Having a conversation with those who are different is an essential part of life whenever there is more than one person. With seven billion-plus it is as important as ever. When it comes to religion …
The church in the first place promotes an ecumenical dialogue, that is, with churches and ecclesial communities which profess faith in Christ, the Son of God and only savior. She also promotes dialogue with the other communities of people who are seeking God and wish to have a relationship of communion with him.
It might be that talking with people who claim not to seek God, or who have rejected God is also important. It is God who places people in our path, within earshot of us, and in our presence. Or perhaps it is God who plants us near nones and others. We can pay attention in those circumstances.
Meanwhile, mending divisions within the Body is vital. We have little credibility within Roman Catholicism these days based on many of our arguments.
At the basis of this dialogue with the other churches and Christian communities and with the other religions, and as a condition of her credibility and effectiveness, there must be a sincere effort of permanent and renewed dialogue within the Catholic Church herself. She is aware that, by her nature, she is the sacrament of the universal communion of charity;(Lumen Gentium, 1, 9, 13) but she is equally aware of the tensions within her, tensions which risk becoming factors of division.
The heartfelt and determined invitation which was already extended by my predecessor in preparation for the 1975 Holy Year (Pope Paul VI, apostolic exhortation Paterna Cum Benevolentia) is also valid at the present moment. In order to overcome conflicts and to ensure that normal tensions do not prove harmful to the unity of the church, we must all apply to ourselves the word of God; we must relinquish our own subjective views and seek the truth where it is to be found, namely in the divine word itself and in the authentic interpretation of that word provided by the magisterium of the church.
Sadly, the institutional magisterium has failed in its own witness to penance and reconciliation in the intervening years since this document. I think we are heading to a longer fallow period where we apply ourselves to the Word of God and the witness of Jesus not only in the Gospels but in the inspired life of saints, past and present.
In this light, listening to one another, respect, refraining from all hasty judgments, patience, the ability to avoid subordinating the faith which unites to the opinions, fashions and ideological choices which divide-these are all qualities of a dialogue within the church which must be persevering, open and sincere. Obviously dialogue would not have these qualities and would not become a factor of reconciliation if the magisterium were not heeded and accepted.
One excellent example, too infrequent, is when the bishops of the magisterium give example of contrition, confession, and making amends when individuals engage in hastiness, intellectual fashions, and ideology.
The simple truth is that every individual fails at some point in expressing openness to others, unity with Christ, and virtue as an example for others. I think we see in this paragraph a personal commitment of John Paul II, of which he made an example in his own life:
Thus actively engaged in seeking her own internal communion, the Catholic Church can address an appeal for reconciliation to the other churches with which there does not exist full communion, as well as to the other religions and even to all those who are seeking God with a sincere heart. This she has been doing for some time.
This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.