The friend and the stranger

The bishops' document on inter-religious dialogue

“Meeting God in friend and stranger” is the title of the document with which the bishops of England and Wales call upon Catholics to inter-religious dialogue, as an integrating part of their baptismal calling. The document analyses every aspect of inter-religious dialogue and as such, it is also a source of information for non-Catholics on the position of the Church on the theme. In six chapters the bishops peruse the theological and practical aspects of the inter-religious experience giving concrete advice and addressing complex questions such as inter-faith marriage. The purpose of the new document. Secretary of the Commission for inter-religious relations of the Bishops’ Conference, Katharina Muller, briefed SIR Europe on the purpose of the new document. “It’s a sign of the times marked by cooperation with other religions, and it’s important for the ensuing dialogue to be fruitful. The bishops told the faithful that if they are convinced of their baptismal vocation, then cooperating and dialoguing with the members of other religions becomes a part of everyday life”. The document points out that the Government and the political environment has acknowledged the Churches’ significant work for the good of society. Nonetheless, the clash between secularization and religious values is often brought up. “I disagree. I don’t think there’s a conflict. The government seeks to create the best living conditions across society, marked by mutual cooperation and respect, and this is also the objective of the Churches. The objective of both the Churches and the Institutions is the common good of society. There is cooperation and respect for others, and it’s normal that there can be different opinions”. In the document the bishops also underline that when the Catholic Church undertakes the dialogue, this must happen with an ecumenical approach, in conjunction with all Christian Churches. “It’s very sad that Christian Churches are at the same time so close and so far apart and it would be wonderful if the Church were finally united. This is why it’s important that Christian Churches undertake inter-religious dialogue together”.The dialogue. “Meeting God in Friend and Stranger” opens with the definition of ‘dialogue’. “It is useless to come to dialogue full of presuppositions about the other person or community”, the bishops write. “As far as we can we have to free ourselves of these premature judgments, so that the other’s real identity can be disclosed to us and we meet the real person and his or her real beliefs, and not some product of our imagination”. Recognizing the truth in the other religions: “The Catholic Church today, as we shall explain, recognizes the presence of what is true and holy in other religions as being ‘rays of the Truth’ and ‘seeds of the Word’; but the Church is also cautious about identifying those ‘rays’ and those ‘seeds’ too hastily. This caution should mark our dialogue, not to undermine it but to ensure its integrity”.Inter-religious dialogue in the U.K. In the framework of the religious conflicts in Great Britain the bishops underline the key message of the document, namely the need to keep a balance, “to be open to what is true and holy in other religions and yet insisting on the importance of an explicit faith in Christ and membership of the Church through Baptism”. The model of the dialogue is the spirit of Assisi. The document provides concrete guidelines on officiating common religious services without risking syncretism. “The guiding principle at Assisi, and a guide for us, is ‘we don’t come to pray together, but we come together to pray”.Inter-religious marriage. The bishops consider marriage preparation of utmost importance since everyone involved in an inter-religious marriage (the couple, the priest, the marriage counsellors), need to agree on the religious upbringing of the children, should think about how they are going to deal with any pressure to convert to the other religion, or at least to restrict them in the practice of their own. The local bishop or his representative will have to provide for a dispensation from the impediment of ‘disparity of cult’. The bishops suggest that the priest adapt the ceremony, as provided for in Canon Law, to prevent it from being too traumatic for both families. The document equally addresses the relations with local authorities. The bishops note that the Government considers the Church’s contribution critical to the progress of society and encourage Catholic faithful to take part in initiatives on inter-religious dialogue at local level. “To discern something of the meaning and purposes of God calls for a living faith. This faith contradicts the present culture in which even for believers it is very easy to live our everyday lives as though God did not exist”, the prelates write in the concluding reflections with an appendix of inter-religious experiences in parishes and dioceses.

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