According to a study conducted with the University of St. Thomas class of 2019 (figure 1), there is a variety of worldviews and/or religions represented on campus. These include Christianity, Agnosticism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, non-religious, etc. As a Catholic institution, the University of St. Thomas values a culture of interfaith dialogue. This value has a longstanding history within the Catholic Church. Figure 1 Most recently, in February 2019, Pope Francis signed a joint document with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar called Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. The document was the result of more than fifty years of the Catholic Church planting the seeds for a culture of dialogue in the world. The seed was first planted in 1965 with the document Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), in which the Catholic Church adopted the concept of dialogue with other religions.
Nostra Aetate states, ‘the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men’ (Nostra Aetate, n. 2) In the 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi (Proclaiming the Gospel), Pope Paul VI referred to religions as “the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people,” carrying within them “the echo of thousands of years of searching for God.” Pope John Paul II took a major initiative to promote world peace and understanding among believers by twice convoking “a Day of Prayer for Peace” in Assisi, Italy. At the conclusion of the day on the 27th of October 1986, Pope John Paul II said “The very fact that we have come to Assisi from various quarters of the world is in itself a sign of this common path which humanity is called to tread. Either we learn to walk together in peace and harmony, or we drift apart and ruin ourselves and others. We hope that the pilgrimage to Assisi has taught us anew to be aware of the common origin and common destiny of humankind. Let us see in it an anticipation of what God would like the developing history of humanity to be: a fraternal journey in which we accompany one another toward the transcendent goal which He sets for us.” Thirty years ago, Pope John Paull II described interreligious dialogue as walking together, side by side on a common pilgrimage. A pilgrimage where no one is leading, but rather traveling together as equals. In our time, after years of exploration, dialogue can be understood in many ways.
At the purely human level, it is “reciprocal communication, leading to a common goal or, at a deeper level, to interpersonal communion.” (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation, 9) In the context of religious diversity, dialogue means not only discussion, but also constructive relations with individuals and communities of different religions, which, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom, are directed at mutual understanding (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Mission, 3). It includes “witness and the exploration of respective religious convictions” (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Proclamation, 9) With reference to the initiatives of the Catholic Church to reach out to people of other religions, dialogue is also understood as “an attitude of respect and friendship” (ibid) In 1984 the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue introduced four forms of interreligious dialogue (Dialogue and Mission).
In 1991 the document, Dialogue and Proclamation, was released and briefly and conveniently summarized the four forms of interreligious dialogue.
- The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.
- The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
- The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.
- The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.
Interreligious dialogue does not aim at conversion. Nevertheless, it does not exclude that such dialogue might be an occasion of conversion. This is understood because all believers are “pilgrims of truth and peace” (Pope benedict XVI, “address at the Meeting for Peace in Assisi,” 27 October 2011). By dialogue, people from different religious traditions meet to listen to each other, to come to know and respect one another, and thus to work together in society “in projects of common concern” (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Dialogue and Mission, 13). By coming together, an opportunity is created for the globalization of once localized problems. Problems such as misunderstandings and intolerance in society which are often expressed in violent conflicts and are at times inflamed by the manipulation of religious affiliations and sensitivities. In order to face the growing challenges and move towards peaceful coexistence among believers of different religions, a proliferation of interreligious dialogue initiatives have emerged; not only by religious leaders but also by civil authorities, individuals, and groups from different walks of life. In the more than fifty years of exploring and promoting interreligious dialogue, it has been found that the most successful dialogues are those in which each participant is well-formed in his/her particular traditions, faith and/or worldview. In addition, he/she must have the basic human qualities and virtues essential for any interreligious encounter. Qualities which include: firmness of religious and/or worldview conviction; readiness to understand people of other traditions without pretense, prejudice, or close-mindedness; genuine love; humility; prudence; honesty, and patience.
Finally, in order to achieve a sincere and fruitful dialogue among people of different religions and/or worldviews, it is fundamental that there be reciprocal respect, in both theory and practice, in order to recognize the inherent dignity of the dialogue partners and, in particular, their religious freedom. Based on its Catholic identity, the University of St. Thomas strives to offer students many opportunities to encounter and dialogue with different people with various religious traditions and worldviews. Next, your instructor will assign each student in your class a unique opportunity at St. Thomas for you to research and write about, and present to the class. These opportunities will be available to you during your time at St. Thomas and provide constructive and meaningful ways to engage students with different religious traditions and worldviews to your own.