Westminster Interfaith: Promoting Dialogue Between People of Faith

The agency of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster for Interreligious Dialogue

Westminster Interfaith Newsletter

Issue 60 – January 2009

Interreligious dialogue: a sacred duty

In preparing for a talk to RE Co-ordinators in Roman Catholic Primary Schools in November 2008, I made some notes from various Church documents to remind me what the Church teaches about interreligious dialogue and why we need to be actively involved in it. The notes do not attempt to cover every aspect of the Church's teaching on interreligious dialogue, but they do form a good starting point for reflection, meditation, discussion and action. Addressing representatives of Muslim communities on World Youth Day in Cologne in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI stated that interreligious dialogue is not an optional extra for Christians, but 'a vital necessity on which, in large measure, our future depends'. He was reiterating similar words spoken by John Paul II nearly 30 years ago: 'Today when Christians and Muslims (people of other faiths) have entered a new period of history, [it is urgent] to recognise and develop the spiritual bonds that unite us, in order to preserve and promote together, for the benefit of all men, "peace, liberty, social justice and moral values"'. (To Catholics in Ankara 28 Nov 1979).

Recently, speaking to members of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations on Oct 30, 2008, Pope Benedict referred to interreligious dialogue as a sacred duty. He said: "In our troubled world, so frequently marked by poverty, violence and exploitation, dialogue between cultures and religions must more and more be seen as a sacred duty incumbent upon all those who are committed to building a world worthy of man . . . The ability to accept and respect one another, and to speak the truth in love, is essential for overcoming differences, preventing misunderstandings and avoiding needless confrontations. ... A sincere dialogue needs both openness and a firm sense of identity on both sides, in order for each to be enriched by the gifts of the other." The theological Foundation for our engagement with people of other faiths is expressed clearly in the 2nd Vatican Council document: Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. In the first paragraph, it spells out that the Church's task in promoting unity and love among all people and all nations is to discover what people have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

We are a community of all peoples. We come from the same stock. God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. Our final goal is God, who loves all people equally and unconditionally.

All people of faith 'expect answers to unsolved riddles of the human condition . . . which stirs the hearts of all humanity'. Questions like: What is man ? Why are we here ? Why do we suffer?

'The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all humanity. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth and the life", in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

The Church therefore, exhorts her sons (and daughters) that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognise, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as socio-cultural values found among these men.'

We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).

In Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Inneunte, he wrote "it is obvious that interreligious dialogue will be especially important in establishing a sure basis for peace and warding off the dread spectre of those wars of religion which have so often bloodied human history. The name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace" (55). Peace is a gift from God. Peace can only come through a process of reconciliation, and this requires both humility and generosity.

Pope Benedict XVI, addressing representatives of other religions in Sydney on 23rd World Youth Day in 2008, said: "A harmonious relationship between religion and public life is all the more important at a time when some people have come to consider religion as a cause of division rather than a force for unity. In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity. One of the many ways religion stands at the service of mankind is by offering a vision of the human person that highlights our innate aspiration to live generously, forging bonds of friendship with our neighbours. At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect a person's natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others.

Personal fulfilment does not consist in the selfish gratification of ephemeral desires. Religion leads us to meet the needs of others and to search for concrete ways to contribute to the common good. Religions teach people that authentic service requires sacrifice and self-discipline, which in turn must be cultivated through self denial, temperance and a moderate use of the world's goods . . . It is incumbent upon religious people to demonstrate that it is possible to find joy in living simply and modestly, generously sharing one's surplus with those suffering from want."

Young People

"When presented with high ideals, many young people are attracted to asceticism and the practice of moral virtue through self-respect and a concern for others. Schools could do more to nurture the spiritual dimension of every young person. Let's make goodness, compassion, freedom, solidarity, and respect for every individual an essential part of our vision for a more humane future.

The universality of human experience, which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations, makes it possible for followers of religions to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mystery of life's joys and sufferings. In this regard the Church eagerly seeks opportunities to listen to the spiritual experience of other religions.

Our effort to bring about reconciliation between peoples springs from, and is directed to, that truth which gives purpose to life. Religion offers peace, but more importantly, it arouses within the human spirit a thirst for truth and a hunger for virtue."


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