The dialogue vision of Vatican II
The Philippine Bishops (CBCP) have asked Catholics to look deeply into the Church’s teaching on interreligious dialogue as an important theme in preparation for 2021, the fifth centenary of the arrival of Christianity. Most Catholics are unaware that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) produced one entire document on approaches to other faith traditions, Nostra Aetate (NA).
Nostra Aetate (“in our time”) transformed the Church’s view and relationship with other religions, asserting: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and life, those precepts and teachings … [which] often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people” (NA 2).
“The Church, therefore, exhorts her children, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, … they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these people” (NA 2).
Exploring interreligious dialogue.
A popular expression to capture all the attitudes and initiatives among the various religions is termed “interreligious dialogue” or “interfaith dialogue.” All these efforts to build fraternal relationships and foster communication are anchored in people’s faith. Though their religions differ in many aspects, it is still proper to call these people “believers,” since their lives and values are “God-centered.”
Interfaith dialogue moves beyond discussion (“dialogue”) about religious beliefs and practices. Dialogue means entering another’s experience of God; it demands a growth in faith and a conversion to a deeper religious encounter with one’s God. Thus, dialogue is always “faith-based,” and from this perspective people will more readily collaborate to address social questions, authentic human development, and the freedom of religious practice.
Revealing statistics. In the Philippines today when one hears about “interreligious” or “interfaith” dialogue, one almost automatically thinks of Muslim-Christian relations (though there are other faith groups, such as Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, in the country). Muslims form the second largest religion; best estimates assert that 5-6% of Filipinos are Muslims. Traditionally, Muslims were mostly confined to the southern part of the country; however, this has significantly changed due to migration; today there is a Muslim presence in almost all cities and towns.
Global statistics reveal that worldwide there are more Muslims than Catholics; approximate percentages of the world religious population are: Catholics (16.10%), Muslims (22.32%), Christians [total] (31.50%). This is the multi-religious context of the contemporary world!
Vatican II and Islam. One may ask what the Council said about Islam. “Upon the Muslims too, the Church looks with esteem” (Nostra Aetate [NA] 3). Yes, “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge humanity” (Lumen Gentium 16).
The Council notes that the Muslims “adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to all. They strive to submit whole-heartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just as did Abraham, which whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself” (NA 3).
Vatican II continues: “Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his Virgin Mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment…. Consequently, they prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting” (NA 3). Indeed, through dialogue Vatican II was seeking to build bridges of harmony and peace!