01/12/2008, 00.00
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Inter-religious dialogue and evangelization can co-exist

by Thomas Dabre
The Church’s right and duty “to share” the Good News in India, Asia and around the world place no limits to religious freedom. This is what Mgr Thomas Dabre, bishop of Vasai, member of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and chairman of the Doctrinal Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told to AsiaNews as he commented ‘Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization,’ a latest document on evangelization issued by the Vatican dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith
Vasai (AsiaNews) –I am personally delighted to note that while insisting on the right and the duty to evangelize and promote conversion to Christ the Vatican Note unambiguously affirms the need of inter-religious dialogue and inculturation.
I was present in New Delhi, on November 6, 1999 when our Beloved John Paul II signed the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia. I rejoiced to hear John Paul II declare that “the peoples of Asia need Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can give.”
The visit of John Paul II was very important for India, a land with rich religious and cultural heritage and diversity. In India, through inculturation the Church can enrich herself and as Ecclesia in Asia has admitted through inter-religious dialogue and inculturation the mission of the church can be intelligible and effective particularly in Asia. In "countries where non Catholics live, above all in countries of ancient Christian culture and traditions, real respect for the wealth of these traditions and a sincere spirit of cooperation is urged.
Evangelization is not incompatible with the fundamental right to freedom of conscience and religion.
The Note on some aspects of Evangelization by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithis quite forthright in opposing proselytism as it employs force and coercion which are diametrically opposed to such freedoms.
Religious freedom constitutes the very heart of human rights. It is also important for people to understand that there exists a fundamental link between peace and freedom and the free exercise of religion in society.
Religious freedom inviolability is such that individuals must be recognized as having the right even to change their religion, if their conscience so demands. . . .
In India the Founding Fathers of the Indian Constitution guaranteed (Article 25) everyone the right and the freedom to preach, practice and propagate his or her religion. Unfortunately, today the socio-political reality in many parts of the country is very different.
However, it is wrong to equate evangelization with coercion because announcing the Gospel appeals to everyone’s conscience and freedom.
The Church's mission of evangelization is based on the truth of the Christian revelation and in particular the truth of Jesus Christ being the one universal Savior of the world.
The Church rightly affirms the freedom to share her conviction about Jesus and alsorespects and encourages the freedom of others in order to respond to her offer of the good news of salvation. As enunciated in Ecclesia in Asia Jesus is the greatest gift and the treasure the Church has to share with the peoples of Asia.
In India and Asia, Christian missionaries are sometimes persecuted by certain extremist elements. In some states infamous anti-conversion laws are in force, which bans ‘forced’ religious conversions. Under this legislation, any person or persons found to ‘force’ or ‘induce’ someone to change his or her religion could be liable for punishment.”
These terms are not defined and even the educational, medical and social welfare ministry of the Church at times are seen by misguided elements as ‘allurements’ to convert people to Christianity.
The Vatican document effectively dismisses the current mentality of 'anything goes' and facile, superficial uncritical tolerance of all views. Intellectual permissiveness is at the root of some of the formidable problems that today affect humanity. Such a relativistic mindset has intruded on the inviolable sanctuary of religion so much so that religion has sort of become a commodity which one can pick up or eschew at will. In such a situation the Church's precious contribution is to insist, as the Vatican Note does, on the absolute and universal character of truth and of the truth of salvation of humanity in Jesus Christ. Not to insist on a common, universal truth and to give in to the demand for tolerance of contradictory and incompatible positions is in the end a colossal disservice to humanity.
Authentic patience and respect cannot ignore truth of man and God. Inter-religious dialogue which is of vital importance for the Church of Asia and for all Asian societies should not be reduced to pleasantries, courtesies and common principles.
God is God of truth and so religious leaders should neither be afraid of truth nor be closed to embrace newer dimensions of truth. Truth is at the core of religion. The spread of relativism is a grave danger to all religions. Therefore there is all the greater need of religious leaders to collaborate together to stand for truth.
In the modern world, as the Holy Father pointed out at Regensberg, reason and faith should not be opposed to each other, and we see advances in science and medicine on the one hand and grave evils like abortions and euthanasia on the other.
Dialogue is per se the communication of truth. In inter-religious dialogue all must be able to share the truth they believe in religion must never be used as a pretext for conflict. Therefore, evangelization and conversion should not be perceived as incongruous with inter-religious dialogue. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. And therefore it is quite in order, as the Vatican document does, to assert that evangelization and promotion of authentic conversion is the duty and the right of the Church as it is also the right of human beings to hear the truth of the good news of Jesus. As the recent papal encyclical Spe Salvi clarifies, the Christian message is one of hope for the world. Our eternal destiny of a blessed life is certain. And so we can commit ourselves to the building up of the world where peace, justice, equality and freedom reign. Proclamation of such a message is thoroughly consistent with the sprit of spirit of inter-religious dialogue.
At the core of religions is Truth, and religious leaders must come together. Religious leaders in particular have the duty to do everything possible to ensure that religion is what God intends it to be—a source of goodness, respect, harmony and peace.
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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”