Pope John Paul II

Dialogika Resources

Message to the Interreligious Conference in Lisbon

Vatican City

The message of the Holy Father John Paul II to His Eminence Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy for the participants at the Lisbon Conference:

It is a special pleasure for me, Cardinal Cassidy, to entrust you with the task of expressing my esteem and my greetings to the illustrious representatives of churches and Christian communities and of the great world religions gathered in Lisbon for the 13th international meeting on the theme, "Oceans of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Comparison."

My thoughts return to 1986, when for the first time men and women of various religions found themselves together to pray to their God for peace, on the hill of Assisi, marked by the testimony of St. Francis. That event could not remain isolated. It had, in fact, a major spiritual force: it was like a stream from which new energy for peace began to gush. For this reason, as I foresaw, the "spirit of Assisi" has not been extinguished but rather is able to expand throughout the world from Assisi, bringing to all parts of the world new instances of peace and of dialogue. This world, the scene of such conflicts, misunderstandings, and prejudices, has in fact an extraordinary need for peace and for dialogue.

I want therefore to thank the community of Saint Egidio for the enthusiasm and the spiritual courage with which it has gathered up the message of Assisi and borne it into so many parts of the world, to the gatherings of men and women of the world’s religions. I recall the meeting in Bucharest in 1998, which had such an echo in Romania, where during my apostolic visit I heard the insistent and repeated cry of the people, "Unite! Unite!" Yes, dear Christian sisters and brothers, that unity remains for us a primary obligation. Let us watch over it with hope during the century that has opened. Perhaps, as I wrote in Ut Unum Sint, "the long history of Christianity, marked by many divisions, seems to converge once more because it tends toward that source of its unity which is Jesus Christ" (22).

I am convinced that the "spirit of Assisi" constitutes a providential gift for our time. In the diversity of religious expressions, truly recognized as such, there is a unity that is close to another, which is also visible: The aspiration for the unity of the entire human family. We must all be working for this form of unity. I recall that when I was a young bishop at the Second Vatican Council I also signed my name to the declaration, Nostra Aetate, which initiated a rich relationship among the Catholic Church, Judaism, Islam, and the other religions. That declaration affirms that "Ever aware of its duty to foster unity and charity among individuals, and even among nations, it reflects at the outset on what people have in common and what tends to bring them together" (1).

The dialogue among the religions has to take account of this requirement and proceed along these lines. Today, by the grace of God, the dialogue is no longer merely a hope; it is recognized as a reality, and so is the path by which the dialogue is to proceed. How could we not express gratitude to the Lord for the gift of this reciprocal opening, which is a prelude to a more profound understanding between the Catholic Church and Judaism, especially as I recall so vividly the unforgettable memories of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land? But significant fruits have also been borne along the path leading to a meeting with Islam, with the oriental religions, and with the great cultures of the contemporary world. At the beginning of a new millennium we must not slow our pace but rather it is necessary to press for a greater acceleration along this promising path.

You know very well that the dialogue must not ignore the real differences, but neither do the differences cancel out the common conditions of a pilgrimage toward the new heaven and the new earth. The dialogue also invites all who may be hesitant to recognize that this undertaking of friends neither separates nor confuses. We all need to be more audacious on this path, because the men and women of this our world, of whatever nation or particular faith, can recognize that they are children of one God and brothers and sisters of one another.

Today you are in Lisbon, on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, and your gaze is directed toward the peoples and cultures of the world. Lisbon is the first stage in your common path in this new century. Thanks to you, Patriarch Jose de Cruz Polycarp, for having accepted this pilgrimage, along with all your Church. Greetings to you, colleagues in the episcopacy, and to all the beloved people of Portugal, whom I had the opportunity to meet during my recent pilgrimage to Fatima.

There are so many problems to be addressed on the world horizon. But humanity is in search of new initiatives toward peace. "It is therefore necessary and urgent," as I wrote to the "Men and Religions" conference in Milan in 1993, "to recover the joy and the will to walk together toward the building of a more peaceful world, one that transcends the particular interests of groups, of races, and of nations. What an important task, in this regard, do the religions have to play!

"The poor half of humanity is rich in this universal aspiration, which finds its roots in sincere relationship with God" (Insegnamenti, Vol. XVI/2, 1993, 778).

In entrusting to you, Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, my message for the participants of the meeting in Lisbon, along with my renewed cordial greetings, I invoke for all of you the benediction of Almighty God. With His aid, all the men and women of every people of the earth will continue with renewed determination on the road to peace and mutual understanding.

The Vatican, 21 September 2000.