John Paul II's Gestures: A Lesson for Interreligious Dialogue

Author Brunetto Salvarani Points to 3 Key Avenues

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ROME, FEB. 25, 2004 ( John Paul II’s gestures contain a «pedagogy» for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, says an author.

Brunetto Salvarani is author of the book in Italian entitled «Minimum Vocabulary of the Interreligious Dialogue: Education for a Meeting with Religions.» Until 1995, he was director of the Religious Studies Center of the San Carlo Foundation of Modena. He is also an adviser to Caritas-Italy and Pax Christi.

The «alphabet of meeting,» he said, «is the essential vocabulary of dialogue that, in my opinion, we are all called to exercise in life in order to see in the other not a potential enemy, as we usually do, but a brother: to foster mutual knowledge, acceptance, the ability to listen, benevolence.»

«They are decisive virtues at present in countries with increasing religious and cultural pluralism,» the author told ZENIT.

The «pedagogy of dialogue» must begin with «a full awareness of one’s own identity,» he said. «Therefore, if we dialogue little or badly, it’s because we are still not very Christian, or we are lukewarm Christians who are afraid of being rejected, according to the words of the Apocalypse.»

The author suggests three essential avenues for entering into dialogue: the Bible, the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II’s magisterium.

In fact, Salvarani said, «I think that the decrease in the centrality of the Word of God, the difficult reception of Vatican II, and the lack of attention to John Paul II’s magisterium are at the root of the present dialogue problems — ecumenical and interreligious.»

The author said that John Paul II summarizes these three avenues in the phrase: «To know Christ’s true identity, it is necessary that all Christians return with renewed interest to the Bible.»

Among the Pope’s gestures to promote understanding between believers of diverse religions, Salvarani mentions «his prophetic call» in December 2001, «at the height of the war in Afghanistan and three months after the attack on the Twin Towers,» appealing to men and women of good will to undertake a fast on the last Friday of Ramadan.

«Despite every poorly prognosticated hypothesis of a clash of civilizations, and despite every form of racism and Islamophobia, we must not allow ourselves to be overcome by fear,» Salvarani added.

Another gesture of the Pope that has impressed the author is «his constant recollection of the Jewish roots of our faith, which obliges us to leave behind those teachings of contempt that for so many centuries has been the tremendous burden of relations between Christians and Jews.»

«I still remember his trip to the Western Wall of Jerusalem and his gesture of placing, according to the tradition of the children of Israel, a personal piece of paper with a request for forgiveness for so many offenses perpetrated in the course of history by Christians against Jews,» Salvarani concluded.

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