Asian Consultation of the Bishops’ Commissions for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue, FABC

Msgr. Indunil J. Kodithuwakku K.

Under-Secretary, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue

Bangkok, Thailand

16-20 October 2017

      On behalf of His Eminence Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran and the staff of the PCID, and in my own name, I thank H. Ex. Msgr. Felix Machado for giving me this opportunity to address the Bishops’ Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the FABC. Having listened to different Commissions for Interreligious Dialogue, in my presentation, I would like to draw your attention to the following points:

* The Multi-religious and Multi-Cultural Heritage of Asia;

* Accounting for Cultural Conflicts

* The Vision and Mission of Pope Francis for pulling down walls and building bridges

* How PCID brings forth the vision of Pope Francis.

The Multi-religious and Multi-Cultural Heritage of Asia 
Asia is the birthplace of many religious traditions, among them Judaism, Christianity, Islam. Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Sikhism as well as traditional or tribal religions. Therefore, Asia is known as the cradle of religions and civilizations. Asian religions and spiritual traditions have nourished Asian people for millennia and have often elevated the dignity of the human person. These spiritual traditions have generated a series of profound cultural transformations in some of the major civilizations. One of the creative achievements of humankind is the emergence of higher religions that motivated human beings to reach out beyond themselves by becoming aware of themselves within the whole of Being.

The most dramatic expressions of religions are found in male and female monastic orders and religious communities that embrace universal fraternity by renouncing the territorialism, tribalism, the biological family, and violence. “The Church has the deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere dialogue with their followers” (EA n. 6).

Accounting for Cultural Conflicts

The Asian spiritual revolution and its heritage have been under constant challenge from past as well as present social realities. Today, cultural conflicts rooted in identity—that is, the sense or feeling of belonging to a group—are a significant social phenomenon. Cultural conflicts often threaten fraternity and harmonious co-existence. Moreover, the ills of globalization have contributed to reinforcing cultural identities at the cost of fraternity. Today, most Asian countries are marred by ongoing violent conflicts. The polarization based on cultural identities has redrawn political boundaries along cultural affiliations – religious, ethnic, tribal, and linguistic – jeopardizing universal fraternity. The demographic shifts, claims and counter-claims over territory, unequal distribution of resources, and historical wounds sow the seeds for violent conflicts. Since religion is closely linked to cultural identity, the instrumentalization of religion as a marker of identity and a tool of political mobilisation is an ever-present temptation. The exploitation of religion for political purposes distorts the true nature of religion as well as its essential message: truth, justice, freedom and love. Unfortunately, such conflicts can also divide Christians according to their cultural identities. Furthermore, due to conflicting understanding of Christian mission, mission ad gentes of many Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Christian fundamentalist sects include also members from Catholic and other mainline Churches. This has become a serious ecumenical as well as interreligious issue. Pope Francis points out that “Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace” (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 246).

The Vision and Mission of Pope Francis for pulling down walls and building bridges

The Church lives and fulfils her mission in the actual circumstances of time and place (cfr. EA n.5). Therefore, today’s world urgently needs ardent messengers of both dialogue and peace. As in the past, the religious and cultural heritage of Asia can help us in our current crisis because “‘being Asian’ is best discovered and affirmed not in confrontation and opposition, but in the spirit of complementarity and harmony (cfr. EA, n.6). Pope Francis strongly condemns the abuse of religion to justify violence. “For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war. We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to denounce acts of violence when they are committed (Interreligious and Ecumenical Gathering, Colombo, 13 January 2015).

Pope Francis invites us all, Christians as well as the followers of other religions, to go beyond our ego-centred and ethnocentric biases and prejudices by reawakening our spiritual consciousness. Our common future depends upon our capacity to offer hospitality to the stranger.

Now let us examine briefly the vision of Pope Francis to build bridges.

–  Dialogue and Christian Identity

Pope Francis notes that the point of departure for an authentic interreligious dialogue is rooted in two things namely a clear sense of one’s own identity and a capacity for empathy. “We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. […] Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak. In other words, an attentiveness in which the Holy Spirit is our guide. Meeting with the Bishops of Asia, Shrine of Haemi, South Korea  17 August 2014.

–  Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace

Pope Francis notes that “To be true followers of Jesus today also includes embracing his teaching about nonviolence (2017 Message for the World Day of Peace, Non-Violence: A Style of Politics for Peace, no. 3). Furthermore, he affirms that even though the Church has been involved in nonviolent peacebuilding in many countries, such efforts on behalf of the victims of injustice and violence are not the legacy of the Catholic Church alone, but are typical of many religious traditions, for which “compassion and nonviolence are essential elements pointing to the way of life” (cfr. ibid, no.4). Here, Pope Francis recognises the teachings of other religions on nonviolent peacebuilding.

–  War is never Holy

Pope Francis condemns war and violence in the name of religion and encourages active peace-making inter-religiously. “As religious leaders, particularly at this present moment of history, we also have a special responsibility to be and to live as people of peace, bearing insistent witness that God detests war, that war is never holy, and that violence can never be perpetrated or justified in the name of God. We are likewise called to trouble consciences, to spread hope, to encourage and support peacemakers everywhere” (Letter Of His Holiness Pope Francis For The International Meeting “Paths Of Peace“ (Münster And Osnabrück, Germany, 10-12 September 2017).

– The role of women in education towards universal fraternity

The 12th Plenary Assembly of the PCID in 2017 considered “The role of women in education towards universal fraternity”. Addressing the participants in the Plenary, Pope Francis stressed, “any women are well prepared to take on encounters of interreligious dialogue at the highest levels and not only on the Catholic side. […] Dialogue is a journey that men and women must undertake together. Today more than ever, it is necessary that women be present” (n.3, June 9, 2017). Pope Francis invites us to include more women to dialogue table which is often male-dominated.

–  Eco-crisis as Ego-crisis and Shared Responsibility

In his Encyclical letter Laudato Sì, Pope Francis underlines the urgency and importance of dialogue with all religious people to care for our common home (nos. 7, 14, 63, 64, 111, 216, 222). “We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service (Joint Message of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the World Day of Prayer for Creation, 1 September 2017).

–  Threat of Nuclear Weapons and Dialogue

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and tests have worsened tensions not only on the Korean peninsula but also in the world. Pope Francis encourages dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the problem. “Growing interdependence and globalization mean that any response to the threat of nuclear weapons should be collective and concerted, based on mutual trust. This trust can be built only through dialogue that is truly directed to the common good and not to the protection of veiled or particular interests; such dialogue, as far as possible, should include all: nuclear states, countries which do not possess nuclear weapons, the military and private sectors, religious communities, civil societies, and international organizations” (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis to the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a legally binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, leading towards their total elimination, 23 March 2017).

–  World Day of the Poor

The World Day of the Poor, which this year will fall on November 19, is new in the Catholic calendar. It was created by Pope Francis, who invites Christians and people of all beliefs to observe it. “This Day is meant, above all, to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and waste, and to embrace the culture of encounter. At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity. God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded” (First World Day Of The Poor 33rd Sunday In Ordinary Time, 19 November 2017, Let us Love, Not With Words But With Deeds).

–  Prayer and Dialogue 

Pope Francis sent a letter to the thirtieth Prayer Meeting held on Mount Hiei in Kyoto, Japan, August 3-4, 2017, inviting all followers of religions to pray and work together for peace. He stressed that “prayer inspires and sustains our efforts for peace, because it helps to deepen our reciprocal respect for each other as persons, strengthens the bonds of love between us, and spurs us to make decisive efforts towards promoting just relations and fraternal solidarity” (To the Venerable Koei Morikawa Supreme Priest of the Tendai Buddhist Denomination, 18 July 2017).

–  Concern for Migrants, Displaced people, Refugees and Victims of Human Trafficking

Wars, violence, ecological disasters, poverty etc. generate other social evils. Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees. “This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities, (Message of Pope Francis, for the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 14th January 2018, “Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting and Integrating Migrants and Refugees”)

These magisterial teachings of Pope Francis indicate very clearly the rapport between interreligious dialogue and cooperation.  He clearly highlights that the above mentioned social issues provide the followers of different beliefs and people of goodwill with a common ground for collaborating for common good.

How does the PCID bring forth the vision of Pope Francis?

The PCID is the Office of the Holy See entrusted with the promotion of cordial relations with followers of other religions. The PCID carries out this mission mainly in and through the dialogue commissions of the Local Churches. Let me briefly mention some of the activities the PCID is engaged in to implement the vision of the Pope.

–  Receiving representatives of different religions, students, diplomats etc. to the the PCID.

–  Meeting with Bishops during their “ad Limina” visits.

–  Visits to other countries by the members of the Council.

–  Publications of the PCID:

Greetings sent on the occasions of religious feasts:

* Message for the End of Ramadan: Christians and Muslims: Together to counter violence perpetrated in the name of religion (2015); Christians and Muslims: Caring for our Common Home (2017).

* Message for the Feast of Vesakh: Buddhists and Christians: Together to Foster Ecological Education (2016) and Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence, (2017).

* Message to Hindus for the Feast of Deepavali: Christians and Hindus: Promoting Human Ecology Together (2015).

* Message to Followers of Shinto: Christian and Shinto Followers Together, Caring for Our Common Home, (2016).

* “Celebrating Mercy with Believers of Other Religions” (2016) edited by the PCID.

* The Bulletin Pro Dialogo publishes the teachings of the Holy Father on interreligious dialogue, reports on activities of the PCID, and provides information on dialogue activities around the world.

–  The Nostra Aetate foundation grants scholarships to students of other religions who are enrolled in academic programs for interreligious dialogue.

–  The PCID is involved in the ecumenical dimension of interreligious dialogue through its ongoing relationship with the World Council of Churches. Since the beginning of this year, both Offices are working on a joint project “Education for Peace in a Multi-Religious World: A Pathway for Reconciliation”.

–  The PCID participates or organizes conferences in collaboration with the local churches. Let me mention some of them directly related to Asia.

1..1. The first Christian – Daoist Dialogue in collaboration with the Baon An Gong Daoist Temple and Research Centre in Taipei and the Chinese Regional Bishops’ Conference (CRBC Taiwan) was held in Taiwan from October 15-16, 2016. The overall theme of the Colloquium was “Seeking the Truth Together; Christian – Daoist in Dialogue.

1..2. Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Non-Violence, the sixth Christian-Buddhist Colloquium, Ling Jiou Buddhist Monastery, Taiwan, November 12-16, 2017

1..3. The second Christian – Daoist Dialogue will be organized in 2018 in collaboration with the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Singapore and Taoist Federation in Singapore.

1..4. The first Christian- Buddhist dialogue for Nuns will be held in 2018 in Taiwan. This dialogue is being organized in collaboration with Monastic Interreligious Dialogue and Fo Guang Shan Buddhist monastery.

Subjects that require our attention :

– Promoting Dialogue- with Shintoism and with Indigenous or tribal religions.

– Educating- forming Catholic specialists in different religions.

– Cooperating with other Christians – “promoting interreligious dialogue ecumenically” and with other religions for the common good.

– Encouraging more lay and women participation.

– Providing with clear guidelines to avoid confusions, syncretism and misunderstanding.

– Narrowing down the gap between the PCID, FABC and the local churches – communication, relationships, knowledge etc.


The people of Asia take pride in their religious and cultural values. Asia is also the world’s most dynamic region and today accounts for 40 percent of the global economy. On the other hand, Asia remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.” The Message of the tenth FABC Plenary Assembly notes, “Dialogue has to be the hallmark of all forms of ministry and service in Asia. It is characterized by humble sensitivity to the hidden presence of God in the struggles of the poor, in the riches of people’s cultures, in the varieties of religious traditions, and in the depths of every human heart (n. 5)

We are interconnected economically, ecologically, ecclesiastically and spiritually. Yet, we live in a deeply broken and polarized world. If dialogue is the hallmark of all forms of Christian ministry, we have a moral duty to be prophetic evangelizers (Message of the tenth FABC Plenary Assembly, n. 7) by being in solidarity with and having compassion for all victims and the marginalized, and to work together with followers of other religions and people of goodwill to reconcile divided societies. Let this be our common goal at the forthcoming “Religious Leaders of Asia Gathered for Peace and Harmony!”