VIENNA, Austria, JUNE 20, 2006 (Zenit.org).- The issue of mission is one of the key questions for dialogue between religions, says Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna.
He expresses this conviction in an article entitled “Ways of Mission” and published in Oasis, a multilingual review of the Oasis International Center of Studies and Research.
In his reflection, the archbishop of Vienna asks about the possibility of reconciling the missionary dynamic, which is essential to religions such as Christianity and Islam, with the principles that should animate interreligious dialogue, that is, tolerance of the other’s conscience and respect for religious freedom.
“Dialogue is often seen as opposed to mission: either mission or dialogue,” begins the cardinal. “However, both Christianity as well as Islam are clearly missionary religions. Their whole history demonstrates it, their present and, above all, the history of their origins.
“In the Christian Bible, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, is the universal missionary mandate that Jesus gave to the apostles before the Ascension and, therefore, to all Christians.
“Jesus said: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them …, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'”
Cardinal Schönborn continued: “However, Islam is also understood as a missionary religion: In the revelation of the Koran — Muslims maintain — is indicated the way that God has destined for all men. All men must know it and therefore must be able to decide on the true way.”
Hence, Islam has had a missionary character from the first instant and “if it wasn’t, it would betray itself,” the prelate points out. “How then can dialogue grow between our religions?
“Won’t it always just be a strategic game in view of the world mission? Won’t dialogue always be seen by zealous representatives of both religions only as a ‘soft solution’ and therefore underestimated?”
“Neither Christianity nor Islam are monoliths,” explains the 61-year-old cardinal. “Christianity lives, as does Islam, in a multiplicity of directions, which perhaps have combated one another violently and always continue to combat one another.”
“On both sides, the differences are about the methods, the ways of mission: Can the mission only follow the way of personal persuasion of the other, or can it also serve as instrument of political, military and economic pressure?
“On this point Christianity and Islam, in their history so full of conflicts, but also of contacts, have given very different answers.”
However, the cardinal contends that “these few indications suffice to remember that the missionary question, both within our religious communities as well as between them, should be in a top place of our dialogue’s agenda.”
And this should be the case because the mission does reflect the “sign of the vitality of religions” but also hides “a great potential for conflict,” he explains.
Cardinal Schönborn enumerates three tasks that belong “to the agenda of the forthcoming years, urgent and pressing,” which will allow both religions to follow with fidelity their missionary mandate and at the same time “to show and promote their compatibility with the demands of a pluralist and democratic society”:
— First, “we will need, within Christianity and Islam [and other religious communities] an enlightened dialogue on the question regarding the meaning of our constitutive missionary task.”
“What is mission according to Jesus, according to the Koran? How must there be, how can there be, mission? How is mission situated in respect of freedom of conscience and of religion? How is it situated in respect of the requirements of a plural world?” the cardinal asks.
— Second, “within our respective religious communities, there is an urgent need for dialogue and clarification on the question of ‘proselytism,'” a recurrent topic between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, and noted also in the Islamic world.
— Third, “we need an interreligious dialogue on the question of mission, a dialogue that takes into account our history [our histories] of mission (…), which will put openly on the table our mutual concerns, which will mention openly the dangers of intolerance, of attacks on religious freedom and which makes them the object of common efforts of correction.”
The archbishop of Vienna adds: “As religions with a missionary mandate, we are, I am convinced, responsible before God and before the world to find the common points of our missionary mandates and to practice them together.
“Has the Almighty not given all of us perhaps through revelation and the voice of conscience the holy task to work everywhere for justice, to alleviate misery, combat poverty, promote education, reinforce the virtues of living together and thus contribute to a more human world?”
“One day we shall be called by God to account if we have fulfilled our mission together,” the cardinal states. “And we shall be called to account if we have given, to many men who are unable to believe in God, a credible testimony of faith in God, or if through our conflicts we have increased atheism.”
The Oasis review is concerned chiefly with Muslim countries and seeks to support Christian minorities in these states, keeping the dialogue with Islam open.