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Dear Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to meet with you in the context of your Plenary Session: I give each one a most cordial welcome and I thank Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran for the words he addressed to me in your name.
The Catholic Church is aware of the value of the promotion of friendship and of respect among men and women of different religious traditions. We understand its importance increasingly, be it because the world has become, in some way, “smaller,” be it because the phenomenon of migrations increases contacts between persons and communities of different traditions, cultures and religions. This reality interpellates our conscience as Christians; it is a challenge for the understanding of the faith and for the concrete life of the local Churches, parishes and very many believers.
Hence, of particular timeliness is the topic chosen for your gathering: “Members of Different Religious Traditions in the Society.” As I stated in the Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “an attitude of openness in truth and in love must characterise the dialogue with the followers of non-Christian religions, in spite of various obstacles and difficulties, especially forms of fundamentalism on both sides” (n. 250). In fact, contexts are not lacking in the world in which coexistence is difficult: often political and economic motives superimpose themselves on cultural and religious differences, also fueling misunderstandings and mistakes of the past: all this risks generating diffidence and fear. There is only one way to overcome this fear, and it is that of dialogue, of encounter marked by friendship and respect.
To dialogue does not mean giving up one’s own identity when one goes against the other, and less so to yield to compromising the faith and Christian morality. On the contrary, “true openness implies maintaining oneself firm in one’s deepest convictions. With a clear and joyful identity” (Ibid., 251) and because of this, open to understand the reasons of the other, capable of respectful human relations, convinced that the encounter with someone who is different from us can be an occasion of growth in fraternity, of enrichment and of witness. It is for this reason that interreligious dialogue and evangelization do not exclude one another, but nourish one another mutually. We do not impose anything, we do not use any deceitful strategy to attract faithful, rather we witness with joy, with simplicity what we believe in and what we are. In fact, an encounter in which each one puts to one side what he believes in, pretending to give up what is dearest to him, would certainly not be a genuine relation. In such a case, one could speak of a false fraternity. As disciples of Jesus we must make an effort to overcome fear, ready always to take the first step, without letting ourselves be discouraged in face of difficulties and misunderstandings.
A constructive dialogue between persons of different religious traditions also helps to overcome another fear, which we unfortunately find in the most strongly secularised societies: the fear of the various religious traditions and of the religious dimension as such. Religion is seen as something useless or downright dangerous. Sometimes it is required that Christians give up their religious and moral convictions in the exercise of their profession (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, January 10, 2011). Here is a widespread belief that co-existence would be possible only by concealing one’s own religious identity, encountering one another in a sort of neutral space, without references to the transcendent. But how is it possible to create true relations, to build a society that is an authentic communal home, imposing on its members to set aside an intimate part of their being? It is not possible to think of it as a “labratory” brotherhood. Certainly, it is necessary that all this occurs with respect for the convictions of others, even those who do not believe, but we must have the courage and the patience to encounter and come towards each other as we are. The future is in respectful co-existence in diversity, not in the uniformity of a single theoretically neutral thought. The recognition of the fundamental right to religious freedom, in all its dimensions, therefore becomes indispensable. In this regard, great efforts have been made to express the Magisterium of the Church during recent decades. We are convinced that this is the route to building peace in the world.
I thank the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue for the precious service it carries out, and I invoke upon each of you an abundance of the Lord’s blessings.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]