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 "Peace Committees"!
But there is more that the Pope has dispelled, as we shall see, more for which we must be grateful to His Holiness.
November 19, 1999