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The Nature of Dialogue

by Brother David Carroll, F.S.C., Ph.D.

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As we move toward a new millennium, the wisdom of the fathers of Vatican II becomes clearer. In an effort to deal with the countless and complex issues dividing humanity in the name of the one God, the fathers called for dialogue, both ecumenical and interfaith. This dialogue requires a move beyond the mere tolerance of other faith beliefs and has as its objective the knowledge and acceptance of other religious communities as they choose to define themselves. Without dialogue, societies – usually out of fear – generalize, or even demonize, one another. And demonization, as best illustrated in Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan, often leads to anarchy, violence and death.

The process of dialogue must take place on four levels. Dialogue of the heart enables us to share in God’s creation as partners. Dialogue of daily life calls us to promote human values that we share with God as our guarantor. Dialogue of speech invites us to speak of the Lord and put aside our distractions with power, wealth and all that is not essential to God and humankind. And dialogue of silence asks us to listen, that God may speak with us, touch our hearts and inspire us to act and speak as the Lord’s servants.

The objective of ecumenical dialogue is reunification of the Christian churches. The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity provides a forum for Catholics to engage in dialogue with members of the non-Catholic Christian churches.

Within this council a special commission has also been set up to manage religious relations with representatives of the Jewish community.

A substantive rapprochement between non-Christians and Catholics is the goal of interreligious dialogue, which is encouraged by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Religious relations with Muslims are conducted by a special commission of the council.

Although these official organizations guide the dialogue process, it is actually conducted by the actions of people of faith. Numerous exchanges take place on the local level, which may be best suited to fulfilling the four levels of dialogue. And those agreements that are forged by the local exchanges are then channeled to the official church-led dialogues for review.

The process of dialogue is complex; certain elements are essential. In his May encyclical, “Ut Unum Sint” (That All May Be One), Pope John Paul II dedicates several paragraphs to the nature of dialogue. The Holy Father notes that charity, forgiveness, humility and reconciliation are indispensable if those in discussion are to deal objectively with the cultural, psychological, social and theological factors that have contributed to humanity’s division, which the Pope speaks of as our “sin of separation.”

In genuine dialogue we must listen to the story of our partner. Dialogue of the heart demands we hear and genuinely respond to those wounds that may have been inflicted by our forebears. We must also make every effort to understand the faith truth that is imbedded in a cultural context, language and worldview that may differ from our own. Is the truth, though presented differently, absolutely false, or is it valid?

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Tags: Unity Ecumenism Christian-Muslim relations Catholic-Orthodox relations