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In spite of the widely observed danger of religious fanaticism in the world, religions in general, by the content of their essential teaching, do lend themselves to openness and dialogue. Religions do not exist in vacuum. In professing religion, a believer expresses his deepest aspirations and develops what is most profoundly his own: his interiority, the sanctuary of his being upon which no one can encroach. Religious believers live alongside those who belong to different religious traditions which, therefore, are part of human society. Interreligious dialogue, as well as moral dialogue with the non-religious, is thus an important responsibility of the Christian faithful (Clergy, Religious and Laity). Since millions of people find in their respective religious tradition, animation and guidance for their lives and because their religious belief gives them meaning to their lives, religions exert a strong impact on every political and social community. Adherents of all religious traditions need to be together in order to take part in the life of civil society and, motivated by the respective religious teachings, they can fruitfully work for the common good of all citizens.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) exhorted and encouraged all Christians to enter into positive and constructive dialogue with all religious believers and to make every effort in order to build peace in society and in the world by forging bonds of respect and love with one and all. It cannot be emphasized enough that the edifice of peace is in jeopardy without serious commitment of all people of good will to interreligious dialogue.

May I immediately add here, dear brother bishops, that inter-religious dialogue is not perhaps the easiest or, sometimes even happy part of our pastoral commitment, especially in the present circumstances of 'our times'. I believe that firm conviction and irreversible commitment on our part to inter-religious dialogue demands patience when seen in the light of the mystery of the Cross which our Master and Savior embraced.

Principal Motive for interreligious Dialogue

The principal motive for engaging in dialogue with people of other religions is the respect for the innate free nature of the human being. Believing is a free act. The dignity of the human person is "a transcendent value, always recognized as such by those who sincerely search for the truth". Failure to respect this dignity leads to the various and often tragic forms of discrimination, exploitation, social unrest and national and international conflicts; respect for human dignity finds one of its expressions in religious freedom which, "if it means the right to choose one's beliefs about the meaning and purpose of life, is a fundamental freedom, arguably the most important human right of all".

The Church has always advocated this freedom which must always be able to find a place within the framework of a country's legislation and practice. Freedom of Religion is also a condition for minority religious groups who consider themselves full citizens of the State; thus, Freedom of Religion encourages them to take full part in the development of the nation. This happens especially when believers of different religions come together and commit themselves to live in mutual respect through friendship and dialogue (cf. Gaudium et Spes, nn. 73, 76, 92).

How should we understand interreligious dialogue?

Without wanting to oversimplify, I would state that interreligious dialogue means making every effort to relate to people across religious boundaries in order to collaborate and promote peace in society and the world. While presenting the declaration, Nostra Aetate (NA),to the Council Fathers, Cardinal Bea stated: "This declaration is meant to join the mission, which the Supreme Pontiff has assumed himself through the Encyclical, through his allocutions and through his gestures, the mission of which the Scriptures say, 'Happy are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons (and daughters) of God' (Mt 5:9). It is the mission to which the Prince of Peace gave himself for, which made Jews and the Gentiles, by his Cross, new creatures, establishing thus peace, and becoming our peace". In building peace, not only should Christians solicit collaboration of others but when called to do so by others, they should prudently but willingly extend their hand to one and all, in order to confront challenges and difficulties our world is facing.

Inter-religious dialogue is part of the evangelizing mission of the Church in a single but complex, interrelated, articulated and thus a diversified reality. In other words, one should avoid simplistic division of the religious world by putting them into blocks of 'Christian' and 'non-Christian'. Thus, personal witness, promotion of human dignity, inculturation (efforts to have the Faith of the Church penetrated), amicable relations among believers of different religions, the proclamation of the Gospel through all forms and activities and proposing to peoples the discipleship of Jesus through baptism, are the elements of the evangelizing mission of the Church.

Nostra Aetate (NA) spells out some pastoral guidelines for the faithful to engage in dialogue with people of other religions. The Nostra Aetate recognizes and accepts the objective reality of religious traditions, with esteem and respect, the reality which goes beyond individual religious believers. Obviously, the declaration (NA) must be understood within the total teaching of the Church which is expressed in other documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Dialogue is situated within the very vocation of the Church: "By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind" (Lumen Gentium, n. 1). The word, dialogue itself can be seen rooted in the Christian concept of revelation; indeed Christians confess that God, in order to reveal himself to man, entered into dialogical relationship with humanity which the Bible calls the history of "covenant"; this history of salvation culminates in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh and dwelt among us corporally with total fullness of divinity (Col 2:9). St Pope Paul VI liked to call it "dialogue of salvation". God who is fully and definitively revealed in Jesus Christ does not divide but he unites. That is why openness to others can never be separated from fidelity to Christ. Being open to dialogue means being absolutely consistent with one's own religious tradition. This unconditional adherence to Christ does not prevent Christians from conversing with the exponents of other religions. Indeed, this absolute fidelity to Christ becomes a solid starting point for meeting people and appreciating those riches which - as the Second Vatican Council says - God in his munificence has distributed to the peoples (Ad Gentes, n. 11). We should not fear that it will be considered an offence to the identity of others what is rather the joyful proclamation of a gift meant for all, and to be offered to all with the greatest respect for the freedom of each one: the gift of the revelation of the God who is Love incarnate. Far from encouraging withdrawal into self, acceptance of Christ is a crucial incentive to meet and accept all people. Dialogue thus becomes path of the Church.

What is asked of us is attitudinal change towards people of other religious traditions in order to relate to them in positive, constructive, fraternal and friendly relations. Dialogue is not primarily a cerebral discussion on the subject of religions, but rather it is the building up of mutual relationships: "In her task of fostering unity and love among men, and even among nations, the Church gives primary consideration in Nostra Aetateto what human beings have in common and to what promotes fellowship among them" (Nostra Aetate, 1). The objectives of Nostra Aetate are not to enter into polemics and create a debate or a futile discussion between adherents of different religions; through dialogue the Church wishes to enter into the very depth of the life of all people. Therefore what is asked is the attitude of prudence and charity; interreligious dialogue is presented by Nostra Aetate as an apostolate with a vast field of activities for the progress of all humanity to which all faithful can and must make their specific contribution.

The Church wishes to create a climate of cordiality and trust between Christians and followers of other religions, so that all people may be able to dissipate mutual prejudice and ignorance and establish fruitful contact among them in order to collaborate on the questions of common concerns.

Obviously, as a result of mutual relationships clarity will help believers, as to how one understands oneself and the other as well, so that through greater collaboration among themselves believers of different religions may work for the common good in a given concrete context. As it is repeatedly said, all faithful are invited to build bridges of friendship across religious boundaries so that in good times and bad we keep on meeting for the good of society and for establishing peace in the world at large. Thus, dialogue must take place on all levels and forms of life.

Interreligious dialogue presumes honesty and truthfulness on the part of those who practice their respective religious traditions. Dialogue demands that believers keep compromises, political confrontations or business type negotiations completely out when they relate to believers of other religions. However, identity of one's own religious tradition must never become motive to hate, denigrate or be indifferent toward the other.

Discovering the deeper message of Vatican II

The Church is sent to all people without exception. Ad Gentes (AG) forcefully states that while the proclamation of Christ to the world as the unique Savior of all people is unequivocally clear and firm, so should the religious affiliation and cultural belonging of people be respected seriously. The conciliar decree, Ad Gentes, asks Christians to "be familiar with their national and religious traditions, gladly and reverently laying bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden in them" (Ad Gentes, n. 11).

Differences among Religions are not obstacles to overcome but opportunities to transcend

Nostra Aetate stresses the fundamental unity of the human race: "All men form but one community". What is this unity? We need to have a clear idea of "being together" or "living together" in mutual respect, harmony and peace. Confused and incorrect approach to being together can do more harm than good, especially when the religious dimension of the human person is involved. For example, 'juxtaposition' of various religions, by simply placing the differences or commonalities of one religion next to those of the other, will encourage indifference; while "equality, which is a presupposition of interreligious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content _the Church rules out, in a radical way, (the) mentality of indifferentism (which is) characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that 'one religion is as good as another'" (Dominus Jesus, nn. 3, 22).

Here is an example from Christian-Hindu dialogue which holds true also for some other religions in Asia (such as Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Sikhism). A Hindu friend, who considers differences between religions as obstacles to coming together, said to me that he sees little success in interfaith dialogue because believers fail to resolve differences; and partners in dialogue are not able to resolve differences because those involved in dialogue do not have a common "anchor" or touchstone on which to evaluate the different viewpoints which, according to my friend, partners in dialogue simply need to accept and understand. Instead, so concludes my Hindu friend, people talk superficially, agree superficially, and in their hearts they continue to hate the others or try to vanquish them politically.

When efforts are made by people of different religions to come together by choosing the least common denominator, thus compromising one's own religious belief, religions are reduced to some selected and apparently common ideas. This destroys the very essence of the religious traditions. Wanting to be together at all cost, some believers choose to put their fundamental religious essence into bracket, thereby denying the essential particularity of one's own religious tradition. As a result the cause of genuine dialogue is betrayed.

Dialogue originates from a sincere and insatiable desire to know the Truth

In authentic practice of inter-religious dialogue, we affirm hope because dialogue is born out of deep respect for the human person. Dialogue does not reduce 'the other' to one's own a priori idea. Through dialogue believers communicate in order to bridge the gulf of mutual ignorance and misunderstanding. By allowing the 'other' to speak out from one's own insight, religious language or idiom one lays bare one's own assumptions and those of others, thereby becoming solidly grounded in what one holds to be true, because dialogue originates from a sincere and insatiable desire to know the Truth more and more. Dialogue does not aim at shaking the convictions of the other, but rather aims at challenging the other more vividly with the Truth which one seeks and once found, adheres to it; Ad Gentesrightly warns Christians of a danger that while speaking about truth and grace found in other religions, these "need to be enlightened and purified" (Ad Gentes, n. 3).

The practice of dialogue should be consistent, uninterrupted and constant despite challenges and difficulties. One must never give up dialogue, however impossible the situation might seem; there is no alternative to dialogue. We are often impatient because we feel betrayed of our trust or want to see the fruits instantly of the labor we put in. There is a need to always begin anew to build relationships in good times as well as bad because it helps partners in dialogue heal painful memories in our delicate journey of building relationships. An encounter in depth, at the core of their respective faiths, not superficial meeting, can make the believers involved in dialogue, confident that not only what they have in common, but also those things in which they differ, can provide a motive for coming together. It is also true that the ecumenical spirit in the work of inter­religious dialogue is recommended because encounters with other believers become credible and effective when Christian witness is given together by all Christians.

Faith is always proposed and never imposed

Dialogue with people and their religious traditions, has over the last fifty years, been given much greater importance in the life of the Church in the Asian continent which is quite sensitive particularly to the question of 'religious conversions'. The Gospel is to be proposed to all but will be imposed to none. While affirming the Church's right to proclaim the Gospel to all people Dignitatis Humanae (DH) makes it very clear that the faith of the Church cannot be imposed on anyone; neither can its free acceptance be hindered by anyone. In other words, there is no freedom worthy of its name if it does not respect the freedom of the other. Dignitatis Humanae states double meaning of freedom from coercion: that no one should be forced to act contrary to her/his conscience and that no one should be restrained from acting in accordance with her/his conscience. The Declaration, Dignitatis Humanae, warns followers of all religions in no uncertain terms: "In spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one's own right and a violation of the right of others" (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 4). The Declaration, Dignitatis Humanae, also emphatically adds that religious freedom is not only the right of the individual human person but also of the community of persons as well.

Interreligious dialogue is embedded in the Asian spirit

The Church in Asia has always encouraged inter-religious dialogue. Moreover, the religious spirit of Asians excels in this ancient practice. Gathered in Manila in 1970 on the occasion of the visit of St Pope Paul VI the Bishops from Asia declared: "We pledge ourselves to an open, sincere and continuing dialogue with our brothers and sisters of other great religions of Asia, that we may learn from one another how to enrich ourselves spiritually and how to work more effectively together on our common task of total human development". In 1974 the bishops of Asia, preparing for the Synod of Bishops on Evangelization stated that the local Church is a Church incarnate in a people and called the Church (in Asia) to be "indigenous and inculturated" (Taipei, 1974). Inculturation is "the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures - and also the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church". Belonging to the very core of evangelization, inculturation brings the Gospel into the heart of people in their concrete life- situation, in order to transform standards of judgment, reigning values, interests, patterns of thinking, motives and ideals.

A sound Christian theology as the basis for fruitful dialogue

A sound Christian theology is the firm foundation for constructive and fruitful interreligious dialogue. Theologians need to be at the service of the Church in order to help the faithful (clergy, religious and laity) to uncompromisingly live their Christian faith in an inter-religious and multi-cultural context in Asia. Theologians have already been asking questions: How does the awareness of the plurality of religions produce a significant change in reformulating the content and revising the method of theology? In other words, what issues are raised for the theology and the practice of mission as we face challenge of religious plurality? Or, how does our life with people of other faiths affect the content of our theology and its methodology? Though the Christian tradition from its inception has always been lived in a religiously pluralistic context, there are new perceptions of the pluralistic setting today. For example, according to an Asian theologian, "the vast majority of God's poor in Asia perceive their ultimate concern and symbolize their struggle for liberation in the idiom of non-Christian religions and cultures" (CTC Bulletin, Vol. XI, nn. 2 and 3). The theologian concludes that this reality of the pluralistic context forces us to face more decisively questions about the converging and diverging values by which we live in relationship to the vital human issues of our time.

The question which becomes more fundamental to the whole discussion in the context of theology is: How is religious plurality to be positively understood in the plan of God who wishes to save all people? The Church acknowledges the 'rays of Truth and goodness' outside Christianity as God has not left the nations without his witnesses and the soul of every human person is naturally attracted to one True God.

When theology is not rooted in the Trinitarian mystery of God our mission misses the spirit of genuine dialogue. It is in the climate of dialogue, lived in reciprocity of the Spirit that friendship translates into service for the common good. The Trinitarian vision of God opens up and creates new space for some new convergence in the understanding of religious plurality. The Bishops of India had declared: "The other religions are not walls that we should attack and destroy. The other religions are homes of the Spirit which we have not visited; they are receivers of the Word of God whom we have chosen to ignore" ("Final Declaration" of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Plenary Assembly, Nagpur, India, 1969).

The Church, on the national or regional level like India or Asia, must give attention to questions which are raised in actual dialogue to the Faith of the Church so that tools which are capable of helping the pastoral action can be proposed. Institutes of higher learning could be entrusted with these concerns. In France, there are Institutes of Science and Theology of Religions (ISTR) which are promoted by dioceses or ecclesiastical regions. Committing to an evangelical path in which dialogue and friendship between believers of different religions takes place, can bring about a striking and demanding experience of faith which is lived concretely. Attention also needs to be given to the political dimension of interreligious dialogue and make believers aware of their historical responsibility. Not only is it important to have occasional meetings and numerous collaborative actions, but it is also useful to bring together the resources of political theology at the service of interreligious relations.

New challenges and difficulties in "our time"

The contexts and equations in interactions among people in society have changed in "our times". As a consequence, fears, apprehensions and legitimate questions which are raised out of these new situations cannot be ignored or seen only negatively. Concern for the question of migrants and refugees, so eloquently proposed by our Holy Father, must be reflected upon seriously and vigorously among interreligious circles. This means that it is the pastoral task of our local Churches to have an honest evaluation of the practice of interreligious dialogue, gathering of spiritual and theological fruits, without ignoring failures, impasse or other necessary interrogations which must be made in order to bring concrete contributions to the light of the day.

It is also necessary that people be formed for dialogue. Young people could be motivated to render service to the poor and needy without discrimination of religious affiliation thus sewing networks across religious boundaries whereby they will learn to live encounters with others in the most authentic manner. These encounters of concrete cooperation between believers of different religions, as Holy Father Pope Francis says, will bring out the potentials of the social doctrine of the Church in order to face and resolve the principal problems of our contemporary society.

Dialogical awareness in the context of inter-religious situation could be called a new kind of element in theological endeavor in Asia. This kind of awareness is said to acknowledge the plurality of languages and cultures and enrich our understanding of God's mission in the world. The dialogical approach is thought to contribute to the reciprocal growth of the dialoguing partners. Such an approach not only means uncompromisingly believing that salvation comes in Jesus Christ but it also means to assess how Christians can speak more positively about the religious life and faith of other believers and how Christians would reinterpret their faith in the light of a much more positive understanding of what God is doing among people of other religious traditions. Theologians in Asia propose that in this way they better understand how the Spirit of God is also at work in the religious traditions of their neighbor: "We do not ask any longer about the relationship of the Church to other cultures and religions; we are rather searching for the place and the role of the Church in a religiously and culturally pluralistic world" (Documents of Theological Advisory Committee, FABC, 1994). These are genuine but delicate concerns and the Church in Asia needs to move in communion with the universal Church because the Magisterium is charged with the responsibility of preserving the 'deposit of faith'; "The Church is fully aware that when inter-religious dialogue is actually undertaken it does raise profound and fundamental theological questions" (Dominus Jesus, n. 3). Moreover, a dialogue without foundations would be destined to degenerate into empty wordiness. In other words, inter-religious dialogue has its possibilities but also limits.

It is also necessary for us leaders in the Church to distinguish between what the Magisterium officially teaches and what the intellectuals freely discuss and how they form their personal opinions which often reach the faithful who might be ignorant of the magisterial teaching. There is a large corpus of the Church's official teaching on inter-religious dialogue. Uncompromising fidelity to the Faith of the Church, on the one hand, and genuine and deep respect for 'the other', on the other hand, are two poles of the same commitment to inter-religious dialogue. Ultimately, love manifested on the Cross impels us to reach out to all people. Justin Martyr encouragingly reminds us, "the seeds of the Word are sown in the entire human race we can find the divine image in all even though it may be in an obscured and disfigured manner" (2 Apol. 8.1)[1]. In other words, the mystery of the Logos (Word) is neither alien nor opposed to the groping search of humanity for God.

However, the Bishops at the Synod for Asia (1998) clearly stated: "Only Christians who are deeply immersed in the mystery of Christ and who are happy with their faith community can without undue risk and with hope of positive fruit engage in interreligious dialogue Inter-religious relations are best developed in a context of openness to other believers, a willingness to listen and the desire to respect and understand others in their differences" (Ecclesia in Asia, n. 31). St Pope John Paul II, on the eve of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, declared: "The task before us therefore is to promote a culture of dialogue; individually and together, we must show how religious belief inspires peace, encourages solidarity, promotes justice and upholds liberty" (Culture of Dialogue, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 2001, pp. 13-14).

Limits and Possibilities of inter-religious dialogue

The confession of Peter, "there is salvation in no one else" (Acts 4:12), does not deny salvation to one who is not a Christian but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united. God gives light to all in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation, granting them salvific grace in ways known to himself (Dominus Jesus, VI, nn. 20-21). Vatican II has made several statements, explicit and implicit, regarding ways of salvation of people of other religions; but all statements always affirm the unique plan of salvation God has in Jesus Christ.


As they live their Christian Faith in an interreligious and multi-cultural context, Christians must bear in mind three objectives:

1. To develop a deep respect for people of other religions and their respective traditions without any discrimination.

2. To safeguard the integrity of the Christian faith.

3. To continue to do the missio Dei because, understood as a method and means to mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes;indeed it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions. This mission, in fact, is addressed to those who do not know Christ and his gospel, and who belong for the most part to other religions (Redemptoris Missio, nn. 55-57).

Interreligious dialogue does not originate from tactical concerns or self­interest, but is an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements and dignity. It is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills (Redemptoris Missio, n. 56).

I wish to draw your attention to an important document, "Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct" (2011), which is jointly published by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Holy See), World Council of Churches (Geneva) and the World Evangelical Alliance (Germany). It spells out and offers in clear, concrete and simple terms how a Christian is invited to live his/her faith in an Inter-Religious and Multi-Cultural context. The 'iter of the document began as a study over the uncritical assumption by many, particularly in India, that conversions to Christianity are increasing by leaps and bounds and that this is because Christians are forcing their faith on others, etc. It is the first ever document which is endorsed and owned by majority of Christians (Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals). I wish to conclude by presenting the main points of the document:

Christians who lack appreciation and respect for other believers and their religious traditions are ill prepared to proclaim the Gospel to them (PCID, Dialogue and Proclamation, n. 73).

The qualities needed by every Christian in doing mission are: 1) that they be respectful of the presence and action of the Spirit of God in the hearts of those who listen to the message (Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75); 2) that they be dialogical, for in the proclamation of the Word of God every hearer is not expected to be a passive listener; 3) and that they be deeply inserted (according to the magisterial teaching on inculturation) in the culture and the spiritual tradition of those addressed, so that the message proclaimed is not only intelligible to the hearers but it is also conceived as responding to their deepest aspirations as truly the Good News, which in the depth of their hearts, they have been longing for (Evangelii Nuntiandi, nn. 20, 62).

No Christian should engage in inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means. Not by "proselytizing but by attraction", to use the expression of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and our Holy Father, Pope Francis, Christians must not betray the Good News of Jesus and cause suffering to others. Mission is done by loving as God loves us, living Christian values, such as integrity, charity, compassion and humility, overcoming all arrogance, condescension and disparagement.

Christians are exhorted to engage in acts of selfless service and justice, never exploiting situations of poverty and need, refraining from all allurements in acts of service, never to engage in violence, overtly or covertly, for violence can never be justified in one's religious life, by denouncing any instrumentalization of religion for vested interests by political, economic or ideological powers. Christians are invited to extend the hand of collaboration to people of all religions and of no religion, in order to promote the common good of all, to listen and understand the religious beliefs and practices of others and appreciate what is true, good, holy and beautiful in their religious traditions. Christians should never shy from helping through discernment, anyone who freely expresses to become a disciple of Jesus Christ desiring the sacrament of baptism; this means sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation, through a process ensuring full personal freedom. At all times, but especially when relationships across religious boundaries are good, Christians must build friendship and mutual respect with all so that understanding, reconciliation and cooperation for the common good is promoted in society.

Christians are called to resolve conflicts, restore justice and heal memories at all times because these eventually lead to reconciliation and peace-building. It is also important that the Christians deepen and strengthen their essential religious identity and faith while getting to know the essence and practices of different religions. Christians must readily cooperate with believers of other religions when the dignity of any person is trampled upon in situations of conflict. Above all, Christians are exhorted to pray for the well-being of their neighbors of all religions and also of no religion.


[1] The Fathers of the Church worked within the framework of the unifying principle of the cosmos or creation, namely, the logical implications of the Mystery of the Logos. The core idea was that what is offered in Christ, the Word, is the only reality in which all truth may be both sought and discovered. In the first part of the third century Justin speaks about the 'seeds' sown by the Logos in the religious traditions of the world. Through the incarnation the manifestation of the Logos becomes complete (1 Apol. 46, 1-4; 2 Apol. 8,1; 10:1-3: 13:4-6). For the Fathers of the Church "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" (DP, n. 24).