The Challenge of Inter-religious Dialogue

The theological foundation of Inter-religious dialogue is the universal salvific will of God. This principle immediately raises the question: are the other religion means of salvation for their followers? The answer to this question is bound to the unity of all humans in the creative and saving will of God. This saving will of God was manifested in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Every human being is created by God in His image and likeness which gives each human person the capacity for personal relationship with God. Divine will to save all mankind has Jesus Christ at the centre. Jesus , the son of God is united to every human being through his incarnation. Assuming human nature, Jesus carried the entire humankind and presented it to God, the father. Therefore, the grace of God acts invisibly through the Holy Spirit in ways that God alone knows and links all human beings to the Paschal mystery (mystery of suffering, death and resurrection of our lord Jesus Christ). Hence, the question of the salvific value of other religions is not outside the universal salvific will of God and the universal saving action of our Lord Jesus Christ. This means it is only in Jesus that we find the way, the truth, and life. It is only in Him that God reconciled everything to Him. This means all who are saved , though differently are saved by the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is why people of other faiths are also saved when they sincerely live what is good in their faith and follow the dictates of their conscience.

Church is a universal sacrament of Christ and His salvation. Therefore, the Church becomes the sign of salvation that God offers all humanity. All humans are called to belong to this Catholic unity of the people of God. To this unity , the Catholics and people of other faiths are related in different ways. This means there are anonymous followers of Christ that live outside the visible boundaries of visible Church. The great Vatican Councill II explicates how four groups of people of other faith are related people of God and thus are concerned by the salvific will of God. The Jews, the Muslims, those by no faults of their own have not heard the Gospel but nevertheless sincerely seek God and follow their conscience and those who have not reached the final knowledge of God and yet try to live in righteousness ( LG 16). This indicates that Catholic theology of other religions accepts that all are called to be saved as we all share in the creative , incarnational and saving acts of God. The Catholic Church affirms the Catholicity of the people of God which is based on the universal call for salvation and the unique mediatorship of Christ who is present in his body, the Church. It is within the mission of the Church that we have to locate inter-religious dialogue. The Church clearly teaches that inter-faith dialogue is not opposed to the proclamation of Christ as the only saviour but asserts that the two are distinct and not inter-changeable. The dialogue is also called by the profound respect that we have for the Holy Spirit ‘ that blows where he wants’ and is the first agent of mission Ad Gentes. Often, the practice of dialogue becomes the only testimony of Christ that we can give in the context of a hostile atmosphere for direct proclamation of Christ.

Church is missionary by it nature. She has to be the sacrament, the sign or the instrument of union between God and the world and the unity among people (LG. 1). This is why the Church recognises the seeds of the Gospel present in all cultures and religions. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the universal salvific will of God , the universal saving action of Christ, and the presence of the seeds of the Gospel in other religions cannot be brushed aside when we discuss the saving value of other religions. This means we need to recognize that the Kingdom of God exists beyond the visible boundaries of the Church. While we admit the action of the triune God in other religions, we cannot neglect the action and presence of the same triune God in the Church. This is why we have the challenge to engage the people of other faiths and present them the Gospel of Christ. The evangelization of people and cultures is not an option but an unavoidable mission. We work this mission in several ways and inter-religious dialogue is one of the most important ways of carrying on this mission. This is why we need an open and positive attitude to other religions so that in dialogue we are able to evangelize people and their cultures. Perhaps, we need to develop a theology of world religions that will enable each Catholic to self-evangelize and evangelize the world, cultures and people of other faiths.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao