The Pope on Evangelisation and Interfaith Dialogue

He says it better than I ever could. Here in full is the Zenit translation of his question and answer session on this matter.

On Sharing the Gift of the Gospel

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2008 ( Following a Lenten tradition, Benedict XVI met Feb. 7 with parish priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome. During the meeting, the participants asked the Pope questions. Here is a translation of one of the questions and the Holy Father’s answer.

ZENIT began this series of questions-and-answers Feb. 11.

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[Father Paul Chungat, Parochial Vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe Cottolengo:]

My name is Father Chungat. I am from India and I am currently the parochial vicar at the Parish of San Giuseppe in Valle Aurelia. I would like to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to serve for three years in the Diocese of Rome. This has been a great help for me, for my studies, as I believe that it has been for all the priests who are studying in Rome.

The time has come to return to my diocese in India, where Catholics are only one percent of the population and the other 99%is non-Christian. The situation of evangelization in my homeland has been something I have been thinking a lot about in recent days. In the recent note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith there are some words that are difficult to understand in the field of interreligious dialogue. For example in section 10 of the document the words “fullness of salvation” are written, and in the introduction one reads of the necessity of “formal incorporation in the Church.”

These are things that it will be difficult to explain when I bring them to India and I must speak to my Hindu friends and to the faithful of other religions. My question is: Is “fullness of salvation” to be understood in a qualitative or in a quantitative sense? If it is to be understood in a quantitative sense, there is a bit of a difficulty. The Second Vatican Council says that there is a glimmer of light in other faiths. If in a qualitative sense, other than the historicity and the fullness of the faith, what are the other things that show the unicity of our faith in regard to interreligious dialogue?

[Benedict XVI:]

Thank you for this intervention. You know well that your questions are big ones and an entire semester of theology would be necessary! I will try to be brief. You know theology; there are great masters and many books. First of all, thank you for your testimony — you say that you are happy to be able to work in Rome even if you are Indian. For me this is a marvelous phenomenon of catholicity.

At present it is not only the case that missionaries travel from the West to other continents, but there is an exchange of gifts: Indians, Africans, South Americans work among us and we travel to other continents. It is a giving and a receiving on all sides; this is precisely the vitality of catholicity, where we are all debtors of the gifts of the Lord, and then we can give to each other. It is in this reciprocity of gifts, of giving and receiving, that the Catholic Church lives. You can learn from these Western environments and experiences and we no less from you. I see that this spirit of religiosity that exists in Asia, as in Africa, surprises Europeans, who are often a little cold in faith. And thus this vivacity, at least of the religious spirit that exists on these continents, is a great gift for all of us, above all for us bishops of the Western world and in particular in those countries in which the phenomenon of immigration is most apparent, from the Philippines, from India, etc. Our cold Catholicism is revived by this fervor that comes from you. Catholicity, then, is a great gift.

Let us come to the questions that you posed to me. I do not have the exact words of the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before me at this moment; but in any case, I would like to say two things. On one hand, dialogue, getting to know each other, respecting each other and trying to cooperate in every possible way for the great purposes of humanity, or for its great needs, to overcome fanaticisms and to create a spirit of peace and of love — all of this is absolutely necessary. And this is also in the spirit of the Gospel, whose meaning is precisely that the spirit of love that we have learned from Jesus, the peace of Jesus that he has given us through the cross, become universally present in the world. In this sense dialogue must be true dialogue, in respecting the other and in the acceptance of his alterity; but it must also be evangelical, in the sense that its fundamental purpose is to help men to live in love and to make it the case that this love expand throughout the world.

But this dimension of dialogue, which is so necessary, that is, the respect of the other, of tolerance, of cooperation, does not exclude the other dimension, that is that the Gospel is a great gift, the gift of great love, of great truth, that we cannot only keep for ourselves, but that we must offer to others, considering that God gives them the necessary freedom and light to find the truth. This is the truth. And this, then, is also my road. Mission is not imposition, but an offering of the gift of God, letting his goodness enlighten people so that the gift of concrete friendship with God be extended and acquire a human face. For this reason we want and we must always bear witness to this faith and the love that lives in our faith. We will have neglected a true human and divine duty if we have left others to their own devices and kept the faith we have only for ourselves. We would be unfaithful even to ourselves if we were not to offer this faith to the world, while always respecting the freedom of others. The presence of faith in the world is a positive element, even if no one is converted; it is a point of reference.

Exponents of non-Christian religions have told me: The presence of Christianity is a point of reference that helps us, even if we do not convert. Let us think of the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi: Despite being firmly committed to his religion, for him the Sermon on the Mount was a fundamental point of reference that formed his whole life. And thus the ferment of the faith, although it did not convert him to Christianity, entered into his life. And it seems to me that this ferment of Christian love that shows through the Gospel is — beyond the missionary work that seeks to enlarge the spaces of faith — a service that we render to humanity.

Let us think about St. Paul. A short time ago I reflected again on his missionary motivation. I also spoke about it to the Curia on the occasion of the end of the year meeting. He was moved by the word of the Lord in his eschatological sermon. Before every event, before the return of the Son of Man, the Gospel must be preached to all nations. The condition for the world reaching its perfection, the condition for its opening up to paradise, is that the Gospel be proclaimed to all. All of his missionary zeal is directed at bringing the Gospel to all, possibly in his own time, to respond to the Lord’s command “that it be proclaimed to all nations.” His desire was not so much to baptize all nations, as it was that the Gospel [be] present in the world and thus the completion of history as such [also be present in the world].

It seems to me that today, seeing how history has gone, one can better understand that this presence of the word of God, that this proclamation that comes to all as a ferment, is necessary for the world to truly arrive at its purpose. In this sense, indeed we desire the conversion of all, but let us allow the Lord to be the one who acts. It is important that those who wish to convert have the possibility of doing so and that there appear in the world for all this light of the Lord as a point of reference and as a light that helps, without wh
ich the world cannot find itself. I do not know if I have made myself clear: dialogue and mission not only do not exclude each other, but the one requires the other.

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