PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
AND THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
24 June 2013
In introducing this subject, the most important thing is to define two expressions:
Interreligious dialogue is not a dialogue between religions, but between believers, fellow human beings, who are confronted with the same trials and challenges.
Much as with a married couple, living together involves a docility and a mutual willingness on the part of both to be at the service of the other, each pressing the other to discover his/her identity and to regard the other with kindness.
It is precisely between these two requirements (statement of one’s own identity and knowledge of the other) that interreligious dialogue is located. It is always a discovery and an encounter.
In this way believers are called to get to know the religious traditions of others, to recognize what separates them and what they have in common, and to cooperate for the common good of the society of which they are active members, making everything they possess in common available to it.
The New Evangelization, instead, is an invitation to those who have been baptized to rediscover their Christian roots in order to experience the power of the Gospel. This is not a re-evangelization, but an evangelization which is truly new, above all in its forms. It is the ability, on the part of Christianity, to know how to read and decipher the new scenarios which, in recent decades, have transformed the world.
How can we forget what Pope John Paul II said in Santiago de Compostela in 1982: "I, Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the universal Church, send you, O ancient Europe, a cry full of love: turn around to meet yourself! Be yourself. Discover your origins. Rediscover your roots. Revive those authentic values which made your history glorious and your presence so benevolent in the other continents. Rebuild your spiritual unity in a climate of respect for other religions and for genuine freedom. ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.’ "
Even if the New Evangelization was meant for the Old Continent, namely Europe, it cannot but influence the way in which the Gospel is proclaimed on the other Continents.
If interreligious dialogue presupposes that the partners each have a well-defined spiritual identity, then the New Evangelization has a fundamental relationship with it. The Church needs a kind of self-evangelization in order to respond to the challenges placed before her by the peoples of today. It is not so much to conquer or to restore to some former state, but rather to propose the newness of the Good News of the Gospel. The New Evangelization is aimed at peoples who were once evangelized, but who now live in a secularized environment where the religious factor has been devalued, and religion itself has been relegated to the private sphere.
At the very foundation of Christianity there lies not so much an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Analogously, "at the root of all evangelization lies not a human plan of expansion, but rather the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has wished to give us, making us sharers in his own life."
The socio-religious situation of old Europe, as well as that of the Western world in general, appears as very precarious. The aggressivity, the lack of understanding for people of different backgrounds, different colors, different religions, the political and economic selfishness, have as an aftermath many men and women who appear disoriented and without hope. And unfortunately, more than a few Christians share in this sense of despair.
Religious indifference, secularism, the increasing marginalization of religion, and alas, the de-Christianization of society, may suggest that Christianity is no longer able to make a positive contribution to the development of humanity. In this context, pluralism has inserted itself, seemingly pervading almost all areas of life: ethnic pluralism, cultural, social, religious. When one thinks of pluralism, what comes to mind is freedom to think, to dialogue, to encounter. But this same pluralism can degenerate into relativism or syncretism. John Paul II pointed to this when he wrote: "A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid." In fact, pluralism is not itself new, let alone for the Church, which since its beginnings has developed in an environment of religious pluralism, as evidenced in both the Old and New Testament. God, the Creator of the Universe, brought into being a variety of humans, families, nations and the plurality was called good. Think back to the book of Genesis. Pluralism is not something to be tolerated, but to be promoted in accordance with the Council's teaching: "By divine Providence it has come about that various churches, established in various places by the apostles and their successors, have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and the unique divine constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage. Some of these churches, notably the ancient patriarchal churches, as parent-stocks of the Faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter churches, with which they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for their rights and duties. This variety of local churches with one common aspiration is splendid evidence of the catholicity of the undivided Church.”
Therefore, the great challenge in the field of evangelization in the Western world does not come from outside but from within; relativism, indifferentism, secularism are lethal viruses. Such a reality as ours, where everything is fluid (the so-called "liquid modernity" of Baumann), leads us to explore new ways of proclaiming the Gospel (because what changes is not the Gospel, but who it is addressed to, the recipients), to learn new languages, to try new approaches.
When confronted with persons who think and believe differently than we do, three things are required:
1) First requirement - our liturgical assemblies: celebrating is evangelizing. The dignity, manner of recollection and prayer of our assemblies can make the presence of Christ in the world today be perceived. Receiving Christ in our celebrations enables us to communicate Him to others. I always remember what a Muslim Ambassador said to me when he came for his farewell visit, "What impressed me most during my mission to the Holy See, is to have seen the pope praying in the ceremonies."
2) Second requirement: to deepen our knowledge of Sacred Scripture, invest in the theological culture (I am thinking of ongoing formation), in order to experience the joy of truth (St. Augustine: gaudium de veritate). I am thinking also of the effort we need to make so that our faithful can know and enjoy the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How can we justify our hope to those who do not share our faith, if we have no idea of its contents? There are many initiatives that exist already, and others that can be used, either individually or shared in community, to awaken others to the riches of the faith transmitted and lived in the Church.
3) Third requirement: to trust in man. Every man, especially the wounded, humiliated man, is "capable of God," capable of accepting the Gospel of Salvation. Before the great religions and traditions of the world, we Christians speak of God the Father, who always comes himself to meet man. Those who practice interreligious dialogue are called to discover the patient work of the Holy Spirit in every brother or sister in humanity. This means to leave God the liberty to reveal himself by means of some unpredictable newness. The Church, which we ourselves are, perhaps too often gives the impression of being simply an institution, speaking too much about the renewal of the external structures of the Church, and too little of God and of Christ.
At the beginning of this millennium, in which man is no longer so sure of himself or of his future, it is important that that we Christians help others to know the true face of our God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. It seems to me our mission is very clear. We must say that, with Christianity, or rather in the Jewish and Christian religions, it is not man who has turned towards God and and tried to catch him. Rather it is God who comes out of himself towards us and asks to be recognized and accepted by us. It is man who is called to become "the dwelling place of God."
We can speak of new evangelization, we can talk about inter-religious dialogue, but there is one single word which is essential to proclaim, a word that is at the heart of the Gospel message: that word is "love"! When we look at the history of mankind, we can see that the power of love is stronger and that there is nothing greater than the Resurrection of Jesus.
Without love lived in our communities, there is no authentic dialogue, there is no new evangelization which is credible.
Let me finish by quoting what a well-known French biologist, Jean Rostand, wrote, an agnostic that sought God his whole life, studying the human brain, and died, so to speak, in the Courtyard of the Gentiles:
"It doesn’t matter to me how the cities will appear, nor what the shape of the houses will be, nor the speed of cars ... but rather, what will life be like? What will the new reasons be for man to want or to act? Where will he draw the courage to be? More is obtained from loving than by the effort to understand [...]. I prefer always charity to intelligence." (Jean Rostand, Concerns of a biologist).