One of the reasons for asking this provocative question is the contemporary tragic reality of the global rise of religious fundamentalism and religiously instigated violence. Because of the association of religion with violence, the following reactions can be noted.
1. Doubts on the validity of dialogue: Because of the rise of religious violence, some practitioners of dialogue are asking whether the interreligious dialogue has any sense today . Still some others see the present connection between religion and violence as a failure of dialogue. Furthermore, many are discouraged since it seems that their tedious and laborious work has born very little fruits.
2. Eliminating religion to improve the world: Some critiques of religions argue that world would be a better place without religion. The atheist author Christopher Hitchens contends in God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that organised religion is violent, irrational, intolerant, and is allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry. In the same vein, Clinton Richard Dawkins argues that if religion were somehow abolished, there would be a much better chance of no more war.
3. Mea Culpa: it is no exaggeration to say that today no religion is innocent in promoting or at least turning a blind eye to violence owing to its political, ethnic, racial, caste, tribal affiliations. Faced with today’s migration phenomenon, some argue that refugee crisis is the result of our wars and our business dealings.
Christian Understanding of interreligious Dialogue
Do we still need dialogue? For us Christians, the answer depends on a Christian understanding of mission and dialogue. The term “mission” presupposes a sender, a person sent, a message and the authority to carry it out. Jesus says that “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Mt 10:40, Mk 9:37, Lk 9.48). Jesus presents the Father as the sender ( Lk 2.49). Jesus himself was the sent one and he faithfully does the mission entrusted to him by the Father. The twelve were called with the explicit purpose of being prepared for mission (Mt 4:18-22; Mk 1:16-20, Lk 5:1-11). The Mission entrusted to Jesus was to bring about peace and reconciliation.
God’s raising up of Jesus to a new life tells us that the violence and sin will be overcome by the peace of the Risen Lord. The first words of the Risen Lord to his disciples were: “Peace with you” and then he showed them his wounds to affirm that the peace he brings cost him his life. The disciples are overjoyed seeing the Lord and they undergo a conversion. Then the Risen Lord sends them on a mission of peace. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” (Cf. Jn 20:19-22). The Risen Lord thus becomes the victim and the reconciler.
One element of the church’s mission is interreligious dialogue. Thus, the Church feels called to dialogue because of her faith. Besides, the Trinitarian dimension or the relationship between Father, Son and the Holy Spirit becomes a model for dialogue. The unity of the three Divine Persons completely respects the identity of each. In interreligious dialogue, respect for identity, one’s own and that of the partner in dialogue, is of great importance. Moreover, Being a person created in the image and likeness of God, human person is called upon to be the image of Trinitarian Love in the created universe with concrete love for his brothers and sisters.
The role of the Church in dialogue thus aims at the realization of the kingdom of God that is, communion with God and among men and women. In brief the aim of the dialogue is to walk together toward truth and to work together for common good. Therefore, there is no Christianity without mission and there is no mission without dialogue.
Context of Reconciling Mission
The Church becomes missionary by attending to every context in which it finds itself. The Church lives in a multi-religious and multicultural society. Thus, if its mission were to be effective, it ought to be intra-Christian and inter-religious especially against the destructive and dehumanizing forces. How do we account for the Global Rise of Religious Violence? It is related to cultural conflicts. Let me now briefly account for cultural conflicts. “By cultural conflicts we mean those domestic, inter-state or transnational political conflicts in which the actors involved focus on issues relating to religion, language and/or historicity. When defining a conflict as “cultural” it is not relevant “why” there is a dispute, but “what” is in dispute.” Samuel P. Huntington in “Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” argues that “People and countries with similar cultures are coming together. Peoples and countries with different cultures are coming apart”. He further observes that “Political boundaries increasingly are redrawn to coincide with cultural ones: ethnic, religious, and civilizational.” Thus, the cold war question, “which side are you on?” has been replaced by “Who are you? The answer emanates from one’s cultural identity.
Moreover, the globalization with its dislocated, excluded and discontent contribute to “stimulate the revitalization of indigenous identities and culture.” This process of affirmation of religious, ethnic, tribal and linguistic identities of one group at the expense of the “other” – a different religious, ethnic, tribal and linguistic group – will give birth to an “us” from “them” perception.
Urgency and Indispensability of Dialogue
In this context do we still need dialogue or is dialogue possible? I think that today the dialogue is not an option but a necessity because religion is a part of the solution since religion can play a major role to repair the emotional, spiritual, and psychological wounds the people suffer in conflicts. Basing on the universal values, religion can contribute to uproot the causes for the conflict, build bridges of dialogue, seek justice and be a prophetic voice for the victims and a healing voice to the wrongdoer as well as the victim. The ministry of Christian reconciliation is to break down the dividing walls built within the human hearts. “ Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ,[…]. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, […] (Cfr. Eph 2:12-14).
Furthermore, dialogue and prayer are inseparable. Prayer brings us to the intimate union with God, awakens our conscience, expels the inner darkness, heals internal and external wounds, disarms the violent, tears down walls of enmity, facilitates forgiving and pardoning, brings about reconciliation, opens the hearts to the cry of suffering, urges us to eradicate social sins, enabling us to see everyone as our brother and sister and finally transforms us to be men and women of dialogue. Thus, there is no dialogue without prayer.
Pope Francis notes that “Building peace is difficult, but living without peace is a constant torment” (Pope Francis, Welcoming Ceremony, Ben Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, 25 May 2014). He further affirms that “It is impossible for peace to exist without dialogue” (Pope Francis, To Students and Teachers, From the Seibu Gakuen Bunri Junior High
School of Saitama, Tokyo, Japan, in the Vatican, Wednesday, 21 August 2013). Our Message for Vesakh in 2014 says, “rooted in our different religious convictions, we have a triple mission to fulfil: to be outspoken in denouncing all social ills which injure fraternity; to be healers in transforming self-centred wounded persons into selfless ones; and to be reconcilers by breaking down the walls of separation of the “us” and “them” and fostering true brotherhood among people” (Vesakh Message, PCID 2014). As religious people, we know that to achieve the urgent need of unity in the human family, we greatly need prayer and dialogue. Let me wind up with the words of Pope Francis: “There is only one road for conquering […] fear and it is dialogue and encounter marked by friendship and respect. When we take this path it is a human one” ( To Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, 28 November 2013).