DIALOGUE AND PROCLAMATION
Reflection And Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue
Proclamation Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ (1)
1. 25 years after "Nostra Aetate"
It is 25 years since "Nostra Aetate", the declaration of the Second Vatican
Council on the Church's relationship to other religions, was promulgated. The
document stressed the importance of interreligious dialogue. At the same time,
it recalled that the Church is in duty bound to proclaim without fail Christ,
the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in whom all people find their fulfillment (cf.
2. Dialogue and mission
To foster the work of dialogue, Pope Paul VI set up in 1964 the Secretariat
for Non-Christians, recently renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue. Following its Plenary Assembly of 1984, the Secretariat issued a
document entitled "The Attitude of the Church Towards the Followers of Other
Religions: Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission." This document
states that the evangelizing mission of the Church is a "single but complex and
articulated reality." It indicates the principal elements of this mission:
presence and witness; commitment to social development and human liberation;
liturgical life, prayer and contemplation; interreligious dialogue; and finally,
proclamation and catechesis(2). Proclamation and dialogue are thus both viewed,
each in its own place, as component elements and authentic forms of the one
evangelizing mission of the Church. They are both oriented towards the
communication of salvific truth.
3. Dialogue and proclamation
The present document gives further consideration to these two elements. It
first puts forward the characteristics of each, and then studies their mutual
relationship. If dialogue is treated first, this is not because it has any
priority over proclamation. It is simply due to the fact that dialogue is the
primary concern of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue which
initiated the preparation of the document. The document in fact was first
discussed during the Plenary Assembly of the Secretariat in 1987. The
observations made then, together with further consultation, have let to this
text, which was finalized and adopted at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization
of Peoples. Both dicasteries are offering these reflections to the universal
4. Current affairs
Among the reasons which make the relationship between dialogue and
proclamation a relevant theme for study, the following may be mentioned:
a) In the world of today, characterized by rapid communications, mobility of
peoples, and interdependence, there is a new awareness of the fact of religious
plurality. Religions do not merely exist, or simply survive. In some cases, they
give clear evidence of a revival. They continue to inspire and influence the
lives of millions of their adherents. In the present context of religious
plurality, the important role played by religious traditions cannot be
b) Interreligious dialogue between Christians and followers of other
religious traditions, as envisaged by the Second Vatican Council, is only
gradually coming to be understood. Its practice remains hesitant in some places.
The situation differs from country to country. It can depend on the size of the
Christian community, on which other religious traditions are present, and on
various other cultural, social and political factors. A further examination of
the question may help to stimulate dialogue.
c) The practice of dialogue raises problems in the minds of many. There are
those who would seem to think, erroneously, that in the Church's mission today
dialogue should simply replace proclamation. At the other extreme, some fail to
see the value of interreligious dialogue. Yet others are perplexed and ask: if
interreligious dialogue has become so important, has the proclamation of the
Gospel message lost its urgency? Has the effort to bring people into the
community of the Church become secondary or even superfluous? There is a need
therefore for doctrinal and pastoral guidance to which this document wishes to
contribute, without pretending to answer fully the many and complex questions
which arise in this connection.
As this text was in its final stages of preparation for publication, the Holy
Father, Pope John Paul II, offered to the Church his Encyclical Redemptoris
Missio in which he addressed these questions and many more. The present
document spells out in greater detail the teaching of the Encyclical on dialogue
and its relationship to proclamation (cf. RM 55-57). It is therefore to be read
in the light of this Encyclical.
5. The Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi
The World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, on 27 October 1986, held at the
initiative of Pope John Paul II, provides another stimulus for reflection. Both
on the day itself and after, especially in his address to the Cardinals and to
the Roman Curia in December, 1986, the Holy Father explained the meaning of the
Assisi celebration. He underlined the fundamental unity of the human race, in
its origin and its destiny, and the role of the Church as an effective sign of
this unity. He brought out forcibly the significance of interreligious dialogue,
while at the same time reaffirming the Church's duty to announce Jesus Christ to
6. The encouragement of John Paul II
The following year, in his address to the members of the Plenary Assembly of
the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Pope John Paul II declared:
"Just as interreligious dialogue is one element in the mission of the Church,
the proclamation of God's saving work in Our Lord Jesus Christ is another...
There can be no question of choosing one and ignoring or rejecting the
other."(4) The lead given by the Pope encourages us to give further attention to
the present theme.
7. Further stimuli to tackle the issue
This document is addressed to all Catholics, particularly to all who have a
leadership role in the community or are engaged in formation work. It is offered
as well for the consideration of Christians belonging to other Churches or
Ecclesial Communities who themselves have been reflecting on the questions it
raises(5). It is hoped that it will receive attention also from the followers of
other religious traditions.
Before proceeding it will be useful to clarify the terms being used in this
Evangelizing mission, or more simply evangelization, refers to
the mission of the Church in its totality. In the Apostolic Exhortation
Evangelii Nuntiandi the term evangelization is taken in different ways.
It means "to bring the Good News into all areas of humanity, and through its
impact, to transform that humanity from within, making it new" (EN 18). Thus,
through evangelization the Church "seeks to convert solely through the divine
power of the Message she proclaims, both the personal and collective consciences
of people, the activities in which they engage, their ways of life, and the
actual milieux in which they live" (EN 18). The Church accomplishes her
evangelizing mission through a variety of activities. Hence there is a broad
concept of evangelization. Yet in the same document, evangelization is also
taken more specifically to mean "the clear and unambiguous proclamation of the
Lord Jesus" (EN 22). The Exhortation states that "this proclamation -
kerygma, preaching or catechesis - occupies such an important place in
evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it; and yet it is only
one aspect of evangelization" (EN 22). In this document the term evangelizing
mission is used for evangelization in its broad sense, while the more
specific understanding is expressed by the term proclamation.
Dialogue can be understood in different ways. Firstly, at the purely
human level, it means reciprocal communication, leading to a common goal or, at
a deeper level, to interpersonal communion. Secondly, dialogue can be taken as
an attitude of respect and friendship, which permeates or should permeate all
those activities constituting the evangelizing mission of the Church. This can
appropriately be called "the spirit of dialogue". Thirdly, in the context of
religious plurality, dialogue means "all positive and constructive
interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which
are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment"(6), in obedience to truth
and respect for freedom. It includes both witness and the exploration of
respective religious convictions. It is in this third sense that the present
document uses the term dialogue for one of the integral elements of the Church's
Proclamation is the communication of the Gospel message, the mystery
of salvation realized by God for all in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit.
It is an invitation to a commitment of faith in Jesus Christ and to entry
through baptism into the community of believers which is the Church. This
proclamation can be solemn and public, as for instance on the day of Pentecost
(cf. Ac 2:5-41), or a simple private conversation (cf. Ac
8:30-38). It leads naturally to catechesis which aims at deepening this faith.
Proclamation is the foundation, centre, and summit of evangelization (cf. EN
Included in the idea of conversion, there is always a general movement
towards God, "the humble and penitent return of the heart to God in the desire
to submit one's life more generously to him"(7). More specifically, conversion
may refer to a change of religious adherence, and particularly to embracing the
Christian faith. When the term conversion is used in this document, the context
will show which sense is intended.
12. Religions and religious traditions
The terms religions or religious traditions are used here in a
generic and analogical sense. They cover those religions which, with
Christianity, are wont to refer back to the faith of Abraham(8), as well as the
religious traditions of Asia, Africa and elsewhere.
13. New religious movements
Interreligious dialogue ought to extend to all religions and their followers.
This document, however, will not treat of dialogue with the followers of "New
Religious Movements" due to the diversity of situations which these movements
present and the need for discernment on the human and religious values which
1. INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
1. A CHRISTIAN APPROACH TO RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS
14. Positive evaluation of religious traditions
A just appraisal of other religious traditions normally presupposes close
contact with them. This implies, besides theoretical knowledge, practical
experience of interreligious dialogue with the followers of these traditions.
Nevertheless, it is also true that a correct theological evaluation of these
traditions, at least in general terms, is a necessary presupposition for
interreligious dialogue. These traditions are to be approached with great
sensitivity, on account of the spiritual and human values enshrined in them.
They command our respect because over the centuries they have borne witness to
the efforts to find answers "to those profound mysteries of the human condition"
(NA 1) and have given expression to the religious experience and they continue
to do so today.
15. Orientations of Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council has given the lead for such a positive assessment.
The exact meaning of what the Council affirms needs to be carefully and
accurately ascertained. The Council reaffirms the traditional doctrine according
to which salvation in Jesus Christ is, in a mysterious way, a reality open to
all persons of good will. A clear enunciation of this basic conviction in
Vatican II is found in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes. The Council
teaches that Christ, the New Adam, through the mystery of his incarnation, death
and resurrection, is at work in each human person to bring about interior
"This hold true not for Christians only but also for all persons of good will
in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and
since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we
must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made
partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery" (GS 22).
16. The effects of divine Grace
The Council proceeds further. Making its own the vision and the terminology
of some early Church Fathers, Nostra Aetate speaks of the presence in
these traditions of "a ray of that Truth which enlightens all" (NA 2). Ad
Gentes recognizes the presence of "seeds of the word", and points to "the
riches which a generous God has distributed among the nations" (AG 11). Again,
Lumen Gentium refers to the good which is "found sown" not only "in minds
and hearts", but also "in the rites and customs of peoples" (LG 17).
17. The action of the Holy Spirit
These few references suffice to show that the Council has openly acknowledged
the presence of positive values not only in the religious life of individual
believers of other religious traditions, but also in the religious traditions to
which they belong. It attributed these values to the active presence of God
through his Word, pointing also to the universal action of the Spirit: "Without
doubt," Ad Gentes affirms, "the Holy Spirit was at work in the world
before Christ was glorified" (No. 4). From this it can be seen that these
elements, as a preparation for the Gospel (cf. LG 16), have played and do still
play a providential role in the divine economy of salvation. This recognition
impels the Church to enter into "dialogue and collaboration" (NA 2; cf. GS
92-93): "Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life,
acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral good found among
non-Christians, as well as their social and cultural values" (NA 2).
18. The role of the Church's activity
The Council is not unaware of the necessity of the missionary activity of the
Church in order to perfect in Christ these elements found in other religions.
The Council states very clearly: "Whatever truth and grace are to be found among
the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, this activity frees from all
taint of evil and restores to Christ its Maker, who overthrows the devil's
domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found
to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar
to various peoples, is not lost. More than that, it is healed, ennobled, and
perfected for the glory of God, the same of the demon, and the bliss of men" (AG
19. The history of God's salvific action
The Old Testament testifies that from the beginning of creation God made a
Covenant with all peoples (Gn 1:11). This shows that there is but one
history of salvation for the whole of humankind. The Covenant with Noah, the man
who "walked with God" (Gn 6:9), is symbolic of the divine intervention in
the history of the nations. Non-Israelite figures of the Old Testament are seen
in the New Testament as belonging to this history of salvation. Abel, Enoch and
Noah are proposed as models of faith (cf. Heb 11:4-7). It is this history
of salvation which sees its final fulfillment in Jesus Christ in whom is
established the new and definitive Covenant for all peoples.
20. Beyond the confines of the Chosen People
The religious consciousness of Israel is characterized by a deep awareness of
its unique status as God's Chosen People. This election, accompanied by a
process of formation and continuous exhortations to preserve the purity of
monotheism, constitutes a mission. The prophets continually insist on loyalty
and fidelity to the One True God and speak about the promised Messiah. And yet
these prophets, particularly at the time of the Exile, bring a universal
perspective, for God's salvation is understood to extend beyond and through
Israel to the nations. Thus Isaiah foretells that in the final days the nations
will stream to the house of the Lord, and they will say: "Come, let us go up to
the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us
his ways and that we may walk in his paths" (Is 52:10). In the Wisdom
literature also, which bears witness to cultural exchanges between Israel and
its neighbours, the action of God in the whole universe is clearly affirmed. It
goes beyond the boundaries of the Chosen People to touch both the history of
nations and the lives of individuals.
21. The universal mission of Jesus
Turning to the New Testament, we see that Jesus professes to have come to
gather the lost sheep of Israel (cf. Mt 15:24) and forbids his disciples
for the moment to turn to the Gentiles (cf. Mt 10:5). He nevertheless
displays an open attitude towards men and women who do not belong to the chosen
people of Israel. He enters into dialogue with them and recognizes the good that
is in them. He marvels at the centurion's readiness to believe, saying that he
has found no such faith in Israel (cf. Mt 8:5-13). He performs miracles
of healing for "foreigners" (cf. Mk 7:24-30; Mt 15:21-28), and
these miracles are signs of the coming of the Kingdom. He converses with the
Samaritan woman and speaks to her of a time when worship will not be restricted
to any one particular place, but when true worshippers will "worship the Father
in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23). Jesus is thus opening up a new horizon,
beyond the purely local, to a universality which is both Christological and
Pneumatological in character. For the new sanctuary is now the body of the Lord
Jesus (cf. Jn 2:21) whom the Father has raised up in the power of the
22. The announcement of the Kingdom of God
Jesus' message, then, proved by the witness of his life, is that in his own
person the Kingdom of God is breaking through to the world. At the beginning of
his public ministry, in Galilee of the nations, he can say: "The time has come,
and the Kingdom of God is close at hand." He also indicates the conditions for
entry into this Kingdom: "Repent and believe the Good News" (Mk 1:15).
This message is not confined only to those who belong to the specially chosen
people. Jesus in fact explicitly announces the entry of the Gentiles into the
Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 8:10-11; Mt 11:20-24; Mt
25:31-32,34), a Kingdom which is to be understood as being at one and the
same time historical and eschatological. It is both the Father's Kingdom, for
the coming of which it is necessary to pray (cf. Mt 6:10), and Jesus'
Kingdom, since Jesus openly declares himself to be king (cf. Jn
18:33-37). In fact in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, we have the
fullness of revelation and salvation and the fulfillment of the desires of the
23. The calling of all peoples
References in the New Testament to the religious life of the Gentiles and to
their religious traditions may appear to be contrasting, but can be seen as
complementary. There is, on the one hand, the negative verdict of the Letter to
the Romans against those who have failed to recognize God in his creation and
have fallen into idolatry and depravity (cf. Rm 1:18-32). On the other
hand, the Acts testify to Paul's positive and open attitude towards the
Gentiles, both in his discourse to the Lycaonians (cf. Ac 14:8-18) and in
his Areopagus speech at Athens, in which he praised their religious spirit and
announced to them the one whom unknowingly they revered as the "unknown God"
(cf. Ac 17:22-34). Nor must it be forgotten that the Wisdom tradition is
applied in the New Testament to Jesus Christ as the Wisdom of God, the Word of
God that enlightens every man (cf. Jn 1:9) and who in his Incarnation
pitches his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).
24. The Fathers of the first centuries
The post-Biblical tradition also contains contrasting data. Negative
judgements on the religious world of their time can easily be gleaned from the
writings of the Fathers. Yet the early tradition shows a remarkable openness. A
number of Church Fathers take up the sapiential tradition reflected in the New
Testament. In particular, writers of the second century and the first part of
the third century such as Justin, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, either
explicitly or in an equivalent way, speak about the "seeds" sown by the Word of
God in the nations(10). Thus it can be said that for them, prior to and outside
the Christian dispensation, God has already, in an incomplete way, manifested
himself. This manifestation of the Logos is an adumbration of the full
revelation in Jesus Christ to which it points.
25. The theology of history
In fact, these early Fathers offer what may be called a theology of history.
History becomes salvation history, inasmuch as through it God progressively
manifests himself and communicates with humankind. This process of divine
manifestation and communication reaches its climax in the incarnation of the Son
of God in Jesus Christ. For this reason, Irenaeus distinguishes four "covenants"
given by God to the human race: in Adam, in Noah, in Moses, and in Jesus
Christ(11). The same patristic current, whose importance is not to be
underestimated, may be said to culminate in Augustine who in his later works
stressed the universal presence and influence of the mystery of Christ even
before the Incarnation. In fulfillment of his plan of salvation, God, in his
Son, has reached out to the whole of humankind. Thus, in a certain sense,
Christianity already exists "at the beginning of the human race"(12).
26. The contribution of the Magisterium
It was to this early Christian vision of history that the Second Vatican
Council made reference. After the Council, the Church's Magisterium, especially
that of Pope John Paul II, has proceeded further in the same direction. First
the Pope gives explicit recognition to the operative presence of the Holy Spirit
in the life of the members of other religious traditions, as when in
Redemptor Hominis he speaks of their "firm belief" as being "an effect of
the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body"
(No. 6). In Dominum et Vivificantem, he takes a further step, affirming
the universal action of the Holy Spirit in the world before the Christian
dispensation, to which it was ordained, and referring to the universal action of
the same Spirit today, even outside the visible body of the Church (cf. No.
27. John Paul II and the approach to other religious traditions
In his address to the Roman Curia after the World Day of Prayer for Peace in
Assisi, Pope John Paul II stressed once more the universal presence of the Holy
Spirit, stating that "every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit,
who is mysteriously present in the heart of every person," Christian or
otherwise. But again, in the same discourse, the Pope, going beyond an
individual perspective, articulated the main elements which together can be seen
as constituting the theological basis for a positive approach to other religious
traditions and the practice of interreligious dialogue.
28. The mystery of the unity of all mankind
First comes the fact that the whole of humankind forms one family, due to the
common origin of all men and women, created by God in his own image.
Correspondingly, all are called to a common destiny, the fullness of life in
God. Moreover, there is but one plan of salvation for humankind, with its centre
in Jesus Christ, who in his incarnation "has united himself in a certain manner
to every person" (RH 13; cf. GS 22.2). Finally, there needs to be mentioned the
active presence of the Holy Spirit in the religious life of the members of the
other religious traditions. From all this the Pope concludes to a "mystery of
unity" which was manifested clearly at Assisi, "in spite of the differences
between religious professions."(13)
29. The unity of salvation
From this mystery of unity it follows that all men and women who are saved
share, though differently, in the same mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ
through his Spirit. Christians know this through their faith, while others
remain unaware that Jesus Christ is the source of their salvation. The mystery
of salvation reaches out to them, in a way known to God, through the invisible
action of the Spirit of Christ. Concretely, it will be in the sincere practice
of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates
of their conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to
God's invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not
recognize or acknowledge him as their saviour (cf. AG 3,9,11).
30. The need for discernment
The fruits of the Spirit of God in the personal life of individuals, whether
Christian or otherwise, are easily discernible (cf. Ga 5:22-23). To
identify in other religious traditions elements of grace capable of sustaining
the positive response of their members to God's invitation is much more
difficult. It requires a discernment for which criteria have to be established.
Sincere individuals marked by the Spirit of God have certainly put their imprint
on the elaboration and the development of their respective religious traditions.
It does not follow, however, that everything in them is good.
31. Values and contradictions
To say that the other religious traditions include elements of grace does not
imply that everything in them is the result of grace. For sin has been at work
in the world, and so religious traditions, notwithstanding their positive
values, reflect the limitations of the human spirit, sometimes inclined to
choose evil. An open and positive approach to other religious traditions cannot
overlook the contradictions which may exist between them and Christian
revelation. It must, where necessary, recognize that there is incompatibility
between some fundamental elements of the Christian religion and some aspects of
32. Dialogue and purification
This means that, while entering with an open mind into dialogue with the
followers of other religious traditions, Christians may have also to challenge
them in a peaceful spirit with regard to the content of their belief. But
Christians too must allow themselves to be questioned. Notwithstanding the
fullness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, the way Christians sometimes
understand their religion and practise it may be in need of purification.
2. THE PLACE OF INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN THE EVANGELIZING MISSION OF THE
33. The Church, universal sacrament of salvation
The Church has been willed by God and instituted by Christ to be, in the
fullness of time, the sign and instrument of the divine plan of salvation (cf.
LG 1), the centre of which is the mystery of Christ. She is the "universal
sacrament of salvation" (LG 48), and is "necessary for salvation" (LG 14). The
Lord Jesus himself inaugurated her mission "by preaching the good news, that is,
the coming of God's Kingdom" (LG 5).
34. Seed and beginning of the Kingdom
The relationship between the Church and the Kingdom is mysterious and
complex. As Vatican II teaches, "principally the Kingdom is revealed in the
person of Christ himself." Yet the Church, which has received from the Lord
Jesus the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom "is, on earth, the seed and the
beginning of that Kingdom." At the same time the Church "slowly grows to
maturity (and) longs for the completed Kingdom" (LG 5). Thus "the Kingdom is
inseparable from the Church, because both are inseparable from the person and
work of Jesus himself... It is therefore not possible to separate the Church
from the Kingdom as if the first belonged exclusively to the imperfect realm of
history, while the second would be the perfect eschatological fulfillment of the
divine plan of salvation"(14).
35. Religious traditions and the Church
To the Church, as the sacrament in which the Kingdom of God is present "in
mystery", are related or oriented (ordinantur) (cf. LG 16) the members of
other religious traditions who, inasmuch as they respond to God's calling as
perceived by their conscience, are saved in Jesus Christ and thus already share
in some way in the reality which is signified by the Kingdom. The Church's
mission is to foster "the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ" (Rv 11:15),
at whose service she is placed. Part of her role consists in recognizing that
the inchoate reality of this Kingdom can be found also beyond the confines of
the Church, for example in the hearts of the followers of other religious
traditions, insofar as they live evangelical values and are open to the action
of the Spirit. It must be remembered nevertheless that this is indeed an
inchoate reality, which needs to find completion through being related to the
Kingdom of Christ already present in the Church yet realized fully only in the
world to come.
36. The pilgrim Church
The Church on earth is always on pilgrimage. Although she is holy by divine
institution her members are not perfect; they bear the mark of their human
limitations. Consequently, her transparency as sacrament of salvation is
blurred. This is the reason why the church herself, "insofar as she is an
institution of men here on earth," and not only her members, is constantly in
need of renewal and reform (cf. UR 6).
37. Towards the fullness of divine truth
With regard to divine Revelation the Council taught that "the most intimate
truth which this revelation gives us about God and the salvation of man shines
forth in Christ, who is himself both the mediator and the sum total of
revelation" (DV 2). Faithful to the command received from Christ himself, the
apostles handed on this Revelation. Yet "the Tradition that comes from the
apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There
is growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on" (DV
8). This happens through study and spiritual experience. It also comes about
through the teaching of the bishops who have received a sure charism of truth.
Thus the Church "is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth,
until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her" (DV 8). This in no way
contradicts the Church's divine institution nor the fullness of God's Revelation
in Jesus Christ which has been entrusted to her.
38. Dialogue of salvation
Against this background it becomes easier to see why and in what sense
interreligious dialogue is an integral element of the Church's evangelizing
mission. The foundation of the Church's commitment to dialogue is not merely
anthropological but primarily theological. God, in an age-long dialogue, has
offered and continues to offer salvation to humankind. In faithfulness to the
divine initiative, the Church too must enter into a dialogue of salvation with
all men and women.
39. Methods of presence, respect and love towards all
Pope Paul VI taught this clearly in his first Encyclical Ecclesiam
Suam. Pope John Paul II too has stressed the Church's call to interreligious
dialogue and assigned to it the same foundation. Addressing the 1984 Plenary
Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pope
declared: "(Interreligious) dialogue is fundamental to the Church, which is
called to collaborate in God's plan with her methods of presence, respect and
love towards all persons." He went on to call attention to a passage from Ad
Gentes: "closely united to men in their life and work, Christ's disciples
hope to render to others true witness of Christ and to work for this salvation,
even where they are not able to proclaim Christ fully" (AG 12). He prefaced this
by saying: "dialogue finds its place within the Church's salvific mission; for
this reason it is a dialogue of salvation"(15).
40. Collaborate with the Holy Spirit
In this dialogue of salvation, Christians and others are called to
collaborate with the Spirit of the Risen Lord who is universally present and
active. Interreligious dialogue does not merely aim at mutual understanding and
It reaches a much deeper level, that of the spirit, where exchange and
sharing consist in a mutual witness to one's beliefs and a common exploration of
one's respective religious convictions. In dialogue, Christians and others are
invited to deepen their religious commitment, to respond with increasing
sincerity to God's personal call and gracious self-gift, as our faith tells us,
always passes through the mediation of Jesus Christ and the work of his
41. Conversion to God
Given this aim, a deeper conversion of all towards God, interreligious
dialogue possesses its own validity. In this process of conversion "the decision
may be made to leave one's previous spiritual or religious situation in order to
direct oneself towards another"(16). Sincere dialogue implies, on the one hand,
mutual acceptance of differences, or even of contradictions, and on the other,
respect for the free decision of persons taken according to the dictates of
their conscience (cf. DH 2). The teaching of the Council must nevertheless be
borne in mind: "All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns
God and his Church, and to embrace it and to hold on to it as they come to know
it" (DH 1).
3. FORMS OF DIALOGUE
42. The forms of dialogue
There exist different forms of interreligious dialogue. It may be useful to
recall those mentioned by the 1984 document of the Pontifical Council for
Interreligious Dialogue(17). It spoke of four forms, without claiming to
establish among them any order of priority:
a) The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open
and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and
b) The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others
collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
c) The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek
to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to
appreciate each other's spiritual values.
d) The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted
in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance
with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or
43. The interdependence of the various forms of dialogue
One should not lose sight of this variety of forms of dialogue. Were it to be
reduced to theological exchange, dialogue might easily be taken as a sort of
luxury item in the Church's mission, a domain reserved for specialists. On the
contrary, guided by the Pope and their bishops, all local Churches, and all the
members of these Churches, are called to dialogue, though not all in the same
way. It can be seen, moreover, that the different forms are interconnected.
Contacts in daily life and common commitment to action will normally open the
door for cooperation in promoting human and spiritual values; they may also
eventually lead to the dialogue of religious experience in response to the great
questions which the circumstances of life do not fail to arouse in the minds of
people (cf. NA 2). Exchanges at the level of religious experience can give more
life to theological discussions. These in turn can enlighten experience and
encourage closer contacts.
44. Dialogue and human liberation
The importance of dialogue for integral development, social justice and human
liberation needs to be stressed. Local Churches are called upon, as witnesses to
Christ, to commit themselves in this respect in an unselfish and impartial
manner. There is need to stand up for human rights, proclaim the demands of
justice, and denounce injustice not only when their own members are victimized,
but independently of the religious allegiance of the victims. There is need also
to join together in trying to solve the great problems facing society and the
world, as well as in education for justice and peace.
45. Dialogue and culture
Another context in which interreligious dialogue seems urgent today is that
of culture. Culture is broader than religion. According to one concept religion
can be said to represent the transcendent dimension of culture and in a certain
way its soul. Religions have certainly contributed to the progress of culture
and the construction of a more humane society. Yet religious practices have
sometimes had an alienating influence upon cultures. Today, an autonomous
secular culture can play a critical role with regard to negative elements in
particular religions. The question is complex, for several religious traditions
may coexist within one and the same cultural framework while, conversely, the
same religion may find expression in different cultural contexts. Again,
religious differences may lead to distinct cultures in the same region.
46. Tensions and conflicts
The Christian message supports many values found and lived in the wisdom and
the rich heritage of cultures, but it may also put in question culturally
accepted values. Attentive dialogue implies recognizing and accepting cultural
values which respect the human person's dignity and transcendent destiny. It may
happen, nevertheless, that some aspects of traditional Christian cultures are
challenged by the local cultures of other religious traditions (cf. EN 20). In
these complex relationships between culture and religion, interreligious
dialogue at the level of culture takes on considerable importance. Its aim is to
eliminate tensions and conflicts, and potential confrontations by a better
understanding among the various religious cultures of any given region. It may
contribute to purifying cultures from any dehumanizing elements, and thus be an
agent of transformation. It can also help to uphold certain traditional cultural
values which are under threat from modernity and the levelling down which
indiscriminate internationalization may bring with it.
4. DISPOSITIONS FOR INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE AND ITS FRUITS
47. A balanced attitude
Dialogue requires, on the part of Christians as well as of the followers of
other traditions, a balanced attitude. They should be neither ingenuous nor
overly critical, but open and receptive. Unselfishness and impartiality,
acceptance of differences and of possible contradictions, have already been
mentioned. The will to engage together in commitment to the truth and the
readiness to allow oneself to be transformed by the encounter are other
48. Religious conviction
This does not mean that in entering into dialogue the partners should lay
aside their respective religious convictions. The opposite is true: the
sincerity of interreligious dialogue requires that each enters into it with the
integrity of his or her own faith. At the same time, while remaining firm in
their belief that in Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man (cf.
1 Tm 2:4-6), the fullness of revelation has been given to them,
Christians must remember that God has also manifested himself in some way to the
followers of other religious traditions. Consequently, it is with receptive
minds that they approach the convictions and values of others.
49. Openness to truth
Moreover, the fullness of truth received in Jesus Christ does not give
individual Christians the guarantee that they have grasped that truth fully. In
the last analysis truth is not a thing we possess, but a person by whom we must
allow ourselves to be possessed. This is an unending process. While keeping
their identity intact, Christians must be prepared to learn and to receive from
and through others the positive values of their traditions. Through dialogue
they may be moved to give up ingrained prejudices, to revise preconceived ideas,
and even sometimes to allow the understanding of their faith to be purified.
50. New dimensions of faith
If Christians cultivate such openness and allow themselves to be tested, they
will be able to gather the fruits of dialogue. They will discover with
admiration all that God's action through Jesus Christ in his Spirit has
accomplished and continues to accomplish in the world and in the whole of
humankind. Far from weakening their own faith, true dialogue will deepen it.
They will become increasingly aware of their Christian identity and perceive
more clearly the distinctive elements of the Christian message. Their faith will
gain new dimensions as they discover the active presence of the mystery of Jesus
Christ beyond the visible boundaries of the Church and of the Christian
5. OBSTACLES TO DIALOGUE
51. Obstacles or dialogue
Already on a purely human level, it is not easy to practise dialogue.
Interreligious dialogue is even more difficult. It is important to be aware of
the obstacles which may arise. Some would apply equally to the members of all
religious traditions and impede the success of dialogue. Others may affect some
religious traditions more specifically and make it difficult for a process of
dialogue to be initiated. Some of the more important obstacles will be mentioned
52. Human factors
a) Insufficient grounding in one's own faith.
b) Insufficient knowledge and understanding of the belief and
practices of other religions, leading to a lack of appreciation for their
significance and even at times to misrepresentation.
d) Socio-political factors or some burdens of the past.
e) Wrong understanding of the meaning of terms such as conversion,
baptism, dialogue, etc.
f) Self-sufficiency, lack of openness leading to defensive or
g) A lack of conviction with regard to the value of interreligious
dialogue, which some may see as a task reserved to specialists, and others as a
sign of weakness or even a betrayal of the faith.
h) Suspicion about the other's motives in dialogue.
i) A polemical spirit when expressing religious convictions.
j) Intolerance, which is often aggravated by association with
political, economic, racial and ethnic factors, a lack, of reciprocity in
dialogue which can lead to frustration.
k) Certain features of the present religious climate, e.g., growing
materialism, religious indifference, and the multiplication of religious sects
which creates confusion and raises new problems.
53. The initiative of God
Many of these obstacles arise from a lack of understanding of the true nature
and goal of interreligious dialogue. These need therefore to be constantly
explained. Much patience is required. It must be remembered that the Church's
commitment to dialogue is not dependent on success in achieving mutual
understanding and enrichment; rather it flows from God's initiative in entering
into a dialogue with humankind and from the example of Jesus Christ whose life,
death and resurrection gave to that dialogue its ultimate expression.
54. The sharing of evangelical values
Moreover the obstacles, though real, should not lead us to underestimate the
possibilities of dialogue or to overlook the results already achieved. There has
been a growth in mutual understanding, and in active cooperation. Dialogue has
had a positive impact on the Church herself. Other religions have also been led
through dialogue to renewal and greater openness. Interreligious dialogue has
made it possible for the Church to share Gospel values with others. So despite
the difficulties, the Church's commitment to dialogue remains firm and
2. PROCLAIMING JESUS CHRIST
1. THE MANDATE FROM THE RISEN LORD
55. Messengers of the Gospel
The Lord Jesus gave to his disciples a mandate to proclaim the Gospel. This
fact is reported by all four Gospels and by the Acts of the Apostles. There are
however certain nuances in the different versions. In Matthew, Jesus says to his
disciples: "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore
and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you; and so, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt
In Mark, the command is given more succinctly: "Go into all the world and
preach the Gospel to the whole creation. he who believes and is baptized will be
saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk 16:15-16).
In Luke, the expression is less direct: "Thus, it is written that the Christ
should suffer and on the third day rise from the death, and that repentance and
forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning
from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things" (Lk 24:46-48).
In Acts, the extent of this witness is emphasized: "But you shall receive
power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in
Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Ac
In John again, the mission is expressed differently: "As you sent me into the
world, I have sent them into the world" (Jn 17:18); "As the Father sent
me, so am I sending you" (Jn 20:21).
Announcing the Good News to all, witnessing, making disciples, baptizing,
teaching, all these aspects enter into the Church's evangelizing mission, yet
they need to be seen in the light of the mission accomplished by Jesus himself,
the mission he received from the Father.
56. The presence of the Kingdom
Jesus proclaimed the Gospel from God saying: "The time is fulfilled, and the
Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk
1:14-15). This passage sums up the ministry of Jesus. Jesus does not proclaim
this Good News of the Kingdom by word alone, but also by his actions, attitudes
and options, indeed by means of his whole life and finally through his death and
resurrection. His parables, his miracles, the exorcisms he works, all are
related to the Kingdom of God which he announces. This Kingdom moreover is not
just something to be preached, quite unrelated to his own person. Jesus makes it
clear that it is through him and in him that the Reign of God is breaking
through into the world (cf. Lk 17:20-22), that in him the Kingdom has
already come upon us, even though it still needs to grow to its
57. Witness through life
His teaching is confirmed by his life. "Even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do" (Jn 10:38). Similarly, his deeds are
explained by his words which spring from his awareness of being one with the
Father. "I tell you most solemnly, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can
only do what he sees the Father doing" (Jn 5:19). In the trial before
Pilate, Jesus says that he has come into the world "to bear witness to the
truth" (Jn 18:37). The Father also bears witness to him, both in words
spoken from heaven and in the mighty works, the signs, which Jesus is enabled to
perform. It is the Spirit who "seals" Jesus' witness, authenticating it as true
(cf. Jn 3:32-35).
2. THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH
58. The activity of the Church for the proclamation
It is against this background that the mandate given by the Risen Lord to the
Apostolic Church needs to be understood. The Church's mission is to proclaim the
Kingdom of God established on earth in Jesus Christ, through his life, death and
resurrection, as God's decisive and universal offer of salvation to the world.
For this reason "there is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the
life, the promises, the Kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of
God are not proclaimed" (EN 22). There is continuity between the Kingdom
preached by Jesus and the mystery of Christ announced by the Church.
59. At the service of the Kingdom
Continuing the mission of Jesus, the Church is "the seed and beginning" of
the Kingdom (cf. LG 5). She is at the service of this Kingdom and "witnesses" to
it. This includes witness to faith in Christ, the Saviour, since this is the
very heart of the Church's own faith and life. In the history of the Church, all
the Apostles were "witnesses" to the life, death and resurrection of Christ (cf.
Ac 2:32; 3:15; 10:39; 13:31; 23:11). Witness is given by words and deeds
which are not to be set one against the other. The deed validates the word, but
without the word the deed may be misinterpreted. The witness of the Apostles,
both in words and signs, is subordinate to the Holy Spirit, sent by the Father
to fulfill this task of witness (cf. Jn 15:26 ff; 1Jn 5:7-10;
3. THE CONTENT OF PROCLAMATION
60. Peter announces the Risen Christ
On the Day of Pentecost, in fulfillment of Christ's promise, the Holy Spirit
came down on the Apostles. At that time "there were devout men living in
Jerusalem from every nation under heaven" (Ac 2:5) - the list of people
present, given in the book of Acts, serves to underline the universal import of
this first ecclesial event. In the name of the Eleven, Peter addressed those
assembled, announcing Jesus, commended by God with miracles and portents,
crucified by men but raised to life again by God. He concluded: "For this reason
the whole house of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you
crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Ac 2:36). This was followed by the
invitation to his hearers to repent, to become disciples of Jesus by being
baptized in his name for the forgiveness of sins, and thus to receive the gift
of the Holy Spirit. A little later, before the Sanhedrin, Peter bore witness to
his faith in the risen Christ, stating clearly: "Only in him is there salvation,
for of all names in the world given to men this is the only one by which we can
be saved" (Ac 4:11-12). The universal nature of the Christian message of
salvation is brought out again in the account of the conversion of Cornelius.
When Peter witnessed to the life and work of Jesus, from the beginning of his
ministry in Galilee right up to his Resurrection, "the Holy Spirit came down on
all the listeners" so that those who had accompanied Peter were astonished "that
the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on gentiles too" (Ac
61. Paul announces the mystery kept hidden for centuries
The Apostles therefore, following the Pentecost event, present themselves as
witnesses to Christ's resurrection (cf. Ac 1:22; 4:33; 5:32-33), or, in a
more concise formula, simply as witnesses to Christ (cf. Ac 3:15; 13:31).
Nowhere is this clearer than in Paul, "called to be an apostle, set apart for
the service of the Gospel" (Rm 1:1), who received from Jesus Christ the
"apostolic mission of winning the obedience of faith among all the nations for
the honour of his name" (Rm 1:5). Paul preaches "the Gospel that God
promised long ago through his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Rm 1:2),
the "Gospel of his Son" (Rm 1:9). He preaches a crucified Christ: "a
stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Co 1:23; cf. 2:2), "for
no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid" (1 Co 3:11).
The whole message of Paul is, as it were, summed up in his solemn declaration to
the Ephesians: "I, who am less than the least of all God's holy people, have
been entrusted with this special grace, of proclaiming to the gentiles this
unfathomable treasure of Christ and of throwing light on the inner workings of
the mystery kept hidden through all the ages in God, the Creator of everything"
this many-sided wisdom of God which he has now revealed through the Church,
"according to the plan which he had formed from all eternity in Christ Jesus our
Lord" (Ep 3:8-11). The same message is found in the Pastoral Letters. God
"desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For
these is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men the man Christ
Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tm 2:4-6). This "mystery
of our religion" which is "very deep" finds expression in a liturgical fragment:
"He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels,
preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory" (1
62. John gave witness to the Word of Life
Turning to the apostle John, we find that he presents himself above all as a
witness, one who has seen Jesus and discovered his mystery (cf. Jn
13:23-25; 21:24). "We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard" - of the
Word of life - "so that you too many share our life" (1 Jn 4:14). Central
to the message of John is the Incarnation: "The Word became flesh, he lived
among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only
Son of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). Through Jesus,
therefore, the Father can be seen (cf. Jn 14:9) he is the way to the
Father (cf. Jn 14:6). Lifted up on the cross he draws all people to
himself (cf. Jn 12:32). He is truly "the Saviour of the World" (Jn
63. The power of the Word announced by the Church
"Proclaim the word", Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tm 4:2). The content of
this word is expressed in different ways: it is the Kingdom (cf. Ac
20:25), the Gospel of the Kingdom (cf. Mt 24:14), the Gospel of God (cf.
Mk 1:14; 1 Tm 2:9). But these different formulations really mean
the same thing: to preach Jesus (cf. Ac 9:20; 19:13), to preach Christ
(cf. Ac 8:5). Just as Jesus spoke God's own words (cf. Jn 3:34),
so the apostles preach the word of God, for Jesus whom they preach is the
The Christian message therefore is a powerful one, to be welcomed for what it
really is, "not the word of any human being, but God's word" (1 Th 2:13).
Accepted in faith the word will be "alive and active", cutting "more incisively
than any two-edged sword" (Heb 4:12). It will be a word which purifies
(cf. Jn 15:3), it will be the source of the truth which brings freedom
(cf. Jn 8:31-32). The word will become an interior presence: "anyone who
loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to
him and make a home in him" (Jn 14:23). This is the word of God which is
to be proclaimed by Christians.
4. THE PRESENCE AND POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
64. The presence of the Holy Spirit
In proclaiming this word, the Church knows that she can rely on the Holy
Spirit, who both prompts her proclamation and leads the hearers to obedience of
faith. "It is the Holy Spirit who today, just as at the beginning of the Church,
acts in every evangelizer who allows himself to be possessed and led by him. The
Holy Spirit places on his lips the words which he could not find by himself, and
at the same time the Holy Spirit predisposes the soul of the hearer to be open
and receptive to the Good News and to the Kingdom being proclaimed" (EN 75).
65. The power of the Holy Spirit
The force of the Spirit is attested by the fact that the most powerful
witness is often given precisely at that point where the disciple is most
helpless, incapable of word or deed, and yet remains faithful. As Paul says: "I
will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may
rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses,
insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am
strong" (2 Co 12:9-10). The witness by which the Spirit brings men and
women to know Jesus as Lord is no human achievement but God's own work.
5. THE URGENCY OF PROCLAMATION
66. The duty to announce
Pope Paul VI said in his Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: "The
presentation of the Gospel message is not optional for the Church. It is her
duty, by command of the Lord Jesus, so that men may believe and be saved. This
message is indeed a necessary one. It is unique and irreplaceable. It allows of
neither indifference, syncretism, nor compromise, for it concerns the salvation
of mankind" (EN 5). The urgency had been indicated by Paul: "How then are they
to call upon him if they have not come to believe in him? And how can they
believe in him if they have never heard of him? And how will they hear of him
unless there is a preacher for them?... But it is in that way that faith comes,
from hearing, and that means hearing the word of Christ" (Rm 10:4
"This law, set down one day by the Apostle Paul, maintains its full force
today... it is through listening to the Word that one is led to believe" (EN
42). It is fitting to remember also that other word of Paul: "For if I preach
the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me.
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Co 9:16).
67. Announce salvation in Jesus Christ
Proclamation is a response to the human aspiration for salvation. "Wherever
God opens a door for the word in order to declare the mystery of Christ, then
the living God and he whom he has sent for the salvation of all, Jesus Christ,
are confidently and perseveringly proclaimed to all men. And this is in order
that non-Christians, whose hearts are being opened by the Holy Spirit, might,
while believing, freely turn to the Lord who, since he is «the Way, the Truth,
and the Life» (Jn 14,6), will satisfy all their inner hopes, or rather
infinitely surpass them" (AG 13).
6. THE MANNER OF PROCLAMATION
68. The guidance of the Holy Spirit
While proclaiming the message of God in Jesus Christ, the evangelizing Church
must always remember that her task is not exercised in a complete void. For the
Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is present and active among the hearers of
the Good News even before the Church's missionary action comes into operation
(cf. RH 12; DV 53). They may in many cases have already responded implicitly to
God's offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, a sign of this being the sincere
practice of their own religious traditions, insofar as these contain authentic
religious values. They may have already been touched by the Spirit and in some
way associated unknowingly to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ (cf. GS
69. Learn to announce
Mindful of what God has already accomplished in those addressed, the Church
seeks to discover the right way to announce the Good News. She takes her lead
from divine pedagogy. This means learning from Jesus himself, and observing the
times and seasons as prompted by the Spirit. Jesus only progressively revealed
to his hearers the meaning of the Kingdom, God's plan of salvation realized in
his own mystery. Only gradually, and with infinite care, did he unveil for them
the implications of his message, his identity as the Son of God, the scandal of
the Cross. Even his closest disciples, as the Gospels testify, reached full
faith in their Master only through their Easter experience and the gift of the
Spirit. Those who wish to become disciples of Jesus today will pass through the
same process of discovery and commitment. Accordingly the Church's proclamation
must be both progressive and patient, keeping pace with those who bear the
message, respecting their freedom and even their "slowness to believe" (EN
70. The qualities specific to the Gospel
Other qualities must also characterize the Church's proclamation. It should
a) Confident, in the power of the Spirit, and in obedience to the
mandate received from the Lord (cf. 1 Tm 2:2; 2 Co 3:12; 7:4;
Ph 1:20; Ep 3:12; 6:19-20; Ac 4:13,29,31; 9:27,28
b) Faithful in the transmission of the teaching received from Christ
and preserved in the Church, which is the depositary of the Good News to be
proclaimed (cf. EN 15). "Fidelity to the message whose servants we are... is a
pivotal point of proclamation" (EN 4). "Evangelization is for no one an
individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial" (EN 60).
c) Humble, in the awareness that the fullness of revelation in Jesus
Christ has been received as a free gift (Ep 3:2), and that the messengers
of the Gospel do not always fully live up to its demands.
d) Respectful, of the presence and action of the Spirit of God in the
hearts of those who listen to the message, in the recognition that the Spirit is
the "principal agent of evangelization" (EN 75).
e) Dialogical, for in proclamation the hearer of the Word is not
expected to be a passive receiver. There is progress from the "seeds of the
Word" already present in the hearer to the full mystery of salvation in Jesus
Christ. The Church must recognize a process of purification and enlightenment in
which the Spirit of God opens the mind and heart of the hearer to the obedience
f) Inculturated, incarnated in the culture and the spiritual tradition
of those addressed, so that the message is not only intelligible to them, but is
conceived as responding to their deepest aspirations, as truly the Good News
they have been longing for (cf. En 20,62).
71. In close union with Christ
To maintain these qualities the Church must not only bear in mind the
circumstances of life and the religious experience of those addressed. She must
also live in constant dialogue with her Lord and Master through prayer and
penance, meditation and liturgical life, and above all in the celebration of the
Eucharist. Only then will both proclamation and celebration of the Gospel
message become fully alive.
7. OBSTACLES TO PROCLAMATION
72. Difficulty of the proclamation
The Church's proclamation of the Good News makes serious demands both on the
evangelizing Church and her members engaged in evangelization, and on those
called by God to the obedience of Christian faith. It is no easy task. Some of
the principal obstacles she can meet with are mentioned here.
73. Internal difficulties
a) It can happen that Christian witness does not correspond to belief;
there is a gap between word and deed, between the Christian message and the way
Christians live it.
b) Christians may fail to proclaim the Gospel through negligence,
human respect, or shame, which Saint Paul called "blushing for the Gospel", or
because of false ideas about God's plan of salvation (cf. EN 80).
c) Christians who lack appreciation and respect for other believers
and their religious traditions are ill-prepared to proclaim the Gospel to
d) In some Christians, an attitude of superiority, which can show
itself at the cultural level, might give rise to the supposition that a
particular culture is linked with the Christian message and is to be imposed on
74. External difficulties
a) The weight of history makes proclamation more difficult, as certain
methods of evangelization in the past have sometimes aroused fear and suspicion
on the part of the followers of other religions.
b) The members of other religions may fear that the Church's
evangelizing mission will result in the destruction of their religion and
c) A different conception of human rights or a lack of respect for
them in practice can result in a lack of religious freedom.
d) Persecution can render the Church's proclamation especially
difficult or well-nigh impossible. It must be remembered, however, that the
Cross is a source of life; "the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians."
e) The identification of a particular religion with the national
culture, or with a political system, creates a climate of intolerance.
f) In some places, conversion is forbidden by law or converts to
Christianity meet with serious problems, such as ostracism by their religious
community of origin, social milieu or cultural environment.
g) In pluralistic contexts, the danger of indifferentism, relativism,
or of religious syncretism creates obstacles to the proclamation of the
8. PROCLAMATION IN THE EVANGELIZING MISSION OF THE CHURCH
75. Proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God
The Church's evangelizing mission has sometimes been understood as consisting
simply in inviting people to become disciples of Jesus in the Church. Gradually,
a broader understanding of evangelization has developed, in which proclamation
of the mystery of Christ nevertheless remains central. The Second Vatican
Council's decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, when dealing with
missionary work, mentions solidarity with mankind, dialogue and collaboration,
before speaking about witness and the preaching of the Gospel (cf. AG 11-13).
The 1974 Synod of Bishops and the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Nuntiandi which followed it have both taken evangelization in a broad sense.
In evangelization, the whole person of the evangelizer is involved, words,
actions, witness of life (cf. EN 21-22). Likewise its aim extends to all that is
human, as it seeks to transform human culture and cultures with the power of the
Gospel (cf. EN 18-20). Yet Pope Paul VI made it quite clear that "evangelization
will always entail as the simultaneous foundation, core and summit of its
dynamism a clear proclamation that in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who
died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all as a gift of God's
kindness and mercy" (EN 27). It is in this sense that the 1984 document of the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue lists proclamation among the
various elements which make up the Church's evangelizing mission(19).
76. The sacred duty to announce
Still it is useful to point out once again that to proclaim the name of Jesus
and to invite people to become his disciples in the Church is a sacred and major
duty which the Church cannot neglect. Evangelization would be incomplete without
it (EN 22), for without this central element the others, though in themselves
genuine forms of the Church's mission, would lose their cohesion and vitality.
It is clear therefore that in situations where, for political or other reasons,
proclamation as such is practically impossible, the Church is already carrying
out her evangelizing mission not only through presence and witness but also
through such activities as work for integral human development and dialogue. On
the other hand, in other situations where people are disposed to hear the
message of the Gospel and have the possibility of responding to it, the Church
is in duty bound to meet their expectations.
3. INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE AND PROCLAMATION
1. INTERRELATED YET NOT INTERCHANGEABLE
77. The Church's mission
Interreligious dialogue and proclamation, though not on the same level, are
both authentic elements of the Church's evangelizing mission. Both are
legitimate and necessary. They are intimately related, but not interchangeable:
true interreligious dialogue on the part of the Christian supposes the desire to
make Jesus Christ better known, recognized and loved; proclaiming Jesus Christ
is to be carried out in the Gospel spirit of dialogue. The two activities remain
distinct but, as experience shows, one and the same local Church, one and the
same person, can be diversely engaged in both.
78. Awareness of the circumstances
In actual fact the way of fulfilling the Church's mission depends upon the
particular circumstances of each local Church, of each Christian. It always
implies a certain sensitivity to the social, cultural, religious and political
aspects of the situation, as also attentiveness to the "signs of the times"
through which the spirit of God is speaking, teaching and guiding. Such
sensitivity and attentiveness is developed through a spirituality of dialogue.
This requires a prayerful discernment and theological reflection on the
significance in God's plan of the different religious traditions and the
experience of those who find in them their spiritual nourishment.
2. THE CHURCH AND RELIGIONS
79. The universality of the Church's mission
In fulfilling her mission, the Church comes into contact with people of other
religious traditions. Some become disciples of Jesus Christ in his Church, as a
result of a profound conversion and through a free decision of their own. Others
are attracted by the person of Jesus and his message, but for various reasons do
not enter the fold. Yet others seem to have but little or no interest in Jesus.
Whatever the case may be, the Church's mission extends to all. Also in relation
to the religions to which they belong, the Church in dialogue can be seen to
have a prophetic role. In bearing witness to Gospel values, she raises questions
for these religions. Similarly, the Church, insofar as she bears the mark of
human limitations, may find herself challenged. So in promoting these values, in
a spirit of emulation and of respect for the mystery of God, the members of the
Church and the followers of other religions find themselves to be companions on
the common path with humanity is called to tread. At the end of the day of
prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage for peace in Assisi, Pope John Paul II said:
"Let us see in it an anticipation of what God would like the developing history
of humanity to be: a fraternal journey in which we accompany one another towards
the transcendental goal which he sets for us"(20).
80. The way of dialogue
The Church encourages and fosters interreligious dialogue not only between
herself and other religious traditions, but even among these religious
traditions themselves. This is one way in which she fulfills her role as
"sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of communion with God and unity among
all people" (LG 1). She is invited by the spirit to encourage all religious
institutions and movements to meet, to enter into collaboration, and to purify
themselves in order to promote truth and live, holiness, justice, love and
peace, dimensions of that Kingdom which, at the end of time, Christ will hand
over to his Father (cf. 1 Co 15:24). Thus, interreligious dialogue is
truly part of the dialogue of salvation initiated by God(21).
3. PROCLAIMING JESUS CHRIST
81. Preach and confess
Proclamation, on the other hand, aims at guiding people to explicit knowledge
of what God has done for all men and women in Jesus Christ, and at inviting them
to become disciples of Jesus through becoming members of the Church. When, in
obedience to the command of the risen Lord and the Spirit's promptings, the
Church fulfills this task of proclamation, this will often need to be done in a
progressive manner. A discernment is to be made concerning how God is present in
each one's personal history. The followers of other religions may discover, as
may Christians also, that they already share many values. This can lead to a
challenge in the form of the witness of the Christian community or a personal
profession of faith, in which the full identity of Jesus is humbly confessed.
Then, when the time is right, Jesus' decisive question can be put: "Who do you
say that I am?" The true answer to this question can come only through faith.
The preaching and the confession, under the movement of grace, that Jesus of
Nazareth is the Son of God the Father, the Risen Lord and Saviour, constitutes
the final stage of proclamation. One who freely professes this faith is invited
to become a disciple of Jesus in his Church and to take a responsible part in
4. COMMITMENT TO THE ONE MISSION
82. Personal involvement
All Christians are called to be personally involved in these two ways of
carrying out the one mission of the Church, namely proclamation and dialogue.
The manner in which they do this will depend on the circumstances and also on
their degree of preparation. They must nevertheless always bear in mind that
dialogue, as has already been said, does not constitute the whole mission of the
Church, that it cannot simply replace proclamation, but remains oriented towards
proclamation in so far as the dynamic process of the Church's evangelizing
mission reaches in it its climax and its fullness. As they engage in
interreligious dialogue they will discover the "seeds of the Word" sown in
people's hearts and in the religious traditions to which they belong. In
deepening their appreciation of the mystery of Christ they will be able to
discern the positive values in the human search for the unknown or incompletely
known God. Throughout the various stages of dialogue, the partners will feel a
great need both to impart and to receive information, to give and to receive
explanations, to ask questions of each other. Christians in dialogue have the
duty of responding to their partners' expectations regarding the contents of the
Christian faith, of bearing witness to this faith when this is called for, of
giving an account of the hope that is within them (1 P 3:15). In order to
be able to do this, Christians should deepen their faith, purify their
attitudes, clarify their language and render their worship more and more
83. Love and sharing
In this dialogical approach, how could they not hope and desire to share with
others their joy in knowing and following Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour? We are
here at the heart of the mystery of love. Insofar as the Church and Christians
have a deep love for the Lord Jesus, the desire to share him with others is
motivated not merely by obedience to the Lord's command, but by this love
itself. It should not be surprising, but quite normal, that the followers of
other religions should also desire sincerely to share their faith. All dialogue
implies reciprocity and aims at banishing fear and aggressiveness.
84. Indications of the Holy Spirit
Christians must always be aware of the influence of the Holy Spirit and be
prepared to follow wherever in God's providence and design the Spirit is leading
them. It is the Spirit who is guiding the evangelizing mission of the Church. It
belongs to the Spirit to inspire both the Church's proclamation and the
obedience of faith. It is for us to be attentive to the promptings of the
Spirit. Whether proclamation be possible or not, the Church pursues her mission
in full respect for freedom, through interreligious dialogue, witnessing to and
sharing Gospel values. In this way, the partners in dialogue proceed in response
to the divine call of which they are conscious. All, both Christians and the
followers of other religious traditions, are invited by God himself to enter
into the mystery of his patience, as human beings seek his light and truth. Only
God knows the times and stages of the fulfillment of this long human quest.
5. JESUS OUR MODEL
85. The example of Jesus
It is in this climate of expectation and listening that the Church and
Christians pursue proclamation and interreligious dialogue with a true Gospel
spirit. They are aware that "all things work together for the good of those who
love God" (Rm 8:28). By grace they have come to know that he is the
Father of all, and that he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Is not Jesus
their model and guide in the commitment to both proclamation and dialogue? Is he
not the only one who even today can say to a sincere religious person: "You are
not far from the Kingdom of God" (Mk 12:34)?
86. Intimately united to Christ
Christians are not only to imitate Jesus, but to be closely united to him. He
invited his disciples and friends to join him in his unique offering on behalf
of the whole of humanity. The bread and wine for which he gave thanks symbolized
the entire creation. They became his body "given" and his blood "poured out for
the forgiveness of sins." Through the ministry of the Church, the one Eucharist
is offered by Jesus in every age and place, since the time of his passion, death
and resurrection in Jerusalem. It is here that Christians unite themselves to
Christ in his offering which "brings salvation to the whole world" (Euch. Prayer
IV). Such a prayer is pleasing to God who "desires all men to be saved and to
come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4). Thus they offer thanks
for "everything that is true, everything that is honourable, everything that is
upright and pure, everything that we love and admire, whatever is good and
praiseworthy" (Ph 4:8). Here they draw the grace of discernment, to be
able to read the signs of the Spirit's presence and to recognize the favourable
time and right manner of proclaiming Jesus Christ.
87. Special attention for each religion
The aim of these reflections on interreligious dialogue and proclamation has
been to provide some basic clarifications. However, it is important to remember
that the various religions differ from one another. Special attention should
therefore be given to relations with the followers of each religion.
88. Specific studies on the relationship between dialogues and
It is also important that specific studies on the relationship between
dialogue and proclamation be undertaken, taking into account each religion
within its geographical area and its socio-cultural context. Episcopal
Conferences could entrust such studies to the appropriate commissions and
theological and pastoral institutes. In the light of the results of these
studies, these institutes could also organize special courses and study sessions
in order to train people for both dialogue and proclamation. Special attention
is to be given to young people living in a pluralistic environment, who meet the
followers of other religions at school, at work, in youth movements and other
associations and even within their own families.
89. The need for prayer
Dialogue and proclamation are difficult tasks, and yet absolutely necessary.
All Christians, according to their situations, should be encouraged to equip
themselves so that they may better fulfil this two-fold commitment. Yet more
than tasks to be accomplished, dialogue and proclamation are graces to be sought
in prayer. May all continually implore the help of the Holy Spirit so that he
may be "the divine inspirer of their plans, their initiatives and their
evangelizing activity" (EN 75).
Rome, 19 May 1991
(1) Joint Document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and
the Congregation for Evangelization of Peoples, Rome, 19 May 1991; OR. 21 June,
(2) The attitude of the Church Towards the Followers of Other Religions:
Reflections and Orientations on Dialogue and Mission, AAS 75 ,
pp. 816-828; also Bulletin Secretariatus pro non Christianis 56 (1984/2),
No. 13. (This document will be referred to henceforth as DM).
(3) Insegnamenti 1986, IX/2, pp. 1249-1273; 2019-2029. Cf.
Bulletin No. 64 (1987/1), which contains all the Pope's discourses
before, during and after the Day of Prayer in Assisi.
(4) Insegnamenti 1987, X/1, pp. 1449-1452. Cf. Bulletin No. 66
(1987/3), pp. 223-225.
(5) Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faith and Ideologies,
World Council of Churches, Geneva 1979; "Mission and Evangelism - an Ecumenical
Affirmation", in International Review of Mission 71 (1982), pp.
(6) DM 3.
(7) DM 37.
(8) Because the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is so great
(NA 4), dialogue between Christians and Jews has its own special requirements.
These are not dealt with in this document. For a full treatment, cf. Commission
for Religious Relations with Jews, Guidelines on Religious Relations with
Jews, 1 December 1974 (in Austin P. Flannery, O.P., ed. Documents of
Vatican II, 1984, pp. 743-749); "Notes for a Correct Presentation of Jews
and Judaism in Catholic Preaching and Catechesis", 24 June 1985, in
Origins vol. 15, No. 2 (4 July 1985), pp. 102-107.
(9) The question of New Religious Movements has been treated in a recent
document published in collaboration by the following Pontifical Councils: PC for
Promoting Christian Unity, PC for Interreligious Dialogue, PC for Dialogue with
Non-Believers and PC for Culture. The complete text can be found in
Origins vol. 16, No. 1 (22 May 1986); French original in La
Documentation Catholique, No. 1919 (1 June 1986).
(10) Justin speaks about the "seeds" sown by the Logos in the
religious traditions. Through the incarnation the manifestation of the
Logos becomes complete (1 Rv 46:1-4; 2 Rv 8:1; 10:1-3;
13:4-6). For Irenaeus, the Son, the visible manifestation of the Father, has
revealed himself to mankind "from the beginning"; yet the Incarnation brings
about something entirely new (Adv. Haer., 4,6,5-7; 4.7,2; 4,20,6-7).
Clement of Alexandria explains that "philosophy" was given to the Greeks by God
as a "covenant", as a "stepping-stone to the philosophy which is according to
Christ," as a "schoolmaster" bringing the Hellenistic mind to him
(Stromata, 1,5; 6.8; 7,2).
(11) Adv. Haer., 3,11,8.
(12) Retract., 1,13,3; cf. Enarr. in Ps. 118 (Sermo
(13) Insegnamenti 1986, IX/2, pp. 2019-2029; OR.EE. 5 January
(14) John Paul II, To Indian Bishops on "ad limina" visit (13 April
1989); Insegnamenti 1989, XII/1, pp. 802 - 804.
(15) Insegnamenti 1984, VII/1, pp. 595-599.
(16) DM 37.
(17) Cf. DM 28-35.
(18) In the early Church, the Kingdom of God is identified with the Reign of
Christ (cf. Ep 5:5; Rv 11:15; 12:10). See also Origen, in
Mt 14:7; Hom. in Lk 36, where he calls Christ autobasileia,
and Tertullian, Adv. Marc. IV, 33,8: "In evangelio est Dei Regnum,
Christus ipse". On the correct understanding of the term "kingdom", see the
report of the International Theological Commission (8 October 1985): Selected
Themes in Ecclesiology, No. 10,3.
(19) DM 13.
(20) Inegnamenti 1986, IX/2, p. 1262.
(21) Cf. Ecclesiam Suam, ch. III; cf. also Insegnamenti 1984,
VII/1, p. 598.