in 1971, and with Pope
Shenouda III, Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1973. Under Pope John
Paul II, in 1984, Pope Mar Ignatius Zakka II, Head of the Syrian Orthodox
Church, made a similar declaration. Patriarch Abouna Paulos, Head of the
Ethiopian Orthodox Church, followed suite in 1993.
That was also the year of the Declaration of the Balamand Meeting in
Lebanon. The representatives of nine autocephalous and autonomous Churches
attended it. On behalf of the Catholic Church, 24 members of the Joint
Commission took part in the meeting. This declaration recognizes in
particular that: "On each side it is recognized that what Christ has
entrusted to his Church
profession of apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, above
all, the one priesthood celebrating the one sacrifice of Christ, the
apostolic succession of bishops
cannot be considered the exclusive property of one of our Churches".25
The following year, in 1994, it was the turn of Mar Dinkha IV, Head of the
Assyrian Orthodox Church, formerly known as the Nestorian Church.
2. From the Reformation Churches
Relations with the reformed Churches also developed in a more or less
satisfactory way. We cite the Lutheran World Federation: The dialogue that
has been going on for a third of a century since the Second Vatican
Council has led to a certain consensus on the essential content of the
Doctrine of Justification by faith. It cannot be denied that there are
still certain differences, but they do not, however, divide the Church.
On 31 October 1999 the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World
Federation signed a common declaration presenting the fundamental
agreement reached by the one Church and the other after long years of
ecumenical meetings and theological discussions on the Doctrine of
Justification. In an article by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, that was published in
January 2000, the Cardinal emphasized the importance of the Joint
Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue, "without concealing the divergences that
continue to exist"."
However, John Paul II indicates which topics will require in-depth
examination in order to reach a true consensus in the faith.
Relations between Sacred Scripture, the supreme authority on the faith,
and Holy Tradition, an indispensable interpretation of the Word of God.
The Eucharist, the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, the offering
of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and the real presence of
Christ, the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Ordination, as a sacrament, to the triple ministry of the Episcopate, to
the Priesthood, and to the Diaconate.
The Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and to the Bishops in
communion with him, understood as responsibility and authority in the Name
of Christ for the teaching and safeguarding of the faith.
The Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual
Mother who intercedes for the disciples of Christ and for all humanity.
3. Problem of the Petrine Ministry
John Paul II was the first to recognize this problem in 1984 before the
World Council of Churches in Geneva. As he recalls in his Encyclical
Letter Ut Unum Sint "The Catholic Church's conviction that in the
ministry of the Bishop of Rome she has preserved, in fidelity to the
Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the visible sign and
guarantor of unity, constitutes a difficulty for most other Christians,
whose memory is marked by certain painful recollections". And here he does
not hesitate to ask pardon: "I join my Predecessor Paul VI in asking
He is very glad that the problem of the primacy of Rome has now "become
a subject of study which is already under way or will be in the near
future". He recalls what St Augustine said about this: after showing that
Christ is "the one Shepherd, in whose unity all are one", he adds: "May
all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice
of the Shepherd be heard... may the sheep hear this voice... and not a
babble of voices... this voice free of all division, purified of all
heresy, that the sheep hear".28
Further, feeling the burden of his office, John Paul II confides that
it is an "immense task, which we cannot refuse and which I cannot carry
out by myself. Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between
us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a
patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which,
leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another,
keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church and allowing
ourselves to be deeply moved by his plea 'that they may all be one... so
that the world may believe that you have sent me'"?29
Receiving us in Audience on 29 September 1998, and after recalling the
few lines from his Encyclical Ut Unum Sint that I have just quoted,
the Holy Father addressed to us, the five Oriental Catholic Patriarchs,
the following words: "It is first up to you to seek, with us, the most
suitable forms so that this ministry [of unity] can carry out a service of
charity recognized by all. I ask you to give the Pope your help in the
name of that responsibility for re-establishing full communion with the
Orthodox Churches... which belongs to you as Patriarchs of Churches that
share so much of the theological, liturgical, spiritual and canonical
patrimony with Orthodoxy".30
4. Two important events
Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has made
enormous progress in ecumenical matters. To get an idea of the ground
covered and to show how far we are from the atmosphere that prevailed even
half a century ago, at least among us in the Near East, may I recall a
seminary memory from the end of the 1940s.
We were at the Eastern Rite Seminary which at that time was part of St
Joseph's University in Beirut. Our Director was a Jesuit Father of
Orthodox origins. His family members had remained Orthodox. He lost his
mother. The seminarians wondered whether they could take part in the
prayers in the Orthodox Church. Having been consulted, the professor of
moral theology was of the opinion that it would be possible to take part
it the prayers
sitting in the choir like seminarians, but in the nave like the ordinary
faithful. He reminded us at the same time of his teaching on the
communicatio in sacris which prohibited an Orthodox organist from
playing the organ in a Catholic Church. It was forbidden likewise to toll
the bell in a Catholic church to announce the death of an Orthodox
believer. There was a whole series of prohibitions of this kind.
Another episode might have turned into a fight. I think it must have
happened in the 1950s. In this day and age, it would have been considered
scandalous. On the occasion of the death of a well-known Maronite, as was
the custom, the Orthodox faithful were summoned from the same district of
Beirut. Tradition requires the faithful to come, led by their parish
priest. He arrived with his faithful and, at the Maronite priest's
invitation, was about to take a seat in the choir. The Maronite Bishop
presiding told the Orthodox parish priest that he could not sit in the
choir. The parish priest, whose self-esteem was wounded, stormed out of
the church followed by all his faithful, some grumbling, and others with a
torrent of abuse. Fortunately, that period is gone for ever and the
attitude of the faithful of different Churches is far more tolerant
throughout the world.
How times have changed! The Directory for the Application of the
Norms and Principles of Ecumenism says concerning sharing in the
sacramental life, especially the Eucharist: "Whenever necessity requires
or a genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of
error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for any Catholic for whom
it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to
receive the sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick
from a minister of an Eastern Church" 31
Already in 1980, in an Address to the Secretariat for Christian Unity,
John Paul II declared: "I am convinced, moreover, that a rearticulation of
the ancient Eastern and Western traditions and the balanced exchange that
will result when full communion is found again, may be of great importance
to heal the divisions that came about in the West in the 16th century".32
Furthermore, John Paul II notes this clearly when he stresses in Ut
Unum Sint that: "Our common awareness that we belong to Christ is
growing deeper". He adds, "I have personally been able many times to
observe this during the ecumenical celebrations which are an important
part of my Apostolic Visits to various parts of the world, and also in the
meetings and ecumenical celebrations which have taken place in Rome". A
little further on he says again: "In a word, Christians have been
converted to a fraternal charity which embraces all Christ's disciples".33
As a conclusion to this statement, we could say, with Mons. John Radano
who heads the Western Section of the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity, that: "The engagement of the Catholic Church in favour of
ecumenism is definitive and irrevocable for this reason: the prayer of the
Lord who asks that his disciples 'be one' is eternal. Important steps have
been taken towards unity. Many more have yet to be made at every level of
the local and universal Church".34
John Paul II and Interreligious Dialogue
Interreligious dialogue gathered momentum after the Second Vatican
Council that dedicated to it a Declaration entitled Nostra Aetate
which deals with non-Christian religions. This Declaration states:
"Throughout history even to the present day, there is found among
different peoples a certain awareness of a hidden power, which lies behind
the course of nature and the events of human life. At times there is
present even a recognition of a supreme being, or still more of a Father".35
However, it stops at Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam. Lacking time,
I limit myself to saying a word about Islam and Judaism.
The Declaration Nostra Aetate says above all that "the Church
has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living
and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
who has also spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without
reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to
God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not
acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin
Mother they also honour, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they
await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection
of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and
worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting".
The Council goes even further and "pleads with all to forget the past,
and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding;
for the benefit of all men, let them together preserve and promote peace,
liberty, social justice and moral values"."
A. Applying Vatican Council II
John Paul II has made it his duty to apply the recommendations of the
Second Vatican Council. In 1988, he raised the Secretariat for
Non-Christians, which Paul VI had created in 1964, to the rank of Council
for Interreligious Dialogue. Pastor Bonus defines the competence of
this Council in these terms: "The Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue fosters and supervises relations with members and groups of
non-Christian religions as well as with those who are in any way endowed
with religious feeling" (n. 159).
In his Pastoral Visits, the Pope has always been eager to make contact
with Muslim figures and groups. He has even visited Muslim Countries and
been unsparing in his teaching through which he insists on the peaceful
coexistence of Muslims and Christians. Lastly, he has always behaved
respectfully to Muslims. Nor has he ever failed to stress the common roots
that originally linked Judaism and Christianity.
B. Messages at time of Ramadan
Since 1979, a year after entering his office as the common Father of
all the faithful, John Paul II spoke to the Bishops of North Africa
meeting in Rome at an ordinary Assembly in the spring. He said:
"Christians and Muslims could take it upon themselves in today's world to
bear a public witness of their faith in God the Creator and Master of
history. The secularization of social life eventually becomes a burden on
the freedom of the human being who must take his own responsibility for
his life in the faith".37
Every year, on the occasion of Ramadan, the feast at the end of the
fasting, the Secretariat that later became the Council for Interreligious
Dialogue has acquired the habit of sending a message to the Muslim world
expressing its sympathetic and good wishes.
C. Visits to mainly Muslim Countries
The Holy Father's visits to Muslim Countries fall within his
sympathetic view of Islam. Countries include:
Turkey in 1979, where he recalled the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council on Islam;
Morocco in 1985, where he spoke to young Muslims, telling them among other
things: "I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with
joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God
Sudan, Benin and Uganda in 1993. With regard to Sudan, to which he paid a
one-day visit, he said: "It is also necessary to talk of the problems that
concern our relations with the followers of the great religion of Islam,
seeking to face them with an open mind with a view to possible solutions";40
Egypt, in the year 2000, a journey in which I was privileged to be
included. On his arrival in Cairo, the Holy Father declared: "The advent
of Islam brought splendours of art and learning which has had a
determining influence on the Arab world and on Africa";41
Syria, in 2001, where he visited the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and spoke
to the Muslims. He said to them: "As members of the one human family and
as believers we have obligations to the common good, to justice and to
solidarity. Interreligious dialogue will lead to various forms of
cooperation, especially in responding to the duty to care for the poor and
D. His teaching
May I take as an example of this enlightened teaching that recommends
the friendly coexistence of Muslims and Christians the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Une Espιrance
Nouvelle pour le Liban (A New Hope for Lebanon). In it the Pope says:
"Having lived side by side down the centuries both in peace and
collaboration and in confrontations and conflicts, Christians and Muslims
in Lebanon must find in a dialogue respectful of the sensibilities of
individuals and of the different communities the indispensable way to
friendly coexistence and to building society". To highlight the presence
of Muslims as fraternal delegates at the Special Assembly of the Synod of
Bishops for Lebanon, held in Rome. in 1995, he said: "I thank the Muslim
and Druze fraternal delegates for attending the Synodal Assembly and for
their active participation in the dialogue".43
E. The two Days of Prayer in Assisi
In the context of interreligious dialogue, John Paul II twice convened
a day of prayer in Assisi: in 1986 and in 1999. I had the honour of taking
part in them.
The first day gathered about 130 leaders belonging to all the Christian
communities and all the non-Christian religions who had been the Pope's
guests at Assisi to pray and fast for peace. A large number of believers
across the world also took part in this day.44
The second day gathered almost 200 participants from 20 different
religious traditions. In his Address closing this interreligious meeting,
John Paul II emphasized that: "Any use of religion to support violence is
an abuse of religion. Religion is not, and must not become, a pretext for
conflict, particularly when religious, cultural and ethnic identity
coincide. Religion and peace go together; to wage war in the name of
religion is a blatant contradiction".45
As in the case of Islam, the Second Vatican Council also expressed its
regard for the Jewish religion. It said in particular: "The Church of
Christ acknowledges that in God's plan of salvation, the beginning of her
faith and election is to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and the
prophets. She professes that all Christ's faithful, who as men of faith
are sons of Abraham (cf. Gal 3:7), are included in the same patriarch's
call and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the
Exodus of God's Chosen People from the land of bondage". It added, "Even
though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed
for the death of Christ, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time,
nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his
At the time, this passage
remember it well
provoked a storm of protest in the Muslim world, especially among the
Palestinians, still involved after more than half a century in a bloody
conflict with the Israelis.
Immediately after the Second Vatican Council in 1967, the Holy See set
up an office for relations between Catholics and, Jews. Later it was to
become the "Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews". In 1974,
this Commission was included in the Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity. That same year, the Commission published a guide and
suggestions for the application of Nostra Aetate which served as a
basis for dialogue with Judaism. In 1985, the Commission published
Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and
Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church. We read in the conclusion:
"Our two traditions are so related that they cannot ignore each other.
Mutual knowledge must be encouraged at every level".
1. Sensitivity of the Jewish issue
From the moment he was elected to the chair of Peter, John Paul II
showed his desire to follow the teaching of the Council. Moreover, he was
keenly sensitive to the Jewish question since his childhood in Poland, the
Country of his birth. His biographers suggest that this may have been
because of his friendship with certain Jewish compatriots.
"For the vast Catholic public, two strongly symbolic acts, 14 years
apart, have marked this Pontificate: one at the beginning, the Pope's
visit to the important synagogue of Rome in April 1986; and the other, his
prayer at the Wailing Wall in March 2000. Historians would remember a
third event, exactly midway between them: the 'Fundamental Agreement'
signed by the Holy See and the State of Israel in 30 December 1993".47
In his Address in response to Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff of Rome, Pope John
Paul II stressed three essential points: "The first is that the Church of
Christ discovers her 'bond' with Judaism by 'searching into her own
mystery' (Nostra Aetate, n. 4)....
"The second point noted by the Council is that no ancestral or
collective blame can be imputed to the Jews as a people for 'what happened
in Christ's Passion' [cf. ibid.]....
"The third point that I would like to emphasize in the Council's
Declaration is a consequence of the second. Notwithstanding the Church's
awareness of her own identity, it is not lawful to say that the Jews are
'repudiated or cursed', as if this were taught or could be deduced from
the Sacred Scriptures'" [ibid.].48
On the occasion of his successful Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000,
the Holy Father's acts were deeply moving, especially his meditation by
the Western Wall of the Temple of Jerusalem. He went up to it alone, and
ended his reflection by inserting this prayer in a crack between the
stones in the wall:
"God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring
your name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to
suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine
brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. Through Jesus, the Christ,
our Lord. Amen".
Sunday, 26 March 2000
IOANNES PAULUS PP. 1149
There have been several controversial topics, however, between
Christians and Jews. We mention in passing the Carmelite Convent at
Auschwitz that was replaced by a Jewish study centre in 1992; Pius XII's
attitude to the extermination of the Jews, although he condemned this
extermination; the canonization of Edith Stein, Sr Teresa of the Cross, in
1998; the document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews
dated March 1998, We Remember: Reflection on the "Shoah"; the Shoah
was "certainly the worst suffering of all".50 We cannot, after
all, disregard the tragedy that has been going on in the Holy Land between
Jews and Palestinians for more than half a century, and is at the root of
the destabilization of the whole of the Middle East region.
On this day of the celebration of his luminous Pontificate, surrounded
by the College of Cardinals whose members have come from all the horizons
of the Catholic world, sustained by the prayer of the faithful everywhere
and the object of admiration for the Christian world and for the world in
general, His Holiness Pope John Paul II has certainly earned the
admiration of both the Church and humanity, for which he has always marked
out the path to follow even at the price of his health, a path which is
none other than that of the One who said: "I am the Way, the Truth and the
Ad Multos Annos!
1 Jn 17:21.
2 Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 1.
3 Ut Unum Sint, n. 9.
4 Eph 4:5-6.
5 Ut Unum Sint, n. 15.
6 Ibid., n. 20.
7 The Bishop and his Ministry, Urbaniana University
Press, 1998, p. 290.
8 Ibid., p. 291.
9 When a Pope Asks Forgiveness, p.68.
10 Ut Unum Sint, n. 21.
11 Ibid., n. 15.
12 Ibid., nn. 28, 29.
13 Ibid., nn. 33, 34.
14 Ibid., n. 35.
15 Ibid., n. 36.
16 lbid., n. 40.
17 Documentation Catholique, 1993, n. 2075, p. 626.
18 New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 71.
19 Ut Unum Sint, n. 52.
20 Ibid., n. 52.
21 Ibid., n. 53.
22 New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 71.
23 Ut Unum Sint, n. 45.
24 The Bishop and his Ministry, p. 294.
25 Documentation Catholique, 1994, n. 2100, p. 782.
26 Documentation Catholique, 2001, n. 2247, p. 411.
27 Ut Unum Sint., n. 88.
28 Ibid., n. 94.
29 Ibid., n. 96.
30 Documentation Catholique, 1998, p. 952.
31 Ecumenical Directory, n. 123.
32 Documentation Catholique, 1980, p. 223.
33 Ut Unum Sint, n. 42.
34 The Bishop and his Ministry, p. 296.
35 Nostra Aetate, n. 2.
36 Ibid., n. 3.
37 Documentation Catholique, 1979, p. 761.
38 Ibid., 1979, p. 1052.
39 Ibid., 1985, p. 945.
40 Ibid., 1994, p. 102.
41 Ibid., 2000, p. 261.
42 Ibid., 2001, p. 479.
43 Ibid., 1997, p. 533.
44 Ibid., 1986, p. 1065.
45 Ibid., 1999, p. 1090.
46 Nostra Aetate, n. 4.
et Vie, 2003, p. 22.
48 Documentation Catholique, 1986, pp. 437-438.
49 Ibid., 1998, p. 952.
50 Ibid., 1998, p. 337.
51 Jn 14:6.