Mgr Kodithuwakku: Pope Francis, dialogue and proclaiming the Gospel
by Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage *

The prelate, who hails from Sri Lanka, is the current secretary of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. Here is an excerpt of the speech he gave at a conference promoted by the Urbaniana University to mark ten years since Pope Francis’s election. For the pontiff, dialogue is “a sacred act”; he “ invites us to place ourselves before the other, seeing him or her as a gift of God”.

Rome (AsiaNews) – This week marks the tenth anniversary of Pope Francis’s election, providing an opportunity for many to reflect upon his magisterium.

What follows is an excerpt from a speech Fr Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage delivered on Tuesday at the Urbaniana University in Rome. Originally from the Diocese of Badulla, Sri Lanka, Mgr Kodithuwakku is one of the foremost figures from Asia in the Roman Curia serving as secretary of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue since 2019.

In his address he speaks about Pope Francis's vision of interreligious dialogue from a broad perspective. We propose below the section in which he focuses on the relationship between dialogue with brothers and sisters in other religions and the mission of Christians.

If dialogue is an integral part of mission, what role does Pope Francis assign to proclamation?

Pope Francis argues that “Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another” (Evangeli Gaudium, 251). Thus, he invites us to pay attention to “the essential bond between dialogue and proclamation” (ibid) because “It is from this deep identity – our being grounded in a living faith in Christ – it is from this profound reality that our dialogue begins.” (To the Bishops of Asia, Shrine of Haemi, 17 August 2014).

He underlines that “True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side” (Evangelii Gaudium, 251). So, dialogue is not one-sided, but rather “by mutual listening, both parts can be purified and enriched” (Evangelii Gaudium, 250).

Pope Francis tells us that dialogue is not a sheer intellectual act but rather a sacred act: “dialogue invites us to place ourselves before the other, seeing him or her as a gift of God, and as someone who calls upon us and asks to be acknowledged.” Therefore, he insists that “True dialogue, [. . .], requires moments of silence, in which to grasp the extraordinary gift of God’s presence in one’s brother or sister” (Jubilee audience on Mercy and Dialogue, Vatican City, 22.10.2016). Moreover, the Pope notes that authentic dialogue also demands a capacity for empathy, “which lead us to see others as brothers and sisters, and to ‘hear’, in and beyond their words and actions, what their hearts wish to communicate.

In this sense, dialogue demands of us a truly contemplative spirit of openness and receptivity to the other.” (To the Bishops of Asia, Shrine of Haemi, 17 August 2014). Related to empathy is mercy, which invites us to bow down before the needy. The Pope notes, “The theme of mercy is familiar to many religious and cultural traditions. To bow down with compassionate love before the weak and needy is part of the authentic spirit of religion. The very word ‘mercy’ is a summons to an open and compassionate heart.” (Cf. Address to Representatives of Different Religions, St. Peter’s Square, 3 November 2016).

If interreligious dialogue is a sacred and compassionate act, what is the relationship between dialogue and prayer? Citing Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis notes that “Religion of its very nature is a certain relationship between God and the human person. It finds its expression in prayer, and prayer is dialogue” (cf. ES 70), (To participants in Sant' Egidio’s International Meeting for Peace, Clementine Hall, 30 September 2013). In Azerbaijan, Pope Francis further explains this relation. “Prayer and dialogue are profoundly interconnected: they flow from an openness of heart and extend to the good of others, thus enriching and reinforcing each other.” (Baku, Azerbaijan, 2 October 2016).

It must be said that interreligious dialogue apart from being a sacred act, is also an encounter with the sacred mystery which is manifested through a triple dialogue: Pope Francis points out “Others drink from other sources. For us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Fratelli Tutti, 277).

Naturally, this interreligious pilgrimage will help us to deepen our own encounter with our sacred mystery; to discover and appreciate the spiritual treasures of other religions and “As Christians, we can also benefit from these treasures built up over many centuries, which can help us better to live our own beliefs” (Evangelii Gaudium, 254); and also to work together for a more humane world. 

In this regard, it is worth mentioning here, some of the experiences of inter-monastic dialogue. Benedictine monk Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) noted, “The mystery which is present in my heart is the mystery which is also present in every human heart. In the place where God abides, no one is separated from his brothers and sisters. At the very centre of his heart, where God is and where God alone is, he finds mysteriously present the whole human family and all creation.”

Thomas Merton in Bangkok, in 1968, underlined the goal of his dialogue with other religious seekers. “I come [as] a pilgrim who is anxious to obtain not just information, not just ‘facts’ about other monastic traditions, but to drink from ancient sources of monastic vision and experience. (…) I think that we have now reached a stage of (long overdue) religious maturity at which it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment, and yet learn in depth from, say, a Buddhist or Hindu discipline or experience. I believe that some of us need to do this in order to improve the quality of our own monastic life.

Secretary, Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue