Pope John Paul II brought energy and enthusiasm to the work of interreligious dialogue. As one scholar put it, “The philosopher that John Paul II was saw God’s Spirit at work in other religions (Redemptor hominis 6). The traveller that he was approached many politicians of other faiths and inspired millions of non-Christian youths. The charismatic leader that he was succeeded in calling the world’s religions together in Assisi to pray for peace.” (Felix Korner, S.J.)
The most high-profile event during this time in which the Secretariat for non-Christians was involved, was the Assisi Prayer Meeting for Peace in 1986. Held in the city of St. Francis, the prayer meeting drew 50 representatives of Christian communities and 60 representatives of other religions. Pope John Paul II believed deeply in the power of prayer to change hearts and situations in the world. At the Prayer Meeting he said, “If there are many and important differences among us, there is also a common ground, whence to operate together in the solution of this dramatic challenge of our age: true peace or catastrophic war? Yes, there is the dimension of prayer, which in the very real diversity of religions tries to express communication with a Power above all our human forces. Peace depends basically on this Power, which we call God, and as Christians believe has revealed himself in Christ.”
The Secretariat, re-named the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) in 1988, continued to expand relationships with dialogue partners, opening and maintaining official dialogue with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs with the goal of mutual understanding and collaboration on issues important to humanity, such as human rights, peace, and religious freedom.
In addition to the good-will message to Muslims for Ramadan, which began in 1967, in 1995 PCID decided to send greetings to Buddhists for the Feast of Vesakh; in 1996, the Hindus too began to receive greetings on the occasion of the Feast of Diwali. The Messages of the PCID became an important method of expressing friendship and maintaining contact with followers of other religions.
The Secretariat’s initial efforts to clarify the meaning of the work of dialogue, for itself and for the Church, were expressed in the document “Dialogue and Mission,” published in 1984. The fruit of much discussion and experience, the document clarified that 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.” At the same time, a Christian engaged in dialogue is also proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ through words and actions. Rather than being at odds, dialogue and mission go hand-in-hand. The Church’s reflection on this truth is an ongoing task and a particular focus of PCID.
In 1991, PCID developed this theme further with the publication of the defining document Dialogue and Proclamation. This was a joint work of PCID and the Dicastery for the Evangelization of Peoples, and it clarified a question that had been gathering momentum as the practical work of dialogue evolved: For a Christian, what is the relationship between interreligious dialogue and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ? This thorough document forthrightly addressed the gifts and challenges of proclaiming the gospel in a pluralistic world. Christians are called to proclaim Christ in the manner of Christ—with respect, openness, obedience to truth, and patience—that is, in a dialogic manner.