1. We ask ourselves, today, about how we, Christians, engage in inter-religious dialogue. Since we want to enter into dialogue with other people of other religions we need to be clear first with our own faith. Our faith is based on revelation. God is involved with humanity and this involvement is revealed. The definite revelation is in Christ. The Church sees herself implicated; she too gets involved with humanity. Let us first discuss these before we go directly into inter-religious dialogue.
2. God is involved with humanity. But who is this God? This is a Trinitarian God. What we know about God is what Jesus revealed. Jesus designated his “Father” and Jesus is then “Son”. Proceeding from the “Father” and the “Son” is the Holy Spirit. We do not believe in just any generic God. At times we hear about the tendency to look for a “common denominator” for all religions; a “God” that can be applied for all religions. This “common denominator” then displaces the Trinitarian God. When we do this we are no longer talking of the revealed God.
3. Christian faith is a response to God who revealed in a definite way in Jesus Christ. Our faith affirms that God wants all to be saved (see 1Tim2/4) and the unique mediator between God and humanity is Jesus Christ (see 1Tim2/5). Jesus Christ is the definite revelation, the summit of revelation. In the human Jesus is the fullness of divinity, hence he is Christ (see Col.2/9).
4. The Church wrestled with this over the centuries. Councils were organized to say who exactly is the Jesus Christ of our faith. Maybe each of us, personally, still wrestle with this identity of Jesus Christ. But one thing is clear: this is the faith of the Church. The specificity of our faith is faith in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
5. Revelation is not just a giving of information. It is a self-communication of God. God communicated who God is. God revealed as Trinitarian; as Trinitarian God is involved with humanity and invites humanity to a communion with the Trinitarian life.
6. We, Christians, do not profess that we exclusively are saved. We are not the only ones in communion with God. Exclusivism is no longer a Church stand. Vatican II affirms that communion with God is for all. It is not just for Christians. “All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way. For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudium et spes 22).
7. Our faith is about God—a personal God—fully revealed in Christ, incarnate, died and rose from death. All that God wants to say is said in Christ.
8. In inter-religious dialogue, when Christians talk about God they talk about a Trinitarian God. This cannot be dropped just in order to facilitate dialogue. In fact, if dialogue is to be true, the partners of the dialogue will have to respect each other’s beliefs. The Christian in dialogue will have to respect others from other religions. But the Christian should also respect the Christian. It is unfair to drop the faith.
9. God’s involvement with humanity is through Christ. The decisive involvement of God is in the incarnation, death and rising again of Christ. God “joined” humanity. Today we use the word “solidarity”. God entered “in solidarity” with all humanity. Jesus is the historical man who is, at the same time, Christ. This Christ is, at the same time, the historical man Jesus.
10. The reality of incarnation-solidarity of God with us is so specifically Christian. It is our faith. Yet note how universal this is. The incarnation is incarnation with full humanity; with all humans. The solidarity is with all human condition. The gift of God’s self-communication concerns all humanity. All humanity os the recipient of God’s revelation.
11. The Church sees herself as servant of this revelation. She sees herself called to cooperate with the revelation of God. Since the start of Church history the Church has always seen herself as cooperating with God. Alright, there is no doubt that there were moments in history when the Church behaved erratically—like she were “superior”. She went condemning left and right. But this is no longer the style of the Church today. Vatican II has given a humbler picture of the Church.
12. We never anymore think of God as someone who desires the condemnation of anyone. We no longer see God as destroyer of people. The Gospel is not designed to destroy cultures. Our faith tells us that Jesus really wanted to link up with a community—the Church—that will continue the ministry of God. Yes, the Church feels herself as a “necessity”. Vatican II states that “the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation” (Lumen gentium 14). But this is not about “superiority”. It is a simple affirmation that salvation comes in Christ and the Church happens to be the “body of Christ”. The Church never says that she is the path to salvation. She is sign and sacrament of that salvation. She has been given the task to also be light for nations. She thus must conform to Christ; be shaped according to Christ. This is her style, her way of doing things. Just imagine if, because of some low self-esteem the Church would rather avoid conforming to Christ. If this happens she deserves to be reprimanded.
13. Church mission is service mission. The institution of the Church is a service institution. The Church is at the service of the mission of Christ. How can we ever ask her to stop behaving as sign and sacrament of salvation? It will be so unfair to ask the Church to stop being herself so as not to look superior over others. Superiority is a cultural issue. It is not the issue of revelation; and the Church simply wants to follow what revelation has offered.
14. So now we come to inter-religious dialogue. The Church magisterium, today, never says that the other religions are false and dark. Exclusivism is no longer the stand of the Church. In fact the Church recognizes that the rites and doctrines of other religions can be effective on salvation of members of other religions. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions. “She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. … The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men” (Nostra aetate 2). Again, we repeat, THE CHURCH IS NOT ANYMORE EXCLUSIVIST.
15. Faith tells us that God wants all humanity saved (1Tim.2/4). We are open to the possibility that other religions have the seeds of the Word (see Nostra aetate 2). The true light, Jesus Christ, is in all. “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (Jn1/9). The Holy Spirit is there offering to everyone the association with the mystery of God. Vatican II says, “For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery” (Gaudim et spes 22).
16. Note that the Church magisterium never drops the faith in the unique mediation of Christ. It is “non-negotiable”. God “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all” (1Tim.2/4-5). It is still through relationship with Christ that other religions have a place in salvation. Ok, there can be talk of many other mediators. But they are valid only when placed under the mediation of Christ. Other mediators and mediations are NOT parallel nor even complementary to the mediation of Christ. Pope John Paul II already stated this. “Christ is the one mediator between God and mankind: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Tm 2:5-7; cf. Heb 4:14-16). No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Christ's one, universal mediation, far from being an obstacle on the journey toward God, is the way established by God himself, a fact of which Christ is fully aware. Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his” (Redemptoris missio 5).
17. Ok, we are so concerned with dialogue and we do not want to offend people of other religions. We wrestle with our Christology and soteriology. We wrestle with the question of how other religions will have to have their salvation proceed from Christ. Yes, it is a delicate task for us. The Second Vatican Council affirms that Christ’s mediation can give rise to many forms of cooperation in other religions. But the other religions “must remain always consistent with the principle of Christ's unique mediation: ‘Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his’. Hence, those solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith” (Dominus iesus 14).
18. The mission of the Church includes dialogue because, from the very start, God already entered into dialogue with humanity. God’s involvement was dialogical from the start. Pope Paul VI stated this: “God Himself took the initiative in the dialogue of salvation. ‘He hath first loved us’. We, therefore, must be the first to ask for a dialogue with men, without waiting to be summoned to it by others” (Ecclesiam suam 72).
19. So we believe that the Church is “wife” of the Word. She has a specific link with Christ—a link that has not been established with other religions. Thus we cannot say that “all religions have the same validity”. This is not about superiority. It is a statement of fact. This does not deny that other religions have a role in salvation. They too prepare for the Kingdom in their own way. They too are inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Even if the Church is “wife” of the Word, other religions are inhabited by the Holy Spirit. Both realities needs a long discernment and reflection on our part.
20. We are meant to be humble—and not feel superior—in admitting that we follow the footsteps of Christ. Jesus Christ went down, humbled himself. We are to do the same. We are a Church not of superiority but of service in the name of Christ. Our service is marked by joy. Mission is joyful mission. Dialogue is joyful dialogue. The truth we share is not shared with force. Yet it is truth that has its own “power”. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power” (Dignitatis humanae 1).