Pope John Paul II
- Created: May 19, 1999
- Written by John Paul II
The Acts of the Apostles relate St Paul 's discourse to the Athenians, which seems very timely for the areopagus of religious pluralism in our times. To present the God of Jesus Christ, Paul starts with the religious practices of his audience, expressing his appreciation: "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, 'To an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22 -23).
On my spiritual and pastoral pilgrimage around today's world, I have repeatedly expressed the Church's esteem for "whatever is true and holy" in the religions of the various peoples. I have added, following the Council, that Christian truth serves to "encourage the spiritual and moral good found among them, as well as their social and cultural values" (Nostra aetate, n. 2). The universal fatherhood of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, spurs us also to dialogue with religions outside Abraham's stock. This dialogue offers a wealth of themes and challenges, when we think, for example, of Asian cultures deeply imbued with the religious spirit, or of African traditional religions, which are a source of wisdom and life for so many peoples.
At the root of the Church's encounter with world religions there is a discernment of their specific features, that is, of the way they approach the mystery of God the Saviour, the ultimate Reality of human life. Every religion, in fact, presents itself as a search for salvation and offers ways to attain it (cf. CCC, n. 843). Dialogue presupposes the certitude that man, created in God's image, is also the privileged 'place' of his saving presence.
Prayer, as an adoring recognition of God, as gratitude for his gifts, as an invocation of his help, is a special form of encounter, especially with those religions which, although not having discovered the mystery of God's fatherhood, nevertheless "have, as it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven" (Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 53). However, dialogue is more difficult with certain contemporary forms of religious belief in which prayer often ends up as an enhancement of one's vital potential in exchange for salvation.
Christianity's dialogue with other religions takes various forms and operates at different levels, beginning with the dialogue of life, in which "people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations" (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations, 19 May 1991, n. 42).
The dialogue of action has particular importance. Among these works we should mention education in peace and respect for the environment, solidarity with the world of suffering, the promotion of social justice and the integral development of peoples. Christian charity, which knows no borders, gladly joins forces with the shared witness given by the members of other religions, rejoicing over the good they accomplish.
Then there is the theological dialogue, in which experts try to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages and to appreciate their spiritual values. Meetings between the specialists of different religions, however, cannot be limited to the search for a least common denominator. Their purpose is to lend courageous service to the truth by highlighting areas of convergence as well as fundamental differences, in a sincere effort to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding.
The dialogue of religious experience is also becoming more and more important. The practice of contemplation answers the great thirst for inner life of those who are spiritually searching, and helps all believers to enter more deeply into the mystery of God. Some practices derived from the great Eastern religions hold a certain attraction for people today. Christians must exercise spiritual discernment in their regard so as not to lose sight of the conception of prayer as it has been explained by the Bible throughout salvation history (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Orationis formas, on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation, 15 October 1989: AAS 82 , II, pp. 362-379).
This necessary discernment does not hinder interreligious dialogue. In fact, for many years meetings with the various monastic communities of other religions, marked by cordial friendship, are opening ways for the mutual sharing of other spiritual riches "with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute" (Dialogue and Proclamation, n. 42). Mysticism, however, can never be invoked to support religious relativism in the name of an experience that would lessen the value of God's revelation in history. As disciples of Christ, we feel the urgent need and the joy of witnessing to the fact that God manifested himself precisely in him, as John's Gospel tells us: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known" (Jn 1:18).
This witness must be given without any reservation, but also in the awareness that the action of Christ and his Spirit is already mysteriously present in all who live sincerely according to their religious convictions. And with all genuinely religious people the Church continues her pilgrimage through history towards the eternal contemplation of God in the splendour of his glory.