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The Attitude of the Church towards the Followers of Other Religions

Reflections and Orientations

on Dialogue and Mission

Pentecost 1984

Address of the Pope at the conclusion of the Plenary Assembly of the Secretariat

On the morning of Saturday, 3 March 1984, the Pope met in audience with the members of the Secretariat for Non-Christians. The audience marked the conclusion of their Plenary Assembly which had begun on February 27 and which was dedicated principally to the formulation of a document on the relationship between dialogue and mission.

Following is the discourse the Holy Father addressed to the group. (O.R.E.E. 23- 3-1984).

Your Eminences,
Venerated Brothers!

1.        I am happy to meet with you at the conclusion of the work of the Plenary Assembly, during which you have involved yourselves in studying and coming to a more profound understanding of the general topic “ Dialogue and Mission Twenty years after both its own foundation and the publication of Ecclesiam Suam, which is rightly considered the magna charta of dialogue in its various forms, the Secretariat for non-Christians has proposed this theme for the plenary. During these years an enormous work has been accomplished in order to “ seek ways and means to open an appropriate dialogue with non- Christians ” (Regimini Ecclesiae, A.A.S. 59, p. 919).

Among those who have collaborated in the realization of this project, I mention Cardinal Pignedoli. With his friendly contacts he won the esteem of followers of various religions and supported initiatives adapted to the needs of the times. I extend my sincere thanks also to Archbishop Jadot, the Pro-President, who has always sought to promote suitable meetings with a view to fostering dialogue among adherents to different religions.

Need for Dialogue

2.        In fact, no one can fail to see the importance and the need which interreligious dialogue assumes for all religions and all believers, called today more than ever to collaborate so that every person can reach his transcendent goal and realize his authentic growth and to help cultures preserve their own religious and spiritual values in the presence of rapid social changes.

Dialogue is fundamental for the Church, which is called to collaborate in God’s plan with its methods of presence, respect, and love towards all persons (cf. Ad Gentes, 10-12; Ecclesiam Suam, 41-42; Redemptor Hominis, 11-12). Because of this, since my first encyclical, then in the various meetings with different personalities, and above all on the occasion of my journeys, I myself have always emphasized the importance, the reasons and the goals of this dialogue. For the Church, dialogue is based on the very life of God, one and triune. God is the father of the entire human family; Christ has joined every person to himself (Redemptor Hominis, 13); the Spirit works in each individual: therefore dialogue is also based on love for the human person as such, who is the primary and fundamental way of the Church (Redemptor Hominis, 14), and on the bond existing between culture and the religions which people profess.

This friendly relationship between believers of various religions is born of respect and love for one another; it presumes the exercise of fundamental freedoms to practice one’s own faith completely and to compare it with that of others (Redemptor Hominis, 12).

Secretariat’s Mission

3.       During these years the exercise of dialogue has demonstrated new paths and needs. First of all, the local Churches have established sincere and constructive relationships with the believers of other religions present within their same culture. This Secretariat itself has been a stimulus for such development; it must continue to specify and examine an appropriate apostolate for relations with non-Christians, promoting the exchange of ideas and reflection. As far as the local Churches are concerned, they must commit themselves in this direction, helping all the faithful to respect and to esteem the values, traditions and convictions of other believers, and at the same time to promote a solid and suitable religious education of the Christians themselves, so that they know how to give a convinced witness of the great gift of faith.

No local Church is exempt from this duty, which is made urgent by continuous changes. Because of migrations, travels, social communications and personal choices, believers of different religions and cults easily meet each other and often live together. Therefore, an apostolate which promotes respect, acceptance, and witness is necessary so that spiritual values inspire our societies, which are tempted to selfishness, atheism and materialism.

In order to promote this apostolate, it is more important than ever to constitute a special commission within the heart of every Episcopal Conference.

4.        Experience also demonstrates that dialogue is carried out in many forms. There is the doctrinal field, which is very important for a profound understanding and also the field of daily relationshipbetween believers, who are called to mutual respect and common awareness. The dialogue of life, in fact, favours peaceful coexistence and working together for a more just society, so that a person might grow in being and not in having. The family deserves particular attention in this area. These frequent domestic relationships enable one to know people in their history and their values and to compare them with the Gospel. In consistency with one’s own faith, it is also possible to enrich one another through comparing spiritual experiences and sharing forms of prayer as ways of meeting with God.

All Christians are called to dialogue. Some have an expertise which is very useful, while others make a notable contribution through their special gifts. I am thinking particularly of intermonastic dialogueand of other movements, groups and institutions. Adequate preparation and a constant deepening of one’s own ecclesial identity is necessary for all.

Dialogue with non-Christians can also be a way of realizing unity among Christian Churches which are moved by the same love of Christ. Mutual collaboration in this area is evident through the participation in this Plenary Assembly by the director of the corresponding sub-unit of the World Council of Churches. But dialogue is not an easy thing. Religion itself can be made an instrument and become the excuse for polarization and division. In the current world situation, to engage in dialogue means learning to forgive, since all the religious communities can point to possible wrongs suffered through the centuries. It means trying to understand the heart of others, which is particularly difficult when there is lack of agreement. It means, first of all, putting oneself at the service of all humanity and of the one God. One must not stop at easy or apparent results. This commitment is born from theological virtues and grows with them.

Assembly’s Theme

5.        The theme of your Plenary Assembly on the relationship between “ Mission and Dialogue ” is more important than ever. Beloved members of the Secretariat, your pastoral experience and your common reflection have certainly helped to clarify the bonds and the relationships between mission and dialogue and to indicate suitable pastoral orientations. I would like to underscore just a few aspects:

Dialogue finds its place within the Church’s salvific mission; for this reason it is a dialogue of salvation:

“ Closely united with men in their life and work, Christ’s disciples hope to render to others true witness of Christ and to work for their salvation, even where they are not able to proclaim Christ fully ” (Ad Gentes, 12).

In this ecclesial activity it is also necessary to avoid exclusivism and dichotomies. Authentic dialogue becomes witness and true evangelization is accomplished by respecting and listening to one another (Redemptor Hominis, 12). Even though “ there is a time for everything ” (cf. Eccl. 3:1-8), prudence and discernment will teach us what is appropriate in each particular situation: collaboration, witness, listening, or exchange of values. Saints like Francis of Assisi and great missionaries like Matteo Ricci and Charles de Foucauld are examples of this. When we live fully in Christ we will become ever more suitable instruments of his cooperation and we will follow his method, expressing the love of him who gave himself for us.

In this Jubilee Year we cannot forget the role of dialogue for reconciliation among peoples and with God; this is an essential condition for the peaceful coexistence and the unity willed by God (Gaudium et Spes, 24, 29; Lumen Gentium, 9, 13, 42) and re-established by Christ (Gaudium et Spes, 78).

6.       The challenges are many and the horizon of commitments is wider than ever.

Let us therefore turn to Christ, let us learn from him how to behave with others. Thus in him we will live the merciful love of the Father, who through the Spirit invites all to be reconciled in Christ and to be reconciled among themselves.

With these thoughts and these wishes I impart a special Apostolic Blessing to each and every one of you as an incentive and encouragement for your so well-deserving commitment.

The attitude of the Church towards the followers of other religions

(Reflections and orientations on dialogue and mission)


A new landmark

1.        The Second Vatican Council has marked a new landmark in the relations of the church with the followers of other religions. Many Conciliar documents made explicit reference to them, and one in particular, the declaration Nostra Aetate, is entirely dedicated to “ the relations between the Catholic church and non-Christian religions ”.

in a world of change

2.        The rapid changes in the world and the deeper consideration of the mystery of the church as “ the universal sacrament of salvation ” (LG 48) have fostered this attitude towards non-Christian religions. “ Thanks to the opening made by the Council, the church and all Christians have been able to come to a more complete awareness of the mystery of Christ” (RH 11).

is the ideal of dialogue

3.        This new attitude has taken the name of dialogue. This term, which is both the norm and ideal, was made known to the church by Paul VI in the encyclical “ Ecclesiam Suam ” (6 August 1964). Since that time, it has been frequently used by the Council as well as in other church teachings. It means not only discussion, but also includes all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment.

The Vatican Secretariat

4.        As an institutional sign of this desire to meet and relate to the followers of other religious traditions of the world, the same Pope Paul VI instituted, on Pentecost, 1964, in the climate of the Second Vatican Council, the Secretariat for non-Christians as an organism distinct from the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Its competence was defined in the constitution Regimini Ecclesiae:

“To search for methods and ways of opening a suitable dialogue with non-Christians. It should strive, therefore, in order that non-Christians come to be known honestly and esteemed justly by Christians, and that in their turn non-Christians can adequately know and esteem Christian doctrine and life ” (AAS 59, 1967, pp. 919-920).

after 20 years experience

5.        Today, 20 years after the publication of Ecclesiam Suam and its own foundation, the Secretariat, gathered in plenary assembly, has evaluated the experiences of dialogue which are occurring everywhere in the church. It has reflected on the church’s attitudes towards other believers, and especially on the relationship which exists between dialogue and mission.

offers a document

6.        The theological vision of this document is inspired by the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent magisterium. A further study in depth by theologians remains, however, both desirable and necessary. Drawn from and enriched by experience, this reflection is mainly pastoral in character. It intends to encourage behavior formed by the Gospel in its encounters with believers of other faiths with whom Christians live in the city, at work, and in the family.

for Christian communities

7.        This document, therefore, is proposed in order to help Christian communities and especially. their leaders to live according to the directives of the Council. It offers elements of a solution to the difficulties which can arise from the duties of evangelization and dialogue which are found together in the mission of the church. Through this document, the members of other religions might also come to understand better how the church views them and how it intends to behave towards them.

in an ecumenical spirit

8.        Many Christian churches have had similar experiences in their encounters with other believers. “Within the ambit of its Unit I on “ Faith and Witness ”, the World Council of Churches has a sub-unit for “ Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies ”. With this latter body, the Secretariat for non-Christians has stable and fraternal contacts of consultation and collaboration.



The love of God

9.        God is love (/ John 4:8, 16). This saving love of God has been revealed and communicated to mankind in Christ and is present and active throughout the world by means of the Holy Spirit. The church is the living sign of that love in such a way as to render it the norm of life for all. This mission, Christ’s own, is one of love because in him it finds its source, goal, and way of proceeding (cf. AG 2, 5,     12; EN 26). Each aspect and activity of the church’s mission must therefore be imbued with the spirit of love if it is to be faithful to Christ who commanded the mission and continues to make it possible throughout history.

gives the church

10.      The church, as the Council has stressed, is a messianic people, a visible assembly and spiritual community, and a pilgrim people who ‘go forward together with all of mankind with whom they share the human experience. They ought to be the leaven and a “ soul ” for society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into the family of God (cf. LG 9; GS 9, 40). This messianic people has as its law “ the new commandment to love as Christ has loved us and as its goal the kingdom of God which was already begun by Him ” (LG 9). The pilgrim church is therefore “ missionary by its very nature ” (AG, 2 cf. also 6, 35, 36). For every Christian, the missionary duty is the normal expression of his lived faith.

a mission,

11.      “The mission of the church is carried out by means of that activity through which, in obedience to Christ’s command and moved by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, the church makes itself fully present to all persons and peoples… ” (AG 5). The task is one but comes to be exercised in different ways according to the conditions in which mission unfolds. “ These circumstances depend sometimes on the church itself, sometimes on the peoples or groups or individuals to whom the mission is directed… The appropriate actions or tools must be brought to bear on any given circumstances or situations… The special end of this missionary activity is the evangelization and the foundation of the church among peoples or groups in which it has not yet taken root ” (AG 6). Other passages of the same Council have stressed that the mission of the church is also to work for the extension of the Kingdom and its values among all men and women (cf. LG 5, 9, 35; GS 39, 40-4.5, 91, 92; UR 2; DH 14; AA 5).

often reiterated,

12.      The different aspects and manners of mission have been broadly delineated by the Second Vatican Council. The acts and documents of subsequent ecclesiastical teaching, such as the Bishops’ Synod on Social Justice (1971) and those dedicated to evangelization (1974) and catechetics (1977), numerous addresses of Pope Paul VI and John Paul II, and statements of the episcopal conferences of Asia, Africa, and Latin America have developed various aspects of conciliar teaching, adding, for example, “ as an essential element of the mission of the church and indissolubly connected to it ” (RH 15) the commitment to mankind, to social justice, to liberty and the rights of man, and the reform of unjust social structures.

and expressing itself in many ways.

13.      Mission is thus presented in the consciousness of the church as a single but complex and articulated reality. Its principal elements can be mentioned. Mission is already constituted by the simple presence and living witness of the Christian life (cf. EN 21), although it must be recognized that “ we bear this treasure in earthen vessels ” (2 Cor 4:7). Thus the difference between the way the Christian appears existentially and that which he declares himself to be is never fully overcome. There is also the concrete commitment to the service of mankind and all forms of activity for social development and for the struggle against poverty and the structures which produce it. Also, there is liturgical life and that of prayer and contemplation, eloquent testimonies to a living and liberating relationship with the active and true God who calls us to His kingdom and to His glory (cf. Acts 2:42). There is, as well, the dialogue in which Christians meet the followers of other religious traditions in order to walk together towards truth and to work together in projects of common concern. Finally, there is announcement and catechesis in which the good news of the Gospel is proclaimed and its consequences for life and culture are analyzed. The totality of Christian mission embraces all these elements.

It is the duty of all,

14.     Every local church is responsible for the totality of mission. Moreover, every Christian, by virtue of his faith and baptism, is called to carry out to some degree the whole mission of the church. The needs of the situation, the particular position of the people of God, and an individual’s personal charism dispose the Christian to direct his efforts principally to one or another aspect of that mission.

according to the example of Jesus,

15.      The life of Jesus contains all the elements of mission. In the Gospels, Jesus is shown in silence, in action, in prayer, in dialogue, and in teaching. His message is inseparable from his deeds; he announces God and His reign not only by word but by his deeds and works which complete his preaching. Accepting contradiction, failure, and death, his victory passes through the gift of life. Everything in him is the means and way of revelation and salvation (cf. EN 6-12); everything is the expression of his love (cf. John 3:16; 13:1; 1 John 4: 7-19). Christians ought to act in the same way: “ By this will they know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another ”.

as expressed in the early church,

16.      Moreover, the New Testament gives a composite yet differentiated picture of mission. There is a plurality of services and functions which arise from a variety of charisms (cf. 1 Cor 12:28-30; Eph. 4-11-12; Rom. 12:6-8). St. Paul himself noted the particular character of his missionary vocation when he declared that he was not sent by Christ to baptize but to announce the Gospel (/ Cor 1:17). For this reason, alongside the “ apostles ”, the “ prophets ”, and the “ evangelists ”, we find those who are called to deeds for the community and for the assistance of those who suffer. There are the tasks of families, of husbands, of wives, and of children. There are the duties of masters and servants. Each person has a task of particular witness in society. The First Letter of Peter, sent to Christians living in situations of diaspora, gives indications which never cease to surprise by their relevance for today. A passage of this letter was cited by Pope John Paul II in 1979 to the Catholic community of Ankara as “ the golden rule of contacts between Christians and their fellow citizens of other faiths:

‘ Revere the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope which is in you. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience ’ ” (/ Pt 3:15-16).

and in the lives of saints

17.      Among the many examples which could be drawn from the history of Christian mission, the norms given by St. Francis of Assisi, in the “Regola non bollata” of 1221, are significant. The friars who “ through divine inspiration would desire to go among the Muslims… can establish spiritual contact with them (Muslims) in two ways: a way which does not raise arguments and disputes, but rather they should be subject to every human creature for the love of God and confess themselves to be Christians. The other way is that when they see that it would be pleasing to the Lord, they should announce the word of God ”.

Our own century has seen the rise and affirmation,especially in the Islamic world, of the experience of Charles de Foucauld, who carried out mission in a humble and silent attitude of union with God, in communion with the poor, and in universal brotherhood.

in respect for freedom of conscience

18.      Mission must always revolve about man in full respect for his freedom. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council, while having affirmed for the whole church the necessity and urgency of announcing Christ, “ the light of life ”, with all apostolic faithfulness and fortitude, even, when necessary, to the shedding of one’s own blood (DH 14), confirms the need to promote and respect the true freedom of the other person, rejecting any form of coercion whatsoever most especially in the religious sphere.

“ Truth, however, is to be sought in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication, and dialogue. In the course of these, men explain to one another the truth they have discovered or claim to have discovered in order to help one another in their search for the truth. Moreover, as truth is discovered, it is by personal assent that men are to adhere to it ” (DH 3).

“ In spreading religious faith and introducing religious practices, everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which could seem to carry a hint of coertion or of 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 right and a violation of the rights of others ” (DH 4).

of the human person.

19.      This respect for every person ought to characterize the missionary activity of the church today (cf. ES 77; AAS 1964, pp. 642-643; EN 79-80; RH 12). “ Man is the first path which the church ought to traverse in carrying out its mission ” (RH 14). These values, which the church continues to learn from Christ its teacher, should lead the Christian to love and respect all that is good in the culture and the religious commitment of the other. “ It concerns respect for everything which the Spirit, who blows where he wills, has produced in man ” (RH 12; cf. EN 79). The fact that Christian mission can never be separated from love and respect for others is proof for Christians of the place of dialogue within that mission.




20.      Dialogue does not grow out of the opportunism of the tactics of the moment, but arises from reasons which experience and reflection, and even the difficulties themselves, have deepened.

Based on personal and social needs

21.      The church opens itself to dialogue through fidelity to man. In every person and in every human group there is the aspiration and the need to be considered responsible subjects and to be able to act as such. This is the case whether one regards the need to receive or, even more, when one is conscious of possessing something which is to be communicated.

As the human sciences have emphasized, in interpersonal dialogue one experiences one’s own limitations as well as the possibility of overcoming them. A person discovers that he does not possess the truth in a perfect and total way but can walk together with others towards that goal. Mutual affirmation, reciprocal correction, and fraternal exchange lead the partners in dialogue to an ever greater maturity which in turn generates interpersonal communion. Religious experiences and outlooks can themselves be purified and enriched in this process of encounter.

The dynamic of human encounter should lead us Christians to listen to and strive to understand that which other believers communicate to us in order to profit from the gifts which God bestows so generously. Socio-cultural changes in the world, with their inherent tensions and difficulties, as well as the growing interdependence in all sectors of society necessary for living together, for human promotion, and, above all, for pursuing the demands of peace, all render a dialogical style of human relationships today ever more urgent.

and rooted in faith in God, the Father,

22.      The church, however, feels itself called to dialogue principally because of its faith. In the Trinitarian mystery, Christian revelation allows us to glimpse in God a life of communion and interchange.

In God, the Father, we contemplate a pervasive love unlimited by space and time. The universe and history are filled with His gifts. Every reality and every event are surrounded by His love. In spite of the sometimes violent manifestation of evil, in the vicissitudes in the life of each individual and every people there is present the power of grace which elevates and redeems.

The church has the duty of discovering and bringing to light and fullness all the richness which the Father has hidden in creation and history, not only to celebrate the glory of God in its liturgy but also to promote among all mankind the movement of the gifts of the Father.

in the Son who is united to every person,

23.      In God the Son we are given the World and Wisdom in whom everything was already contained and subsisting even from the beginning of time. Christ is the Word who enlightens every person because in Him is manifested at the same time the mystery of God and the mystery of mankind (cf. RH 8, 10, 11, 13). He is the redeemer present with grace in every human encounter, to liberate us from our selfishness and to make us love one another as he has loved us. As Pope John Paul II has said:

“ Man—every man without any exception whatever—has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man—with each man without any exception whatever—Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it: “ Christ, who died and was raised up for all, provides man ” —each man and every man—“ with the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme calling ” (RH 14).

and in the Spirit who is at work

24.      In God, the Holy Spirit, our faith allows us to perceive the force of life and movement and continuous regeneration (cf. LG 4) who acts in the depth of people’s consciences and accompanies them on the secret path of hearts towards the truth (cf. GS 22). The Spirit also works “ outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body ” (RH 6; cf. LG 16; GS 22; AG 15). The Spirit both anticipates and accompanies the path of the church which, nevertheless, feels itself impelled to discern the signs of Her presence, to follow Her wherever She leads and to serve Her as a humble and discreet collaborator.

for bringing about the Kingdom,

25.      The reign of God is the final end of all persons. The church, which is to be “ its seed and beginning ” (LG 5, 9), is called from the first to start out on this path towards the kingdom and, along with the rest of humanity, to advance towards that goal.

This duty includes the struggle against, and the victory over evil and sin, beginning always with oneself and embracing the mystery of the cross. The church is thus oriented towards God’s reign until its fulfillment in the perfect communion of all mankind as brothers in God.

Christ is the guarantee for the church and the world that the “ last days ” have already begun, that the final age of history is already fixed (LG 48), and that, therefore, the church is equipped and commissioned to work so that there come about the progressive fulfillment of all things in Christ.

the seeds are sown

26.      This vision induced the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to affirm that in the religious traditions of non- Christians there exist “ elements which are true and good ” (OT 16), “ precious things, both religious and human ” (GS 92); “ seeds of contemplation ” (AG 18), “ elements of truth and grace ” (AG 9), “ seeds of the Word ” (AG 11, 15), and “rays of the truth which illumines all mankind ” (NA 2). According to explicit conciliar indications, these values are found preserved in the great religious traditions of humanity. Therefore, they merit the attention and the esteem of Christians, and their spiritual patrimony is a genuine invitation to dialogue (cf. NA 2, 3; AG 11), not only in those things which unite us, but also in our differences.

of a sincere dialogue

27.     The Second Vatican Council has thus been able to draw consequences of a concrete obligation, which it expresses in the following terms:

“ That they may be able to give this witness to Christ fruitfully, (Christians) ought to be joined to the people of their time by esteem and love, and acknowledge themselves to be members of the group of people among whom they live. Let them share in cultural and social life by the various exchanges and enterprises of human living. Thus, they ought to know well the religious and cultural traditions of others, happy to discover and ready to respect seeds of the Word which are hidden in them… As Christ himself,… so also His disciples should know the people among whom they live and should establish contact with them, to learn by sincere and patient dialogue what treasures a bountiful God has distributed among the nations of the earth. At the same time, let them try to illuminate these treasures with the light of the gospel, to set them free, and to bring them under the dominion of God their Savior” (AG 11; cf. AG 41; AA 14, 29).


The experience of recent years gives evidence of the many ways in which dialogue is expressed. The most important and typical forms which are listed below are seen as distinct from one another yet at the same time connected.

The dialogue of life

29.     Before all else, dialogue is a manner of acting, an attitude and a spirit which guides one’s conduct. It implies concern, respect, and hospitality towards the other. It leaves room for the other person’s identity, his modes of expression, and his values. Dialogue is thus the norm and necessary manner of every form of Christian mission, as well as of every aspect of it, whether one speaks of simple presence and witness, service, or direct proclamation (CZC 787 no. 1). Any sense of mission not permeated by such a dialogical spirit would go against the demands of true humanity and against the teachings of the Gospel.

for all,

30.      Every follower of Christ, by reason of his human and Christian vocation, is called to live dialogue in his daily life, whether he finds himself in a majority situation or in that of a minority. He ought to bring the spirit of the Gospel into any environment in which he lives and works, that of family, social, educational, artistic, economic, or political life. Dialogue thus finds its place in the great dynamism of the church’s mission.

the dialogue of deeds

31.      A further level of dialogue is that of deeds and collaboration with others for goals of a humanitarian, social, economic, or political nature which are directed towards the liberation and advancement of mankind. This kind of dialogue often occurs today in the context of international organizations, where Christians and the followers of other religions confront together the problems of the world.

for working together,

32.      The field of collaboration can be extremely wide. Referring in particular to Muslims, the Second Vatican Council exhorts both parties to “ forget the past ” and to “ defend and promote together social justice, moral values, peace and liberty ” (NA 3; cf. AG 11, 12, 15, 21). In the same sense there are the statements of Pope Paul VI, especially in Ecclesiam Suam (AAS 56, 1964, p. 655), and of John Paul II in numerous meetings with the heads and representatives of various religions. The great problems with which humanity is struggling call on Christians to work together with other believers by virtue of their respective faiths.

the dialogue of specialists

33.      Of particular interest is dialogue at the level of specialists, whether it be to confront, deepen, and enrich their respective religious heritages or to apply something of their expertise to the problems which must be faced by mankind in the course of its history.

Such a dialogue normally occurs where one’s partner already has his own vision of the world and adheres to a religion which inspires him to action. This is more easily accomplished in pluralistic societies where diverse traditions and ideologies coexist and sometimes come in contact.

for understanding,

34.      In this type of encounter, the partners come to mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s spiritual values and cultural categories and promote communion and fellowship among people (cf. NA 1). The Christian in this manner can also work together for the evangelical transformation of cultures (cf. EN 18-20, 63).

and the dialogue of religious experience.

35.      At a deeper level, persons rooted in their own religious traditions can share their experiences of prayer, contemplation, faith, and duty, as well as their expressions and ways of searching for the Absolute. This type of dialogue can be a mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation for promoting and preserving the highest values and spiritual ideals of man. It leads naturally to each partner communicating to the other the reasons for his own faith. The sometimes profound differences between the faiths do not prevent this dialogue. Those differences, rather, must be referred back in humility and confidence to God who “is greater than our heart” (/ John 3:20). In this way also, the Christian has the opportunity of offering to the other the possibility of experimenting in an existential way with the values of the Gospel.



36.      The relationship between dialogue and mission are multiple. We dwell here on several aspects which at the present time have greater relevance because of the challenges and problems they pose and the attitude which they demand.


The call to conversion

37.      According to the Second Vatican Council, missionary proclamation has conversion as its goal: “ that non-Christians be freely converted to the Lord under the action of the Holy Spirit who opens their hearts so that they may adhere to Him ” (AG 13; CIC 787 no 2). In the context of dialogue between believers of various faiths, one cannot avoid reflecting on the spiritual process of conversion.

In Biblical language and that of the Christian tradition, conversion is the humble and penitent return of the heart to God in the desire to submit one’s life more generously to Him. All persons are constantly called to this conversion. In the course of this process, the decision may be made to leave one’s previous spiritual or religious situation in order to direct oneself towards another. Thus, for example, from a particular love the heart can open itself to one that is more universal.

Every authentic call from God always carries with it an overcoming of oneself. There is no new life without death, as the dynamic of the Paschal mystery shows (cf. GS 22). Moreover, every conversion is the work of grace, in which a person ought to fully find himself again ” (RH 12).

in respect for people’s conscience

38.      In this process of conversion, the law of conscience is sovereign, because “ no one must be constrained to act against his conscience, nor ought he to be impeded in acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters ” (DH 3).

and in the life-giving Spirit

39.      In the Christian view, the principal agent of conversion is not man, but the Holy Spirit. “ It is He who drives one to announce the Gospel and in the depths of one’s conscience makes one welcome and understand the word of salvation ” (EN 75). It is He who determines the movement of hearts and gives rise to the act of faith in Jesus the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 2:4). The Christian is but a simple instrument and co-worker of God (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9).

comes from the mutual desire for growth.

40.      In dialogue also, the Christian normally nourishes in his heart the desire of sharing his experience of Christ with his brother of another religion (cf. Acts 26:29; ES 46). On the other hand, it is natural that another believer would similarly desire to share his faith.


Persons in dialogue collaborate in God’s plan

41.      God never ceases to reconcile persons to Himself by the work of His Spirit. The church relies on the promise made by Christ that the Spirit will guide it in history towards the fullness of truth (John 16:13). For this reason it goes out to meet individuals, peoples, and their cultures, aware that in every human community are found the seeds of goodness and truth, and conscious that God has a loving plan for every nation (Acts 17: 26-27). The church therefore wants to work together with all in order to fulfill this plan and by doing so recognize the value of the infinite and varied wisdom of God and contribute to the evangelization of cultures (cf. ES 18-20).

for the promotion of universal peace

42.      “We also turn our thoughts to all who acknowledge God and who preserve in their traditions precious elements of religion and humanity. We want open dialogue to compel us all to receive the inspirations of the Spirit faithfully and to measure up to them energetically. The desire for such dialogue, conducted with appropriate discretion and leading to truth by way of love alone, excludes nobody. We include in this those who respect high-minded human values without recognizing who the author of those values is, as well as those who oppose the church and persecute it in various ways. Since God the Father is the origin and purpose of all mankind, we are all called to be brothers and sisters. Therefore, if we have been summoned to the same destiny, which is both human and divine, we can and should work together without violence and deceit in order to build up genuine peace in the world ” (GS 92; cf. also, the messages of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II for the World Day of Peace).


43.      Dialogue thus becomes a source of hope and a factor of communion in mutual- transformation. It is the Holy Spirit who directs the carrying out of God’s design in the history of individuals and all humanity until the time when God’s children who are dispersed by sin will be reunited as one (cf. John 11:52).

conformity with the patience of God.

44.      God alone knows those days, He to whom nothing is impossible, He whose mysterious and silent Spirit opens the paths of dialogue to individuals and peoples in order to overcome racial, social, and religious differences and to bring mutual enrichment. We live therefore in the age of the patience of God for the church and every Christian community, for no one can oblige God to act more quickly than He has chosen to do.

However, before the new humanity of the 21st Century, the church should radiate a Christianity open to awaiting in patience the maturation of the seeds sown in tears and in trust (cf. James 5:7-8; Mark 4:26-30).