Interreligious Dialogue – An Essential Element of Evagelization

By James H Kroeger MM

One of the truly remarkable waves of mission renewal in the wake of Vatican II has been the Church’s commitment to elucidating the vision and encouraging the practice of interfaith dialogue. It was only in 1964 in his first encyclical Ecclesiam Suam that Pope Paul VI introduced dialogue as a framework for envisioning the mission of the Church in the contemporary world. The Council document Nostra Aetate (1965) provides a foundational vision for this dimension of evangelization. Pope John Paul II was an indefatigable apostle of dialogue in his writings and world-wide pastoral visits, always taking an opportunity to meet the followers of various religions. He summoned the leaders of the world religions to assemble in Assisi in 1986, 1999, and 2002; Benedict XVI invited a return to Assisi in 2011, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Assisi gathering.

The mission encyclical of John Paul II has a lengthy section devoted to interfaith dialogue (RM 55-57). His conviction was clear: “Interreligious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission” (RM 55). Asia’s bishops are also deeply committed to dialogical evangelization: they have stated: “Mission may find its greatest urgency in Asia; it also finds in our continent a distinctive mode — dialogue” (FABC V: 4.1). Being a truly local Church in Asia “means concretely [being] a Church in continuous, humble and loving dialogue with the living traditions, the cultures, the religions [of Asia] (FABC I: 12). The Church has made significant progress in this area since Vatican II; however, as the world witnesses—almost daily—the need for authentic, substantial interfaith dialogue remains an urgent imperative. Effective and successful dialogue efforts are graces to be sought in prayer.

FOUNDATIONAL MISSION THEOLOGY

Essential to an adequate appreciation of the waves of renewal in mission in the Vatican II era is a deepened comprehension of missiological foundations. Underlying the renewed approaches and concrete initiatives of mission one finds profound theological reflection. Particularly significant areas have been: Christology, Kingdom Theology, Pneumatology (cf. RM 430) as well as catholicity, the paschal mystery, and the triunity of God. Although not always grasped or appreciated by most Catholics, mission theologians have made a significant contribution to Church renewal. One brief example may suffice to illustrate how a renewed missiology has fostered the missionary growth and dynamism of the entire Church.

Pneumatology, the theology of the Holy Spirit, has prospered since the Council. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI emphasized that “the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization’’ and that “evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit” (EN 75). Pope John Paul II elaborated upon the vision of Paul VI; one entire chapter of Redemptoris Missio (21-30) is devoted to the Spirit’s role in mission. As noted earlier, John Paul II’s mission vision has been significantly influenced by Vatican II; Catholics “ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known to God offers everyone the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (GS 22; cf. RM 6, 10, 28). The theological foundations of mission contain great potential for the transformation of all Christians and their local Churches.