Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran affirmed this April 16 when he opened a five-day conference in Nairobi on "Formation in Interreligious Dialogue in Sub-Saharan Africa."
The conference brought together bishops and heads of interreligious dialogue departments of the Church in Africa, as well as representatives of other religions.
Participants examined programs of formation for different pastoral ministers (priests, religious men and women, and the lay faithful) to find out how best to prepare Catholics to relate well with people of other religious traditions.
The cardinal began his opening address by emphasizing that the Church promotes interreligious dialogue: "My dear friends, 43 years ago His Holiness Pope Paul VI, published his first papal encyclical, 'Ecclesiam Suam,' in which he underlined the new spirit of dialogue and collaboration manifesting itself in the world."
Respectful and meek
Paul VI, the cardinal explained, noted three categories of people with whom the Church would dialogue: those opposed to faith, non-Christians, and non-Catholic Christians.
"The foresighted Pontiff went further to describe the characteristics of this dialogue," Cardinal Tauran said. "It must respect human freedom and dignity and be accompanied by meekness. He drew attention to the dangers of relativism of watering down or whittling away of truth."
The pontifical council president went on to explain the advances in dialogue made with the Second Vatican Council's "Nostra Aetate," and the teaching of the Popes since then.
However, he clarified, the Church does not believe that all religions are more or less the same, though all the partners in dialogue are equal in dignity.
"As might be expected, for different reasons, not every person is enthused about interreligious dialogue," Cardinal Tauran acknowledged. "There are those who think that interreligious dialogue, if not a betrayal of the mission of the Church to convert every person to Christ, is a new method of winning members to Christianity.
"There are those who hold that the drive of the Church for interreligious relations is an effort to control the spread of other religions. It is not any of these. In 'Nostra Aetate,' 'The Church … urges her sons -- and daughters -- to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture."
Cardinal Tauran continued clarifying the nature of interreligious dialogue: "Interreligious dialogue is certainly a bridge-building exercise. […] It includes creating harmony in society, encouraging development of friendship and spirit of tolerance. But it goes beyond the niceties of polite conversation which encourages people to stay where they are and avoid talking about the grey areas of disagreement. It is a journey in search of the truth."
And, he said, it is dialogue "animated and expressed in works of charity."
Yet, with its now long history, interreligious dialogue is experiencing a new thrust, the cardinal proposed: "My dear friends, as you may know, interreligious dialogue takes different forms. It includes being together: living one's life as taught by one's religion. It is working together in projects of common concern. It is reflecting together on the teachings of one another's religion. It is also sharing together religious experiences.
"These ideas have been developed over the years by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue as forms of interreligious relations: dialogue of life, dialogue of cooperation, dialogue of theological discourse and dialogues of spiritualities."
Future is now
Cardinal Tauran said that dialogue of theological discourse has often been postponed for the future. But, he said, "in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, that future is now."
He explained: "Up till recently, discussions and praxis of interreligious dialogue have focused on the common spiritual bonds which Christians share with other believers. By emphasizing these bonds, Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, have constructed bridges of understanding between Christianity and other religions.
"The perceptible direction of Pope Benedict XVI is that, building on what his predecessors have put in place, he is now leading the Church to cross that bridge. Whereas other highlighted the common elements we share, he wants to emphasize, by use of reason, the distinctiveness of the Christian faith."
Thus, Cardinal Tauran proposed that Catholics, together with other believers, are on a path of seeking truth.
And they must be open, he affirmed: "Partners in dialogue must be open to talk about those issues not often put on the table: religious liberty, freedom of conscience, reciprocity, conversion, religious extremism, etc."