Excerpt from the speech of the native Sri Lankan prelate, currently secretary of the department for interreligious dialogue, at the conference promoted by the Urbaniana University on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the election of Bergoglio: “For Francis, dialogue is a sacred act: we invites us to place ourselves before the other, seeing it as a gift from God”.
Rome () – In recent days, the tenth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis has been the occasion of many public reflections on his teaching. We publish below an excerpt from the speech given by one of the most significant Asian figures of the Roman Curia at the Urbaniana University on March 14: Monsignor Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage, a priest originally from the Diocese of Badulla, in Sri Lanka, who since 2019 he is secretary of the dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. From his speech -in which Monsignor Kodithuwakku exhaustively addressed the vision of Pope Francis on interreligious dialogue- we propose below the part in which he dwells on the relationship between dialogue with brothers of other religions and the mission of the Christians.
If dialogue is an integral part of the mission, what role does Pope Francis assign to the proclamation?
Pope Francis maintains that “evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from opposing each other, support and feed each other” (Evangelii Gaudium 251). Therefore, he invites us to pay attention to the “essential link between dialogue and proclamation” (ibidem) because “it is from this profound identity -our being founded on a living faith in Christ- that our dialogue begins” (a the bishops of Asia, Haemi Shrine, August 17, 2014). He stressed that “true openness implies remaining firm in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity”, and at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each one of the parts” (Evangelii Gaudium 251). Thus, the dialogue is not unilateral, but “by listening to each other, both parties can purify and enrich themselves” (Evangelii Gaudium 250).
Pope Francis tells us that dialogue is not a purely intellectual act, but a sacred act: “dialogue invites us to place ourselves before the other, seeing it as a gift from God, as someone who challenges us and asks to be recognized.” Therefore, he insists that “true dialogue requires moments of silence, in which to capture the extraordinary gift of God’s presence in the brother or sister” (Jubilee Audience on Mercy and Dialogue, Vatican City, 22.10.2016). In addition, the Pope observes that authentic dialogue also requires a capacity for empathy “that leads us to see others as brothers and to ‘listen’, beyond their words and actions, to what their hearts want to communicate. In this sense, dialogue requires of us a true contemplative spirit of openness and receptivity towards the other” (to the bishops of Asia, Sanctuary of Haemi, August 17, 2014). Linked to empathy is mercy, which invites us to bow down to those in need. The Pope notes: “The theme of mercy is familiar to many religious and cultural traditions. Bowing with compassionate love to the weak and needy is part of the authentic spirit of religion. The very word “mercy” is a call to an open heart and compassionate.” (cf. Address to representatives of different religions, Saint Peter’s SquareNovember 3, 2016).
If interfaith dialogue is a sacred and compassionate act, what is the relationship between dialogue and prayer? Quoting the Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis observes that “religion, by its nature, is a certain relationship between God and the human person. It finds its expression in prayer, and prayer is dialogue” (to the participants in the International Meeting for Peace of Sant’Egidio, Sala Clementina, September 30, 2013). In Azerbaijan, Pope Francis further explained this relationship: “Prayer and dialogue are deeply interconnected: they spring from the openness of the heart and extend to the good of others, mutually enriching and strengthening” (Baku, Azerbaijan, October 2 of 2016).
It must be said that interreligious dialogue, in addition to being a sacred act, is also an encounter with the sacred mystery that manifests itself through a triple dialogue. Pope Francis stresses: “Others drink from other sources. For us, the source of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Fratelli Tutti 277). Naturally, this interreligious pilgrimage will help us to deepen the encounter with our own sacred mystery; to discover and appreciate the spiritual treasures of other religions and “as Christians, we too can benefit from these treasures accumulated over many centuries, which can help us better live our convictions” (Evangelii Gaudium 254); and also to work together for a more humane world.
On this subject, it is worth mentioning some experiences of inter-monastic dialogue. The Benedictine monk Hendri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) observed: “The mystery that is present in my heart is the mystery that is also present in every human heart. In the place where God dwells, no one is separated from his brothers and sisters. In the center of his heart, where God is and where God alone is, finds the whole human family and all creation mysteriously present”.
Thomas Merton, in Bangkok in 1968, highlighted the objective of his dialogue with other religious seekers: “I come [como] a pilgrim eager to obtain not just information, not just ‘facts’ about other monastic traditions, but to drink from the ancient sources of monastic vision and experience. I believe we have now reached a stage of religious maturity (long overdue) where it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment, and yet learn deeply from a Buddhist or Hindu discipline or experience, for example. . I think some of us need to do this to improve the quality of our monastic life.”
* Secretary of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue