Interreligious Dialogue Is Part of Evangelizing Mission, Pope Says

It Implies Profound Respect for Culture, He Tells Indian Bishops

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 26, 2003 ( Dialogue with believers of other religions is part of the fundamental mission of the Church to proclaim Christ the only Savior, says John Paul II.

When meeting with a group of bishops from India today, the Pope recalled how a departing Jesus gave his disciples «both an invitation and a challenge to go forth and proclaim the Good News.»

«Evangelization is a charge in which all the members of the Church share by virtue of their baptism,» the Holy Father said.

The Pontiff was speaking to the bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Patna and Ranchi, who were concluding their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.

«How unfortunate it is then that even today in many places in India, unnecessary obstacles still impede the preaching of the Gospel,» the Pope said. «Citizens of a modern democracy should not suffer because of their religious convictions. Nor should anyone feel compelled to hide his or her religion in order to enjoy fundamental human rights, such as education and employment.»

«Intimately related to the Church’s efforts for evangelization is a true and profound respect for culture,» he added. «Culture is the space within which the human person comes face to face with the Gospel. Always respectful of differing cultures, the Church seeks to engage her brothers and sisters of other religions in order to foster a relationship of openness and dialogue.»

«Thus considered, interreligious dialogue will not only increase mutual understanding and respect for one another, but will also help to develop society in harmony with the rights and dignity of all,» the Pope said.

This principle of dialogue explains the commitment of the Church in India «to the principle of the inalienable dignity of the human person through her numerous social institutions, offering unconditional love to Christians and non-Christians alike.»

«Her schools, dispensaries, hospitals and institutes, aimed at the integral development of the human person, give untold assistance to the poorer members of society, regardless of creed,» the Holy Father observed. «It is unfortunate that some of the Church’s honest attempts towards interreligious dialogue at its most basic level have sometimes been hindered by a lack of cooperation from the government and by harassment from certain fundamentalist groups.»

«India has strong traditions of respect for religious differences,» he said. «It is my hope that for the good of the nation contrary tendencies will not be allowed to develop.»

«As bishops, it is your obligation to ensure that interreligious dialogue continues,» he added. «However, while engaging in this mutual exchange, you must never allow it to be influenced by religious indifferentism. It is vital that Christ’s call to discipleship be preached and lived with conviction by every Christian.»

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