Catholics and Confucians have ‘so much to learn from each other’

By Joseph Tulloch, Vatican News

As scholars gather in New Taipei City to discuss Catholic-Confucian dialogue, Fr. Paulin Batairwa Kubuya, Under-Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, shares his hopes for the conference, and discusses the relationship between these ancient traditions.

Scholars of Confucianism and Christianity from all over the world have gathered in Taiwan to draw up a roadmap for Catholic-Confucian dialogue.

The meeting, which runs from 8-9 March, is entitled “Christians Fostering Dialogue with Confucians: Guidelines and Prospects”.

It was jointly organised by the Vatican Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue and the Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei.

Fr. Paulin Batairwa Kubuya, Under-Secretary of the Dicastery, spoke to Vatican News about the event and the prospects for the future of dialogue between these two traditions.

Meeting in Taiwan a “significant step forward”

The conference now underway in New Taipei City follows on the heels of several online meetings between scholars and experts on Confucianism.

Its aim is to draft guidelines for dialogue between Christians and followers of the ancient Chinese tradition.

As Fr. Paulin explained, the drafting of these guidelines is an “initial stage” in the process, preceding formal dialogue between the Holy See and representatives of Confucianism.

A press release from the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue called the meeting a “significant step forward”, noting that the guidelines are expected to serve as a “valuable resource” for individuals “both within and beyond the Catholic Church who seek to engage in dialogue with followers of Confucianism.”

Catholicism and Confucianism: Ancient wisdom traditions

Fr. Paulin stressed the points of contact between Christianity and Confucianism.

“These are two wisdom traditions”, he said, “to which, for over two thousand years, believers have been looking to get instruction about their lives.”

In both, he pointed out, there is “the idea of harmony, the idea of creating a universal world – actually, this is what Pope Francis has talked about frequently: the idea of fraternity that goes beyond borders.”

Confucian ethics, he said, also shares with Christianity a strong commitment to “helping people to conduct themselves, to be good citizens, to organise their lives.”

“There are so many of these elements that we can learn from one another,” said Fr. Paulin.

The Rites Controversy: Danger of misunderstanding

What happens when this dialogue fails to take place?

Fr. Paulin spoke of the 17th century Rites Controversy, in which Catholic missionaries in China argued about whether local traditions of ancestor veneration, which Chinese converts to Christianity were keen to continue, were compatible with the Christian faith.

“There was not enough understanding at the time,” Fr. Paulin said. “It was understood that they were worshipping their ancestors, and this created trouble.”

What is needed, then, is a genuine effort to understand other religions and cultures. Among numerous other advantages, this “can help Christians who come from other backgrounds to be able to better appreciate them, and see how they can bring their background with them and live it together with their Catholic faith.”

The future of Catholic-Confucian dialogue

Fr. Paulin brought the interview with to a close by expressing his hopes for the future of Catholic-Confucian dialogue.

“I hope that we will find more Catholics who are interested in this,” he said, “who are praying for the success of this work, and who will be able to appreciate their own cultural background.”

And, he said, he hopes that the Church will be able to “look at our Confucian neighbours, look at how we can develop a better way of living together, how we can enrich one another.”