Today as the world is becoming a global village, plurality and diversity has become a lived experience. Humans- as-beings-in-the-world are by nature dialogical. It is only humans who have a ‘world’ and live in a dynamic relation with it. In a profound sense humans exist in an intimate plurilogue with everything they encounter in the world. Within this existential plurilogue, we can trace a dialogue of cultures and religions that humanity engages to satisfy its urge to understand and exchange cultural resources seeking mutual enrichment. Often this interreligious and intercultural dialogues have brought about intra-religious and intra-cultural dialogue leading to internal transformations of religions and cultures in mutual conversations. In an age of multiculturalism (or cultural absolutism) religion is often looked upon as a bridge builder with cultures. Within this vein of thought, Inter-religious dialogue is viewed as simultaneously an inter-cultural dialogue that promises a harvest of peace for humanity. 1 This thesis that peace in our society can emerge through peace among religions is also made prominent by theologian Hans Kung. This would among other things bring a dialogical turn in theologizing which is succinctly described by Felix Wilfred when he says theology has to move from faith seeking understanding to faith seeking dialogue. 2
Within the Catholic Church, we have already noticed a development in her understanding of mission vis-à-vis diversity of religions. We can trace a development from absolute exclusivism championed by the dictum extra ecclesiam nulla salus ‘to a catholic inclusivism. St. Pope John Paul II forcefully taught that inter-religious dialogue with the inclusive paradigm is an instrument of peace.3 These inclusivist positions of the Church also have its own critics like John Hick,4 Paul Knitter5 and others who promote pluralism. Emanuel Levinas teaches that dialogue begins with the resistance of temptation to exclude the other or the temptation to reduce the other to our self.6 Others like Bulent Senay arguing from the Muslim position holds that inclusivism is a form of Christian imperialism. Senay points out that it is not Buddhism or Hinduism that saves but Christianity that is in them that saves.7 Hence, there have been expansion of the paradigm of inclusivism both in the catholic circle though the inclusivist pluralism of Jacques Dupuis8 and the Unknown Christ of Raimundo Pannikar and on the protestant side, we find the Trinitarian theology of Mark Heim9 and open inclusivism of Paul Griffith.10 Dupuis had to withdraw the distinction that he had introduced between action of the divine Logos and salvific activity of Jesus under the direction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Congregation of faith promulgated a notification in this regard that was later published in the book of Jacques Dupuis.
Gavin D’çosta pointed out the holes in the position of Pluralists like Hick, indicating that it ultimately dissolves into a form of exclusivism since it flees away from all religious particularity.11 Theologians like Lindbeck debunks the traditional typology of exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism as being based on what he calls a Christian ‘soteriological fixation’, at the same time his proposal itself that support non-dialogical competence of religions itself is also unacceptable.12 We assert that the dialogue between religions is possible and brings about an enriching fusion of horizons. Catholic approach to interreligious dialogue cannot shun away from its soteriological foundation and destiny. But within the catholic circles, there is an admission of crisis in theologizing in a growing multi-religious context.13 In this paper, I attempt to propose a sacramental approach to interreligious dialogue. The Human action of the Church in interreligious dialogue and the action of living God in Jesus Christ in a real way is based on the communion of the human and the divine in Jesus Christ, the primary sacrament of God. The leadership and action of Saint Joseph Vaz in Sri Lanka amidst the Catholics, Calvinists, Buddhists and others can be viewed within the sacramental economy of the Church, the sacrament of salvation. Hence, we shall delve on it and draw implications and lessons for us today
The Sacramental Dimension of Interreligious Dialogue
A Sacrament has both revelatory and operative function. Church as a sacrament of salvation reveals and renders visible and actual the love and Mercy of God. In a very real way the Church makes visible and actual the salvific work of Jesus Christ, the primary sacrament of God. This means the Church becomes a continued mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Soul Mediator. It is only through the mediation of Jesus Christ within the visible boundaries and beyond them that we can understand the dynamism of divine sacramental economy in the light of our faith. Hence, we need to understand the sacramental economy as not a mere signification system of signs but a signification order of symbols. Signs have primarily a revelatory function while the symbol has both revelatory as well as operative function. This means that sacraments reveal as well as bring about a transformation. Hence, we can attempt to understand interreligious dialogue within the sacramental economy of the Church.
Interreligious Dialogue a Sacrament of Encounter
Church is the sacrament of our Lord Jesus in the world. The fateful encounter of the living Lord Jesus in and through the community in the Church as it exists ‘here and now’ in space and time as the spirit-filled body of Christ. The concrete presence of the community as a body of Christ is not insulated from the plurality of religions in the world. Christ being the original and primordial sacrament of encounter with God continues the mediatory role in the mediation of the Church. Within this evangelizing mission of the Church, interreligious dialogue becomes a way of enacting her role as the sacrament of salvation of Christ. The Post-Vatican II Church became positively open to human longings, goodness and values enshrined in the religions of the world. In her pastoral constitution, Gaudium et Spes, the Church admits that Christ is at work in each person be it Christian or any other to bring out an internal renewal (G.S 22). Hence, Christ, the primordial sacrament is not only first at work in the visible boundaries of the Church but is fully active in the power of holy spirit in every human being both individually and collectively in their human condition lived in their diverse cultures and religions. Therefore, interreligious dialogue has the character of a sacramental encounter. In the light of this sacramental dynamism immanent in the interreligious dialogue of the Church, we are enabled to understand life and missionary activity of Saint Joseph, the Apostle of Sri Lanka. The sacramental paradigm assists us to appreciate the universal action of the Holy Spirit even before the faithful engage in dialogue with a specific religious tradition. The challenge of interreligious dialogue in the Church is to discern the immanent presence of the divine in other cultures as well as bring about a Gospel and culture encounter that evangelizes both the faithful and other cultures that are inhere in the various religious traditions.
Interreligious Dialogue opens us to the Mysterion
The revelatory function of symbols opens us to the surplus meaning and provokes us to look up to a new horizon. The sacramental paradigm of interreligious dialogue opens us to discern the divine dynamism immanent in all cultures and religious traditions in our global community. The mission of the Church is derived from the universal mission of Jesus Christ and leads the Church to embrace interreligious dialogue without being unfaithful to the imperative of direct proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, in the encounter with other religions, Catholics are enabled to live with (syzen), to suffer with (sympachein), to be crucified with (systaurousthai) and are raised with (synegeiresthai) and be glorified with (syndoxazein) Christ. This means the interreligious encounter is a sacramental encounter. That is why all catholic dialogue with people of other faiths has its foundation in Christ which underlines its sacramental dimension. It is the mystical union of the Church with her head that draws her to encounter her Lord and Master in and through her encounter with the people of other faiths. In India, we mystics like Swami Abshiktananda have offered what we can identify as a sacramental paradigm when he interprets the saving name of Christ as aham asmi (I am) leading to so’ham asmi, (I am He)14. We can also trace the sparks of sacramental paradigm in the cosmotheandric vision of R. Panikkar, the Cosmic Person of B. Griffiths,15 Jesus, the representative symbol of all symbol of God’s saving mystery of M. Amaladoss,16 the theology as praxis approach of S. kappen.17 We can view how led by the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph Vaz , became a visible sign and symbol of God’s presence to the Catholics who were like sheep without a shepherd and to the Buddhists that he encountered in the island of Sri Lanka. St. Joseph Vaz , encounter and served Christ in and through his interreligious encounters as well as the these encounters , particularly with the Buddhists can be viewed by us as opening the Mysterion18 to us now and to them then. St. Joseph Vaz, lived with, suffered with, and was crucified, raised and glorified with Christ through his heroic mission in Sri Lanka.
St. Joseph Vaz, a Path Breaking Path Maker
The heroic life of St. Joseph Vaz is profoundly inspirational and yet he surprisingly was not canonized for nearly three centuries. The Oratorians in Rome have attributed this denial of canonization to the colonial mentality of that time.19 Hence, St. Joseph Vaz also becomes the locus that interrogates a triumphant over reading of the teleological and providential character of Christianity within the sacramental paradigm. Hence, within the Sacramental paradigm, we are challenged to discern action of our dissident God affecting his both human and divine Church. Hence, the sacramental approach that we propose interrogates the Church and invites her to shun aside all forms of triumphalism and become authentic servants of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ministry of Presence of Joseph Vaz
The ministry of St. Joseph Vaz simultaneously became the presence of the Church and the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ to the suffering and persecuted faithful of Sri Lanka. Hence, the sacramental Paradigm that we have tried to understand is certainly visible in his ministry to the Catholics. But the question is … can we trace the same in his mission in relation to the people of other faiths. One can safely hold that his interreligious mission projects what we may call today the ministry of presence, at least in the initial stages of his heroic mission in Sri Lanka. Forced by the exigencies of the time, he was compelled to carry on his ministry under cover. Hence, his dialogue with the people of other faiths was mostly an effect of his holy life and ministry which was felt by the Catholics as well as others. People were profoundly impressed by his self sacrificing life that was devoted to the service of others. He took his orders to exercise his priestly office from the ordinary lay people. At least in Jaffna, he was viewed as a humble Brahman completely different from the otherwise haughty and proud Brahmins who think that they were entitled for respect by virtue of their upper caste location.20 Thus, we can notice that it was his holy life that became edifying not only to the Catholics but also impressed the people of other faiths. Sri Lankan Jesuit scholar, S. G Perera, succinctly brings it to light when he says “in their eyes, he represented the eastern ideal of a man of religion, a Christian Sannyasi or yogi, a man of prayer and penance and poverty, and they were so attracted by all they heard of him that they sought to see him.” 21St. Joseph Vaz, became a powerful ambassador of Catholic faith to the people of other faiths and several of them voluntarily embraced Catholicism. Thus, Joseph Vaz carried the marks of the Church and sacramental presence of the Church.
Joseph Vaz , the Minister of the Dissident God
Belgian historian R. Bowden, omi, is said to have engraved in lapidary statement on the heroic work of St. Joseph when he said, “ But a meek brown man came from Goa, with a cloth about his waist begging his way and racked with fever, seeking only the hearts of the Word of Christ, he stayed and his words lived forever,”.22 Picking the metaphor, ‘a meek brown man from Goa’ Illustrious, Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieres, juxtaposed it with ‘the meek brown man from Galilee’, to bring forth the sacramental character of the ministry of St. Joseph Vaz.23 He contrasts his work with the militant Catholicism of the Portuguese and the mercantile Calvinism of the Dutch, and shows how God sets aside the Mannon-worshipers and mandates the meek brown man from Goa to perpetuate the memory of Christ. That is why, the life and ministry of St. Joseph Vaz becomes the sacramental manifestation of Dissident God who sharpens the blurred identity of the Church through the imperialism of the Portuguese colonial enterprise. Thus, St, Joseph Vaz fulfils the Gospel imperative to renounce riches to announce the kingdom of God. Besides this, his promotion of lay apostolate, inculturation as well as active dialogue of life with the Buddhists, particularly the Buddhist kings of Kandy shows that he was far ahead of his times. Moreover, the mere fact that the meek brown man from Goa was devoutly storied for nearly three centuries mainly by a dynamic oral tradition also shows how his heroic life which tremendously rose above the horizon of the ordinary daily life and refused to slip into the oblivion demonstrated how a Dissident God kept his memory alive leading to his glorious canonization in our days. Above all, his ministry becomes a sacramental manifestation of the Church of the poor celebrated by his holiness Pope Francis. He became poor and lived for the poor all his life and powerfully manifested the power and splendour of God in poverty and persecution.
Holiness of life a Bridge to Interreligious Dialogue
The interreligious dialogue and ecumenism dawned upon the Church only with the second Vatican council. It is therefore unfair on our part to demand a kind interreligious dialogue as conceptualized by us. Yet one can trace an interreligious dialogue in the power of his self sacrificing ascetical holy life. The holiness of life and total dependence on providence of God became his vehicle of interreligious dialogue. It is this holiness of life that not only resurrected the dying Catholic Church in Sri Lanka but it also became the bridge to the people of other faiths , particularly the Buddhists. There are profound narratives about how the devout Buddhist king of Kandy who had arrested St. Joseph Vaz suspecting him of being the spy of the Portuguese, eventually came to accept his innocence solely on account of his holiness of life. Thus, the holiness of life became a message that proclaimed the Gospel to the people of other faiths. It is this holiness of life that won him the support and protection of the King Vimaladharma and his successor Narendrasimha. S.G. Perera, drives this home when he says, “but for the potent protection of Vimaladharma and Narendrasimha, Father Joseph Vaz and his companions and successors would never humanly speaking would have achieved the great work they wrought in Ceylon.”24 It is Christ and his Spirit, who works in the hearts of all humans, opened the way for him to minster to his flock. The sacramental paradigm that we have attempted to elaborate does assist us to understand the complex ways God in Jesus Christ takes care of his Church.
Responding to the Asian Questions
The colonial linkages of Christianization in Asia have emerged as the major block for a Christian dialogue with people of other faiths. One may say that there is an overreaction to the issue. We can trace the way R.S. Sugirtharajah, invites the Asian Christians “to counteract this imperial, supremacist and absolute understanding of Jesus … these try to re-Asianize and refashion Jesus on Asian terms to meet the contextual needs of Asian People.”25 Asia people share poverty, religious plurality and linguistic heterogeneity. Famous Sri Lankan theologian, Aloysius Pieris views poverty as the common denominator with the rest of the world that is called as the third world and multifaceted religiosity refers to the specific character of Asia.26 C. S. Song argues that the poor of Asia is “the Asia that betrayed the prosperous Hong Kong, The industrialized Japan by the pseudo-democracies in most Asian countries”.27 One may also have to humbly add to the list also Church in Asia. Within the capitalist ridden societies in Asia, dialogue with the poor becomes essentially an interreligious dialogue. Hence, using the metaphors of Aloysius Pieris, we can say that the meek brown man from Goa can powerfully bring to us the Gospel of the meek brown man from Galilee. This means the heroic life of St. Joseph Vaz can inspire us to usher in the Church of the poor championed by our holy Father Pope Francis.
Dialogue with the Poor
The Asian way of sharing Christ-experience cannot forget the poor. The ascetical life of toil of St. Joseph Vaz is a sacramental living out of the life of solidarity of Jesus with the poor and incarnates the Gospel to the poor. Hence, it can catalyze the threefold dialogical imperative of the Federation of Asian Bishops conferences, particularly the dialogue with the poor will define how the Church in Asia lives and breathes. The dialogical imperative urges us to reach out in dialogue with the poor, with cultures and with religions and thus truly become Lumen Gentium to the people of Asia. Famous theologian Mathew Fox in his book, Pentecost in Asia: New Way of Being Church, states that the Church in Asia offers hope to Christianity in the West. He suggests that the triple dialogue of the federation of Asian Bishops’ conferences might re-evangelize the West.28 It is in dialogue with the poor, the human ‘I’ and the divine ‘Thou’ and the ecclesial ‘We’ can authentically meet. The Poor call the Church to an ethical responsibility. Responding to Christ in the poor, the Church becomes a sacrament of salvation. It is a way of becoming a Christian neighbour to the poor which can certainly open doors to our religious others. The life of St. Joseph Vaz is an example par excellence which teaches us to keep the poor in our embrace. In the true spirit of Lumen Gentium, (L G 9-17) that enables us to see all people as related to the people of God, today the Church in Asia, particularly in India and Goa is called to a sacramental interreligious action by being poor and put everything at the service of the poor. More than one-third of the estimated one billion people of India live in conditions of poverty that renders them vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition, disease, powerlessness and enslavement. An active participation in their struggles will enable the Church to manifest the mystery of God’s presence (LG 5) in Asia, India and Goa. Thus, the imperative of life of poverty and service to the poor emerging from the heroic life of the meek brown saint from Goa can be still felt as our Lord and Saviour who became a meek brown man of Galilee is living in poverty of all hues and religious persuasion. This service and struggle for the poor in the context of multiple injustice, exploitation, and oppression make the Church an authentic sacrament of salvation.
Ministry of Presence in the Public Square
The challenge to live our faith in the public square, market space and academia is part of the imperative of new evangelization. The ministry of presence in this arena both institutionally and individually can bring the light of the incarnate Word more easily in our secular and secularizing world. The life and ministry of St. Joseph Vaz has demonstrated that the ministry of presence is not merely passive but one full of (dunamis), power of God. Post-liberal theologians and Philosophers like Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank and Alasdair MacIntyre opine that theology cannot be taught and practiced in a modern University. The atheists and secularists have already banished theology from the academic arena leaving only privately funded chairs or departments Christianity by the Christian community, resulting in a few academic spaces for the intellectual pursuit of Catholic faith. Besides, thinning of institutional presence, the individual presence in Media, cultural platforms, socio-political and economic systems etc., is also waning. Hence, the power of ministry of presence needs a new revival and the life and ministry of Joseph Vaz can be a great motivation for a sowing the seed of multifarious ministry of presence in a society affected by the virus of consumerism, materialism, secularization , fanatic religious fundamentalism, corruption, terrorism and mindless violence. The multifarious possibilities of the ministry of presence draw the path of many ways of being the Church in Asia. Dialogue with cultures, science, politics, economic structures and religions has to be the concrete mode of existence of the Church Asia, particularly India and Goa. Church cannot be inward looking like an ostrich with its head sunk in the sand. But has to involve soil itself and has to smell its sheep. Asia being home to most people that inhabits the earth, vibrates with dynamic heterogeneity. Hence, the ministry of presence becomes the primary way of being present to the people of Asia.
Healing the Wounds of Colonization
Catholic faith promises an anthropophagy. Jesus Christ was not just the fullness of revelation of divinity; he is a full revelation of humanity. Jesus’ Ministry not just reconciled God and humanity but restored the integral dignity of the human person which also includes its eschatological destiny.29 Catholic faith celebrates the new humanity in Jesus Christ that already bears the mark of divinity, being created in the image and likeness of God, although weakened by sin. But unfortunately, people of Asia bear the wounds of the trauma of colonization and fuller restoration of the integral dignity of the human person in Asia is yet to arrive. The wounds of colonial imperialism that somehow used Christianity as a mode of expansion and domination and is producing a afterlife that seems to generate mimic men of the colonizers ranging from circus tamed blind imitators to those who mirror fractal images of imperial modes of domination of the colonizers. This seems to have produced ethno nationalism particularly in India that takes pride in crass communalism. This exclusionist nationalism marks the space of the minorities as de-national and produces intolerance and hate in our society. Within this environment, Christianity is under interrogation and fails to inspire confidence of the people in Asia, particularly in India. Hence, the fact that the meek brown men from Goa ministered to the people of Sri Lanka without direct and active support of the colonial enterprise demonstrate how a dissident God of our faith kept aside the lovers of mammon from becoming announcers of the Gospel and the Kingdom. That is why one can say that reflection on the life and ministry of St. Joseph Vaz can help us to respond to the pathos of colonization that is afflicting our societies today. Without the healing of this pathos, all interreligious dialogue will meet stumbling blocks.30 Indeed, the afterlife of colonization produced a discursive trauma that manifests in the forgetting of history in Asian theology. All theology in Asia is de-historicized and brackets history of colonization. Hence, a new springtime of theologizing that de-colonizes the colonial links of Christian faith is our hope of today.31 This will help bridge the alienation of Asian and India theologians from the Asian and as well as Indian Masses.
The life of St. Joseph Vaz has become a text that continues to voice the eternal Word of salvation in our days. The life of this meek brown man from Goa renders visible the caring and liberative action of our Lord Jesus Christ, the meek brown man of Galilee. Hence, in a world that has become a global village, the heroic life of this humble saint can inspire us to move out of the nest our comfort zone and by sheer life of total dependence on providence and pursuits of holiness through the service of the poor, we can bring about a sacramental encounter of our Lord Jesus Christ in the poor other of different faith. Inspired by the life of holiness of St. Joseph Vaz, the Church in Asia, India and Goa is challenged by the imperative of the Gospel to be the face of mercy of our Father through an active engagement in an dialogical interreligious ministry. It is only through an authentic life o f holiness that we can engage in inter-religious dialogue. Life of holiness can become the authentic ground on which we will be enabled to bring all people of God (including people of other faith ) in our embrace and simultaneously hand them into the embrace of God. It is an ethics of recognition that pushes the Church to meet her Lord in her religious other. Thus, interreligious dialogue recognizes the Culture bearing people and goodness in their cultures is affirmed and light of the Gospel is allowed to shine and redeem their lives and cultures through the interreligious dialogue in the Church.
- Francis X. D’sa, “Raimundo Panikkar’s Pluralism”, Jeevadharra, Vol. XLI, No. 245, 2011,pp. 343-358.
- Felix Wilfred , on the Banks of Ganges : Doing Contextual Theology (Delhi: ISPCK, 2002), p. 9.
- Pope John Paul II, Address at Assisi, In Francesco Goia, (Ed.,) Inter-religious Dialogue: the official Teaching of the Catholic Church (1963-1995), (Boston: Pauline Books,1997), p. 532.
- John Hick, Disputed Questions in Theology and Philosophy of Religion (London: Mcmillan, 1993).
- Paul F. Knitter, Jesus and the Other Names: Christian Mission and Global Responsibility (Maryknoll: Orbis , 1997).
- Didier Pollefeyt (Ed.), Interreligious Learning (Lueven: Peeters, 2007), p. 237.
- Ibid, p. 220.
- Jacques Dupuis, Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll: Orbis , 1997).
- Mark Heim, Salvation: Truth and Difference in Religion (Maryknoll:Orbis, 1995).
- Paul Griffiths, Problems of the Religious Diversity (Malden: Blackwell, 2001)
- Gavin D’Costa, The Meeting of Religions and Trinity (Edinburgh: Clark,200), p. 28.
- George Lindbeck, “The Gospels Uniqueness: Election and Untranslatability,” Modern Theology 13(1997): 423-450, p. 425.
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J.R. Foster (San Francisco: Communio Books, 1990), p. 15.
- J. Stuart, Swami Abhiktananda: His life told through his letters (Delhi: ISPCK, 1989), p. 305.
- B. GriffithS , Christ in India (New York : Charles Scriber’s sons, 1966), p. 310.
- M. Amaladoss , “Text and context; the Place on non-biblical Readings in the Liturgy” in D.S. Amalorpavadass, Research Seminar on Biblical Scripture (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1975), p 222.
- S. K appen, Liberation Theology and Marxism (Puntamba: Asha Kendra, 1986), p. 45.
- The word Mysterion is richer is very much part of the New Testament. In the synoptic Gospels, it stands for the secrets of the Kingdom which Jesus reveals through his parables, while in Pauline corpus it often stands for Christ who reveals the divine will to save all and who himself is the mystery through which all things will be restored to the Father. The term sacramentum means to make holy and was a legal term that belonged to the language of Roman Jurisprudence. It stood for the oath that was taken by the Roman Soldier on his official enlistment in the Roman Army. It is said that Tertullian used the term for Baptism asserting that on receiving it one belongs the army Christ. See Link. Hence, within the context of a sacramental approach to interreligious dialogue perhaps the Mysterion is richer in signification.
- See Sua Ecllenza Monsignor Henry D’Souza, “the relevance of blessed Joseph Vaz to the evangelization of Asia Today” See Link.
- S. G. Perera, the Life of Blessed Joseph Vaz: Apostle of Sri Lanka (Ottawa: HumanicS Universal INC , 2011), p. 55.
- Ibid, p. 56.
- R. Bowdens, The Catholic Church in Ceylon under the Dutch Rule, See ibid, p ix.
- Ibid, p. 77
- John B. Chethimattam, Towards a Theology of Intercommunity (Banglore: Dharmaram Publication, 2000), p. 21.
- Catherine Keller, Michael Nausner, Naya Revera , eds, Post-colonial theologies: Divinity and Empire (Danvers: Clearance Centre, 2004), p. 105
- See Link, accessed on 2/7/2015.
- Jacob Kavunkal, Athropophany: Mission as making New Humanity (New Delhi: ISPCK, 2008).
- Victor Ferrao, “Mythos, Pathos and (Dia)logos” in Clemens Mendonsa and Bernd Jochen Hilberah, ed., Religion and Culture: Multicultural Discussion ( Pune: Institute of study of Religion, 2011), pp. 421-432.
- See Keith Desouza, George M. Soares-Prabu: A theologians for our time” in “Francis X D’sa, The Dharma of Jesus ( Pune: Institute of study of Religion, 1997), p. 10