Year of Mercy: Fostering relations with people of other faiths

By Rev Walter Fogarty, Chairman of the Diocesan Interfaith Commission

As the Church prepares for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which begins on 8 December this year, the Diocese of Parramatta has announced a newly reformed Diocesan Interfaith Commission to foster relations with peoples of other faiths.

Previously, such relations were overseen by the Commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Dialogue.

In separating the two aspects of the previous commission, the Diocese stresses the importance of, and focus that needs to be given to, both areas in its mission within Western Sydney.

The work of the new Interfaith Commission will focus on two broad areas: developing and strengthening dialogue between the Diocese and other faiths; and promoting a greater understanding among Catholics of Church teaching on interfaith relations.

The Commission will further the formal process of interfaith relations initiated by Vatican II, leading to formation of what is now known as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Laying the foundation for the Pontifical Council’s work, its earlier manifestation, the Secretariat for Non-Christians, saw that through its efforts “the Church extends a hand to our brothers and sisters on their way to God, who is the end of every human life”.

Australia’s Cardinal Edward Cassidy was active in the Church’s interfaith dialogue, especially as a past president of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

Cardinal Cassidy identified the Church’s early approach as twofold: promoting within the Church the new understanding of relation with other faiths as taught by Vatican II’s declaration Nostra Aetate; and, a conscious effort to develop dialogue with the aim of building trust and overcoming barriers.

The Pontifical Council, outlining the method it adopts towards dialogue, states genuine dialogue “is a two-way communication. It implies speaking and listening, giving and receiving, for mutual growth and enrichment. It includes witness to one’s own faith as well as an openness to that of the other. It is not a betrayal of mission of the Church, nor is it a new method of conversion to Christianity.”

St John Paul II reinforced this need for open dialogue in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (1990). Interfaith dialogue, he wrote, can aid “the world to be renewed and to journey ever closer toward the kingdom”.

“Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment,” St John Paul teaches, “dialogue is not in opposition to the [Church’s] mission ad gentes [to the nations] … It is demanded by deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit … Through dialogue, the Church seeks to uncover the ‘seeds of the Word,’ a ‘ray of that truth which enlightens all men’’; these are found in individuals and in the religious traditions of mankind. Dialogue is based on hope and love, and will bear fruit in the Spirit. Other religions constitute a positive challenge for the Church: they stimulate her both to discover and acknowledge the signs of Christ’s presence and of the working of the Spirit, as well as to examine more deeply her own identity and to bear witness to the fullness of Revelation which she has received for the good of all.”

Pope Francis continues this teaching in the bull proclaiming the Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, declaring, “There is an aspect of mercy that goes beyond the confines of the Church. It relates us to Judaism and Islam … I trust that this Jubilee year celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.”

The members of the Diocesan Interfaith Commission, both lay and ordained, endeavour to assist in this often overlooked and misunderstood aspect of the Church’s mission, an endeavour given greater significance in the face of growing religious intolerance in our community.

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