A different perspective on Interreligious Dialogue

One of our auxiliaries just returned from Rome where he attended the first plenary session of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue as one of their new members. He commented on the vast variety of viewpoints and perspectives from around the world on this most challenging dimension of the Church’s evangelising mission (cf. (Dialogue and Proclamation).

The Holy Father addressed this gathering of the PCID, and you can read his speech here. Probably best you do before you read the rest of this blog.

Sandro Magister also reports on the meeting. There is no doubt that something new is happening in the Vatican with regard to interreligious dialogue. The concern now is, without question, the concern to give witness to the Truth, that is (in Christian terms) to Jesus Christ.

Which makes another story Magister tells all the more interesting. The Algerian perspective is, obviously, different from the Australian perspective on interreligious dialogue. Recently the Algerian courts convicted 4 people of the crime of converting from Islam to Christianity. A Muslim leader has spoken out against the convictions. But not necessarily in terms which would give much comfort to Christians. Magister reports:

Meanwhile, one of the 138, Mustafa Cherif, a former education minister and ambassador of Algeria, has published a commentary on two recent events in his country in the monthly “Mondo e Missione” of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions.

The first of these events, which took place in early June, was the sentencing of four Algerians for converting from Islam to Christianity. The four are Protestant, but a similar sentence had been pronounced previously against a Catholic priest, guilty of leading a prayer, at Christmas, for a group of immigrants from Cameroon.

Cherif calls “incomprehensible and deplorable” the ways in which the question of proselytism is addressed in Algeria, because “our vision of law is founded on the Qur’anic principle: no imposition in matters of religion.”

And he adds: “Moreover, our Catholic friends in Algeria, who have been here for fifty years, have never tried to convert anyone, although they do have the right to witness to their faith. This, in spite of the fact that the current pope frequently recalls the central nature of the evangelizing mission for the Catholic Church.

The second event Cherif comments on is connected to this previous observation: the resignation, for reasons of age, of the archbishop of Algiers, Henri Teissier, made official by the Vatican last May 24.

Cherif draws a portrait of the elderly archbishop as “one of those moderate priests who seek the right balance, aware also of the reforms needed within the Church, and not hesitating sometimes to express their disagreements with the Vatican, especially over relations with Muslims.”

As evidence of the “right balance” sought by Teissier, Cherif writes: “Last December, the Vatican published a doctrinal note that reaffirms the mission of evangelizing non-Catholics. […] Sometimes, nonetheless, after leaving to evangelize the world, many priests and pastors have set themselves to learn from the people they have encountered and from their culture, without necessarily seeking to divert them from their original religion. Archbishop Henri Teissier is one of those great men of faith who respect the other.

I don’t quite know if all that quite adds up to a compliment…

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