VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholics, especially those who live in multireligious societies, must have a clear understanding of their own religious identity, but they also must recognize the spirit of God at work in others, said the Vatican official in charge of interreligious dialogue.
French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the Synod of Bishops Oct. 10 that new evangelization is needed to equip Catholics not just to live their faith, but also to effectively engage in dialogue with others.
The need for interreligious dialogue, the challenges faced by Christian minorities in predominantly Muslim countries, and lessons that could be learned from other religions were topics mentioned in several speeches to the synod Oct. 10-12.
Cardinal Tauran told the synod that interreligious dialogue “always begins with the assertion of one’s own convictions,” so Christians who are ignorant of the content of their faith are not capable of real dialogue.
The church must make it a priority “to form coherent Christians capable of demonstrating their faith with simple words and without fear,” he said.
The church “must denounce with great vigor the violence” that sometimes is committed in the name of religion and it cannot stand idly by in the face of persecution, Cardinal Tauran said.
At the same time, he said, Catholics must learn to recognize that “those practicing a religion that is not mine are not necessarily enemies, but instead pilgrims of truth” and that “God is at work in each person, through ways known only to him.”
Father Adolfo Nicolas, superior general of the Jesuits, told the synod that the Ignatian spirituality he was formed in encourages “finding God in all things.”
“I am afraid that we missionaries have not done it with sufficient depth,” and therefore have not enriched the universal church with the signs and seeds of God’s presence in other cultures and religions, he said.
Father Nicolas, who spent most of his priesthood in Japan and in other parts of Asia, said too many church members have “looked for Western signs of faith and sanctity, and have not discovered how God has been at work in other peoples. This impoverishes all. We miss important clues, insights and discoveries,” he said.
The keys to effective evangelization, the Jesuit superior said, are: “the simplicity of the message; generosity and joy in acknowledging goodness and holiness”; being aware of one’s own life as “a factor of credibility, forgiveness and reconciliation”; and embodying “the message of the cross in our own self- denial.”
Bishop Paul Desfarges of Constantine, Algeria, told the synod that while life can be difficult when Islamic fundamentalist groups grow in power, Christians are obliged to show their openness to dialogue because that is how they give witness to “God’s dialogue with humanity.”
The Holy Spirit has given the church the ability “to be awed by the faith of the other and by the fruits it produces in his or her life,” the bishop said.
In North Africa, he said, the church accomplishes a pre-evangelization simply through its presence and respect for others, which proclaims the “good news of universal brotherhood.”
“In some of our countries, we have been given the grace of welcoming faithful who come from Muslim families,” he said.
“These new disciples sometimes are shunned by their families or, at least, required to maintain great discretion. With time, they discover how their spiritual relationship with God began long before their conversion” with the Holy Spirit working in their lives through the example of good and wise Muslims, the bishop said.
Addressing the synod Oct. 11, Melkite Patriarch Gregoire III Laham of Damascus, Syria, suggested that Catholics should learn from Muslims and Jews one very practical thing: the need for a “concise, precise and clear” statement of Christian faith.
“Our faith is beautiful, however its content and its statements are very difficult,” he said.
The Muslims’ “shahada” summarizes their faith as: “There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet,” the patriarch told the synod.
“For the Jews, the substance of the faith is expressed by the double commandment: ‘I am your God. You shall have no other but me. You will love your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” he said.
But, the patriarch said, Christians “are awash in a collection of dogmas and mysteries: the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, the sacraments.” The synod, and Catholic theologians working with it, need to formulate a brief, clear statement of Christian faith, he said.