Ten Years After the Publication of 'Dialogue and Proclamation' (1991-2001)

Author: Mons. Felix A. Machado


Mons. Felix A. Machado


At the Press conference of 20 June 1991, which was jointly given by Cardinal Tomko, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and Cardinal Arinze, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), the latter justified the need for the document, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, published by the respective dicasteries of the Roman Curia some months after Redemptoris missio, the Missionary Encyclical of Pope John Paul II. Cardinal Arinze said: "(Dialogue and Proclamation) goes into further detail on an important question: how do interreligious dialogue and proclamation—announcing the Gospel in order to invite people to accept it and to be incorporated into the Church through baptism—go together?" While maintaining the permanent priority of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Dialogue and Proclamation declares unequivocally that "despite the difficulties, the Church's commitment to dialogue remains firm and irreversible" (n. 54).

The necessity to show the clear relation between dialogue and proclamation has been felt ever since the publication of Nostra aetate. In this context, Dialogueand Proclamation has become a reference point for those who wish to go deeper into this argument. The Holy Father wrote in Redemptoris Missio: "Interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church's evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission adgentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions" (n. 55).

Dialogue and Proclamation proposes that the Mystery of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all, far from being opposed to Christians' dialogue with other religions, must be considered the very basis and foundation for genuine dialogue. Other religions, judged with correct theological evaluation, are not independent or parallel ways of salvation. Seen positively in the plan of salvation, they contain "a ray of that Truth which enlightens all"; because of the "seeds of the word" found in them they are a sign of "the riches which the generous God has distributed among the nations".

Theological Reflection

Dialogue and Proclamation had hoped that studies would be undertaken on the themes it indicated. One such study merits particular mention: A colloquium was organized by the PCID from 24-28 August 1993 in Pune, India, on the theme of "Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, and Encounter with Religions". As a response to challenges raised by the Church's dialogue with other religions the PCID brought together some Catholic theologians from different backgrounds to reflect and to propose suggestions for theological formation. The colloquium was not meant to be something final and definitive; nor was there any "Pune Statement" issued at its end. However, Bishop Fitzgerald, Secretary, described the event as significant, as regards both the participants and the theme. He wrote: "The invited theologians came from four different continents and represented varying backgrounds, reflecting the concerns of their respective Local Churches, and also their particular field of work, whether in universities or seminaries, in catechetical centres or at the service of episcopal commissions for interreligious dialogue. In short, there was a good mix of expertise and experience. The participants left with a conviction that the theological underpinning of dialogue has to be attentive to both context and communion.

Dialogue with Traditional Religion

Traditional Religion, whether in Africa or in other parts of the world where it may be known as tribal or indigenous religion, has received much deserved attention in the past 10 years. Meeting with the followers of African Traditional Religion in Benin Republic in 1993, the Holy Father encouraged Christians to treat the adherents of Traditional Religion with great respect and esteem. The Holy Father wished that all inaccurate and disrespectful language concerning TR should be avoided and for this purpose, the Pope recommended suitable courses in African Traditional Religion in houses of formation of priests and religious.

In the Message whichwas published by the participants in the Special Synod of Bishops for Africa in 1994, the Synod Fathers encouraged dialogue with followers of African Traditional Religion, identifying adherents of these religionsas "corporate personalities, (and) wise thinkers... ".

The PontificalCouncil for Interreligious Dialogue organized an international colloquium in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, from 26 July to 3 August 1996 on the theme of "The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Encounter with Traditional Religions".Twenty-seven experts from all five continents were invited. Cardinal Arinze, President of PCID, said in his opening speech: (the Colloquium is a gathering of theologians) "to reflect on what Christianity has to say to peopleof the Traditional Religions (TR), especially those of them who have become Christians". In fact dialogue with Traditional Religion is of two kinds, first with those who still practise this form of religion and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the dialogue with those Christians who come from the background of TR. This could be termed the dialogue of Gospel and Culture (cf. Pro Dialogo, Bulletin 94, 1997/1).

Dialogue with Muslims

In spite of the many inevitable difficulties, Muslim-Christian dialogue has received increasing attention from the Catholic Church in the past 10 years. The Holy Father himself has been the pioneer in manifesting respect and esteem towards the Muslims and their religious tradition, on the one hand, and uncompromising in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, on the other hand. Special mention must be made of his visits to Al Azhar, Cairo, Egypt, in February 2000 and to the traditionally venerated Tomb of St John the Baptist in the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus in May 2001.

The PCID, together with representatives of international Islamic Organizations, created a Muslim-Catholic Liason Committee in June 1995 which meets annually to discuss various themes of mutual concerns. At the initiative of Al Azhar in 1998, the PCID set up another joint committee with that institute's Permanent Committee for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions. At the request of the Muslim partners this Committee has fixed 24 February to meet annually, the day the Holy Father visited Al Azhar Institute in the year 2000.

Dialogue with Buddhists

Given the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity, the Church's dialogue with Buddhists may seem impossible. On the contrary, the PCID has had two successful international colloquia, inviting Buddhist scholars/monks and Christian theologians, to discuss topics of mutual interest. The necessity was felt to articulate the beliefs of both these traditions on such themes as God, man, the world, human history, evil, salvation and so on. The first Buddhist-Christian meeting was held in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan from 31 July - 4 August 1995 on the theme of "Buddhism and Christianity—Convergence and Divergence". This meeting was followed by the second Buddhist-Christian Colloquium held in a Catholic monastery in Bangalore, India, from 8-12 July 1998 on the theme of "Word and Silence in Buddhist and Christian Tradition". Concluding Statements, jointly approved by the Christian and Buddhist participants, were published. These statements were intended to become a sort of reference point for further Buddhist-Christian meetings on regional, national and local levels (cf. Pro Dialogo, Bulletins 90, 1995/3 and 100, 1999/1).

Dialogue is a disciplined and serious commitment. It is motivated by an uncompromising faithfulness to one's own religious tradition. It is guided by clear principles. The practice of dialogue must guard against tendencies, which operate in a subtle form, towards relativism and syncretism. In this context, a consultation was jointly organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europefrom 19-22 May1999 in Rome on "Buddhism in Europe". The scope of the consultation was to assess the spread of Buddhism in Europe, analyse the reasons for this expansion, identify the implications for pastoral life, understand the challenges tothe Church, articulate the possibility of continuing authentic dialogue with Buddhism. The Final Statement which was published as the conclusion declared: "... the Church recognizes with respectand affirms the truths and values in a tradition which offers coherent answers to the 'enigmas of human existence' (NA,n. 1). In particular, as Vatican II acknowledges, 'Buddhism in its various forms testifies to the essential inadequacy of this changing world' (NA, n. 2). The Church sees in Buddhism a serious path towards radical conversion of the human heart.

Dialogue with Hindus, Jains and Sikhs

It is not always easy for the well structured Catholic Church to find a suitable partner for dialogue in other religious traditions. This difficulty is felt still more acutely when the Church makes efforts to dialogue with Hinduism which claims to have no founder, no common creed, no requirement of an assent to a set of doctrines and no obedience to a central coordinating authority. However, Christians both in India as well as outside India, are engaged in dialogue with various Hindu traditions. The Final Statement of a Hindu-Christian meeting held in Mumbai, India, from 5-10 February 1998, declares: "(this meeting) constitutes a new stage in dialogue itself, since it is not merely a conversation between two religious traditions, but also a common search for the relevance of religious truth, including mystical experience and adhyatmavidya (spiritual knowledge) for the well-being of humanity". In another Hindu-Christian dialogue meeting which was held also in Mumbai from 27 February - 2 March 2000, the participants reflected on ethical values of Hinduism and Christianity in society, family and monastic life.

Attempts are consistently made by the PCID to respond to a desire which is expressed by such religious groups as Jainism and Sikhism for dialogue with the Church. Official delegations from those two religions paid visits to the Vatican and were received by the Holy Father in 1995 and 2000 respectively.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and Interreligious Dialogue

Promotion of interreligious dialogue did not escape the mind of the Holy Father when, through his Apostolic Letter TertioMillennio adveniente, he urged the Church to celebrate the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In TMA he said that reflection on the Fatherhood of God should lead to consideration of the unity of the human family and thus he called for special attention to interreligious dialogue during the Year of the Father, the final year of preparation for the Jubilee.

Heeding the call of the Holy Father, the Presiding Council of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 thought it opportune to hold an Interreligious Assembly in 1999. The task of organizing this meeting was entrusted to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, The theme chosen for the assembly was: "On the Eve of the Third Millennium: Collaboration among Different Religions". About 200 people, belonging to some 20 religious traditions, took part. The active participation of all contributed to the success of the meeting. In October 1986 Pope John Paul II had invited representatives of different religions to come to Assisi to fast and pray for peace in the world. The Interreligious Assembly, coinciding with the 13th anniversary of this outstanding event, constituted another important landmark in the common pilgrimage the Church has undertaken together with people of other religious traditions.

The Holy Father spoke of his joy at the meeting of the representatives of different religious traditions "close to the tomb of Peter". He emphasized that "religious leaders have a vital role to play in nurturing that hope of justice and peace without which there will be no future worthy of humanity". He invited all present to counter the crisis of civilization with a new civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice and liberty (TMA, n. 52).

One of the immediate fruits of the Assembly was the Message from the participants to the whole world. Gathered in the Vatican in the "Spirit of Assisi" (allusion to the Holy Father's call in Assisi in 1986 to pray and fast for peace in the world) the participants from many corners of the globe and representing different religions resolved to confront together responsibly and courageously the problems and challenges of the modern world.

Entering into the New Millennium with Commitment to Respectful Proclamation

Dialogue and Proclamation continues to exert its influence helping Catholics regulate the practice of interreligious dialogue. The Holy Father has led the Church into the new millennium resolving to remain faithful to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. In his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio ineunte he writes, "in the years of preparation for the Great Jubilee the Church has sought to build, not least through a series of highly symbolic meetings, a relationship of openness and dialogue with the followers of other religions. This dialogue must continue" (NMI, n. 55). Dialogue and Proclamation emphasizes uncompromising witness to Jesus Christ and his Gospel; however, it warns that this witness must be given in the awareness that the action of Christ and his Spirit is already mysteriously present in all who live sincerely according to their religious conviction. The Holy Father qualifies this witness as "respectful proclamation". Thanks to

documents like Dialogue and Proclamation the Church is able to journey together with all believers towards the eternal contemplation of God in the splendor of his glory.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
20 June 2001, page 10

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