One thing to be said for the Pope’s visit: he has
silenced secularists, as well as missionary-apologists.
Whenever attention has been drawn to the plans the
Church has of converting India to Christianity, to its plans of
"reaping the great harvest for Jesus," these propagandists and
secularists have asserted that a miasma was being manufactured to
sow hatred. Now that the Pope has himself declared that the Synod of
Bishops was "a call to conversion;" now that he has reiterated his
call to the Bishops to "open wide to Christ the doors of Asia;" now
that he has proclaimed the goal of the Church again, "just as in the
first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in
the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in
the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be
reaped in this vast and vital continent;" now that he, having heard
reports of the Bishops has proclaimed his expectation, "the
character, spiritual fire and zeal" of Asians "will assuredly make
Asia the land of a bountiful harvest in the coming millennium;" now
that having recalled what he wrote in Redemptoris Missio -- "God is
opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully
prepared for sowing of the Gospel," -- the Pope has announced, "This
vision of a new and promising horizon I see being fulfilled in
Asia;" now that the Pope has embraced as his own what his Bishops
had proclaimed -- "the heart of the Church in Asia will be restless
until the whole of Asia finds its rest in the peace of Christ, the
Risen Lord" -- now that he has again proclaimed that the very
purpose of the Church is evangelization, that it is "driven" in this
task by "the Holy Spirit" indeed that "the Holy Spirit is the prime
agent of evangelization," that the Church is "empowered by the Holy
Spirit" to carry out this task, the secularists seem a bit
non-plussed about how to make out that the apprehensions which were
being expressed about the Church’s plans and stratagems are figments
manufactured to justify persecution.
And so are the Cardinals and Bishops, I presume!
"We don’t want to convert everybody to Christianity," Cardinal
Lourdasamy, described by the papers as "the only Indian Cardinal in
Vatican City," told Doordarshan. "We just want to say we are
Christians." How touching! How humble! And what do the propagandists
say after the Pope’s explicit enunciation?
Every time they are confronted with what the Church
has itself proclaimed is its one and only purpose -- to enlarge the
empire of Christianity -- these propagandists have insisted that
after Vatican II such a view is untenable. Vatican II marked a
radical break with the past dogma, they have insisted. It
acknowledged that other religions too can be paths to salvation. It
explicitly embraced ecumenism, it explicitly asked Christians to
develop respect for other religions. Vatican II did nothing of the
kind, of course. But, confident that few in countries like India
would have gone through the documents put out by the Council, the
Church here has been putting out such fables. In any case, we now
have the Pope himself clear up what he calls "a certain confusion
about the true nature of the Church’s mission."
Yes, the Church respects the traditions to be found
in Asia, the Pope says. Yes, it respects "the rights of
consciences." "Respect, however, does not eliminate the need for the
explicit proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness," he states.
"Especially in the context of the rich array of cultures and
religions in Asia," he says, "it must be pointed out that ‘neither
respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the
questions raised are an invitation to the Church to with-hold from
these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ.’ " He
reiterates the play on words by which he had camouflaged the matter
during his visit to India in 1986.
He recalls that he had "stated clearly" then, "the
Church’s approach to other religions is one of genuine respect...
This respect is twofold: respect for man in his quest for answers to
the deepest questions of his life, and respect for the action of the
Spirit in man." What does that mean? The Pope explains: "Indeed, the
Synod Fathers readily recognised the Spirit’s action in Asian
societies, cultures and religions, through which the Father prepares
the hearts of Asian peoples for the fullness of life in Christ."
Yes, Asia has many religions. Yes, the Asian people
have sought answers to the deepest questions of life. But these
religions are just a preparation for their becoming Christians. That
is the essential point. Asia has given birth to the major religions,
and to many others, and millions in it still espouse traditional and
tribal religions, the Pope notes, and says, "The Church has the
deepest respect for these traditions and seeks to engage in sincere
dialogue with their followers. The religious values they teach await
their fulfillment in Jesus Christ." "The Church in Asia finds
herself among peoples who display an intense yearning for God," he
acknowledges, only to add, "The Church knows that this yearning can
only be fully satisfied by Jesus Christ, the Good News of God for
all the nations." And again that "The Church is convinced that deep
within the people, cultures and religions of Asia there is a thirst
for ‘living water’..., a thirst which the Spirit himself has created
and which Jesus the Saviour alone can fully satisfy."
True, these peoples have their ancient traditions
and beliefs. But it is the Church which by transmitting "her truths
and values" which "renews" them "from within," the Pope asserts. It
strengthens "the positive elements already found in them," he
maintains. It "refines" them, it "renews" them "in the light of the
Gospel." In a word, it is in their own interest that the Church
strives to bring the poor souls into Christianity! "The peoples of
Asia," declares the Pope on our behalf, "need Jesus Christ and his
Gospel. Asia is thirsting for the living water that Jesus alone can
give.... The disciples of Christ in Asia must therefore be
unstinting in their efforts to fulfill the mission they have
received from the Lord..."
In India we are taught to believe that God is
everywhere, that He has manifested Himself in many forms, and that,
therefore, we must subscribe to sarva dharma samabhav, etc. The Pope
has no time for such syrupy make-believe. In his eyes this is no
virtue, it is one of the difficulties in making Asians accept that
Jesus is the one and only Saviour, it is a notion that has to be put
out of harm’s way. Nor, he warns, is the notion that God is
universally present to be allowed to become "an excuse for a failure
to proclaim Jesus Christ explicitly as the one and only Saviour."
Indeed, he asserts emphatically, "the presence of the Spirit in
creation and history" points only to Jesus as the one "in whom
creation and history are redeemed and fulfilled." To Jesus, and to
the Church, he adds for good measure!
It is in this background that the Church’s
invitations to "dialogue" must be seen. Much is made of its
invitations, they are projected as proof of its openness, even of
its modesty -- see, we are willing to learn from others! Almost
without exception such non-Christians are invited for exchanges who
have little knowledge of the workings of the Church, and even less
of their own tradition. They feel compelled to recite the usual
homilies about "the essential unity of all religions," they repeat
the same platitudes about the Sermon on the Mount. And the Church’s
purpose is served: it can show that it is open, that it is tolerant,
that it respects people of other faiths.
What does the Pope say is the purpose of such
"dialogues"? "Ecumenical dialogue" -- by which he means dialogue
with non-Catholic Christians -- "is a challenge," he declares, "and
a call to conversion for the whole Church, especially for the Church
in Asia where people expect from Christians a clearer sign of
unity." The reason he gives for attaining unity among different
denominations of Christians is itself revealing: "The Synod of
Bishops acknowledged," he recalls, "that ‘the scandal of a divided
Christianity is a great obstacle for evangelization in Asia.’ " For
us, of course, what he says about the form and purpose of "dialogue"
with non-Christians is even more important.
"From the Christian point of view," he declares
candidly, "inter-religious dialogue is more than a way of fostering
mutual knowledge and enrichment; it is a part of the Church’s
evangelizing mission, an expression of the mission ad gentes."
"Christians bring to inter-religious dialogue the firm belief," he
continues, "that the fullness of salvation comes from Christ alone
and that the Church community to which they belong is the ordinary
means of salvation."
He recalls that he has already written in an
earlier communication to the Asian Bishops, "Although the Church
gladly acknowledges whatever is true and holy in the religious
traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as a reflection of that
truth which enlightens all people, this does not lessen her duty and
resolve to proclaim without failing Jesus Christ who is ‘the way and
the truth and the life’... The fact that the followers of other
religions can receive God’s grace and be saved by Christ apart from
the ordinary means which he has established does not thereby cancel
the call to faith and baptism which God wills for all people."
Those not accustomed to the circumlocutory
enunciations of the Church would do well to note the condescending
phrase, "whatever is true and holy in the religious traditions of
Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam as a reflection of that truth which
enlightens all people." What is true and holy in these religions?
That which conforms to Christianity! The rest is but a groping, a
preparation for being fulfilled in Christianity!
Therefore, the Pope reminds the assembled Bishops
that he has earlier instructed them in Redemptoris Missio, "There
must be no abandonment of principles nor false irenicism" -- that
is, Christians engaged in "dialogue" must not fall for false
attempts to create peace. He is explicit, what he wants Christians
to strive for is, to use his words, "Evangelization in dialogue and
dialogue for evangelization."
As this is the purpose, he declares that "only
those with mature and convinced Christian faith are qualified to
engage in genuine interreligious dialogue." Only such persons "can
without undue risk and with hope of positive fruit engage in
interreligious dialogue." And therefore he urges the Church in Asia
"to provide suitable models of interreligious dialogue.... and
suitable training for those involved."
And he draws attention to some devices that are
already yielding "good results." "Scholarly exchanges," "common
action for integral human development," "defence of human and
religious values" -- friends who get so enamoured at being called to
seminars and workshops on such topics should remember what the
purpose of such get-togethers is. Exactly what the purpose of the
erstwhile Comintern used to be in setting up "Peace Conferences" and
But there is more that the Pope has dispelled, as we shall see,
more for which we must be grateful to His