Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move - N° 87, December 2001
Immigration and Inter-religious Dialogue*
Msgr. Felix A. MACHADO
Many of the hundred and fifty million migrants, who are spread around different parts of the world, have brought with them their religious traditions. As a 'map of various religions' our world can be an enriching experience. The multireligious character of the world can be a source of great harmony and peace. Of course, mutual enrichment and peace do not come about by themselves. We are only too aware of the tensions and conflicts that exist, often intensified by the difference of religion. There needs to be a healthy interaction and exchange among people of different religious traditions. Mutual enrichment, harmony and peace are fruits of dialogue. The Catholic Church has been promoting this dialogue among religions for a long time and the Message of the Holy Father, on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugee 2002, needs to be read in this context.
Some immigrants may just be passing through, in transit to a more permanent destination, or perhaps hoping to return to their countries of origin. Others have come to stay, forming stable communities. They have left their own country and have settled down permanently in another place, but without leaving their religion. For example, in Italy we have immigrants from North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Many of them are Muslims. There are people from India, among whom we meet followers of the Sikh religion. There are Tibetans who are Buddhists and immigrants from what used to be known as Indochina, among whom many belong to the Buddhist religious tradition.
Immigration and interreligious dialogue are sometimes spoken of as problems in our society. In his message on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2002, the Holy Father brings these two together and shows how they can be opportunities for contributing harmony and peace to the world. The phenomenon of immigration offers occasions for Christians to engage in dialogue with people of other religious traditions. The practice of dialogue, in turn, enables Christians to know the immigrants justly and fairly and thus help them integrate better into society.
Inter‑religious dialogue, for the Catholic Church, is not an abstract idea. Remaining uncompromisingly consistent with its doctrine and tradition, the Catholic Church invites all its faithful to engage in inter-religious dialogue. This simply means to pass from distrust, suspicion and refusal of the other to respectful acceptance. Admitting that the way of dialogue is not an easy one, the Holy Father exhorts Christians to engage in this path, considering it also as an aspect of the new evangelization. The path of dialogue offers opportunities for pastoral initiatives. The Holy Father reminds the Christian faithful that authentic dialogue is always built on one's own testimony of faith. The practice of inter-religious dialogue presupposes honesty and mutual trust. This is why partners in dialogue cannot hide the obvious facts of day to day life. For example, the Holy Father does allude to difficulties faced by Christian immigrants who do not always enjoy religious liberty when they choose to live in countries in which the religion of the majority is different from theirs.
The experience of many years show that inter-religious dialogue can be undertaken on different levels. The Catholic Church speaks of four levels or forms of dialogue. They are distinct from one another yet, at the same time, inter-connected: 1. dialogue of life - it implies concern, respect, and hospitality towards the other; 2. dialogue of collaboration - it calls every Christian to work together with each and all for goals of a humanitarian, social, economic, or political nature which are directed towards the liberation and advancement of humankind; 3. dialogue of specialists - it involves confrontation, deepening and enrichment of the respective religious heritages; and 4. dialogue of religious experience - it implies sharing one's experience of prayer, contemplation, faith and duty, as well as one's expressions and ways of searching for the Absolute.
In his Message on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and of Refugees 2002, the Holy Father invites Christians to work mainly through their parishes. The parish is a 'palestra' (training ground) of hospitality, says the Pope. Through these Christian communities, bonds of friendship can be built, collaboration can be undertaken for the good of society and a culture of respect and solidarity can be promoted together with immigrants who belong to different religious traditions.
On the level of dialogue of life Christians, through their respective parishes, can manifest a spirit of welcome, understanding and respect towards immigrants and refugees. For example, on the occasion of religious feasts of different religions, the Christian community can organise programmes in order to exchange greetings (the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends a special message to Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims for their respective festivals of Diwali, Vesakh and Id al Fitr). It is also an occasion to understand the deeper religious significance of a festival of a particular religious tradition.
The Holy Father draws our attention to the dialogue of life through the practice of Christian charity. He says, “Everyday, in many parts of the world, migrants, refugees and displaced people turn to Catholic organizations and parishes in search of support, and they are welcomed irrespective of cultural or religious affiliation”(n. 4).
The dialogue of collaboration can also be promoted when Christians can be instruments in bringing together immigrants who belong to different religions in order to work for the good of the whole society.
Different places of worship and centres can encourage the dialogue of spiritual experience. Friendly and fraternal relations with people of different religions can help in acquiring sound knowledge of different religions. This knowledge can replace prejudice, misunderstanding and intolerance.
“Inter-religious dialogue is not opposed to the mission ad gentes” (Redemporis Missio, 55) and "...true inter-religious dialogue on the part of the Christian supposes the desire to make Jesus Christ better known, recognized and loved....”(Dialogue and Proclamation,n. 77).Christian communities can invite immigrants and refugees who belong to different religious traditions to discover Christ, the Lord and Saviour of all. The Holy Father underlines this point when he says, in n. 4:
The service of charity, which Christians are always called to carry out, cannot be limited to the mere distribution of humanitarian aid. In this way, new pastoral situations arise, which the Church community cannot fail to take into consideration. It is the task of its members to look for appropriate occasions to share with those who are welcomed the gift of the revelation of God who is Love, who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). With the gift of material bread, it is indispensable not to neglect to offer the gift of faith, especially through one's own existential witness and always with great respect for all. Welcome and mutual openness allow people to know each other better and to discover that the various religious traditions not rarely contain precious seeds of truth. The dialogue that results from this can enrich every spirit that is open to the Truth and the Good.
*Given at the Press Conference presenting the Holy Father’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2002, held in Vatican City on October 18, 2001