By REV FR DENIS CHIDI ISIZOH Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Vatican City
Recently, through online video, one Joseph Okechukwu accused Pope Francis of working to create a "one-world-religion". Okechukwu's lack of information about the Catholic Church's interreligious initiatives in the last fifty-five years is baffling. He sees everything from the perspective of political elections in the United States of America. And he speaks with the arrogance of a proud, ignorant person. LET IT BE SAID LOUD AND CLEAR: When it comes to the activities of the Catholic Church to promote interreligious relations, Okechukwu is dumb and he has no idea about what he is talking. There is nothing new under the sun. Two decades ago, another person displayed a kind of Okechukw's ignorance, though not so crass. Here below is my official response to Cornelia R. Ferreira, when I was working in the Office for Interreligious Dialogue, Vatican City.
The Editor, Homiletic and Pastoral Review P.O. Box 591810 San Francisco, CA 94159-1810. U.S.A. 5 March 1999.
Recently, our attention was drawn to an article, “The one-world church emerges” by Cornelia R. Ferreira, published in the January 1999 edition of your journal, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, in which the author expressed her fears for the increasing coming together of different religious leaders which, according to her, is tending towards a unification of all religions — a “one-world church”. I am writing you because her description of the role of the Holy Father, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and some of the leaders in the Catholic Church, amounts to a misrepresentation of facts. While it is not my intention to take her up point by point, I would like to make the following comments, especially for the information of your readers.
1. The Church has received the divine mandate from Jesus Christ to bring the Good News of salvation to all peoples. Like our Lord Jesus Christ whose mission is outlined by Himself in Luke 4:16-22, the Church has the obligation to meet the human person wherever he or she is. In the Bible, we have the account of various ways in which our Lord met the human person. Based on this model, the Second Vatican Council, especially in Lumen Gentium nn. 13, 16 &17; Ad gentes n.9; Gaudium et Spes n.92; Dignitatis Humanae n.2; and Nostra Aetate nn. 1-4 set out guidelines to continue this outreach. The Church is ever conscious of her divine mission in the world to proclaim the Good News by responding to the yearning of every human being (Christian and other believers alike) for God and for truth, for justice and peace, freedom and salvation.
2. It is for this reason that the Pope meets all peoples, no matter their race, language and religion. For the same reason, the Assisi prayer meeting was called by the Pope in 1986 to bring people of many religions to come together to pray for peace. The message of the Holy Father on that occasion underlined the reason for the Church’s involvement in bringing followers of various religions together. It is not an attempt to form one world religion. For the same purposes the Pope addressed, at their request, the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) in the Vatican City in 1994. Is the writer blaming the Pope for these initiatives?
3. The same effort to reach the human person led Pope Paul VI to establish the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in 1964 as the central office of the Catholic Church for contacts with other believers who are not Christians. The Council has undertaken studies of various religions and promoted programs aimed at building bridges of understanding among different religions. In 1984 the Council published its guidelines, The attitude of the Catholic Church towards the Followers of other Religions. This was followed in 1991 by another important document, this time in collaboration with Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, entitled Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both dialogue and proclamation of the Gospel are parts of the evangelizing mission of the Church. In 1994, a collection of all relevant sections of the documents of the Vatican II Council, the teaching of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II; guidelines from various offices of the Holy See, was published in three languages, the English title being Interreligious Dialogue, The Official Teaching of the Catholic Church (1963—1995).
3. The same desire of the Catholic Church to meet every human being is demonstrated in the messages which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue sends out every year (signed by the President) to Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus during their celebrations. It is also the reason why this Council sometimes works with the WCRP in so far as it promotes one of the values that is dear to the human person: peace. The WCRP is not a Holy See organ.
5. But in meeting other believers, there is no attempt on the part of the Catholic Church to promote a merging into one of the various religions. Religious syncretism is a theological error. That is why the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue does not approve of the United Religions Initiative and does not work with it. Indeed, when Bishop Swing came to the Vatican City in 1996 to solicit support from the Council, Cardinal Arinze clearly expressed his reservations about the proposal. As the United Religions Initiative develops, the reasons for not collaborating with it become more evident.
6. Religious freedom is taught and promoted by the Catholic Church. No human being should be coerced into becoming a follower of any religious tradition, for religion is proposed and should never be imposed. This does not mean that all religions are reduced to the same common denominator. Ferreira’s quotation on p.12 that Cardinal Arinze “criticized” those who hold that their religion is ‘superior’ to others is strange and undoubtedly not correct. The Cardinal has always defended the religious identity of each religion and the uniqueness of Christianity. He has insisted that one religion is NOT as good as another. This view is re-echoed in his most recent book, Meeting Other Believers, being published by Our Sunday Visitor. May I request those who want to know the Cardinal’s thinking to read that book?
7. The adoption of all that is good, true, and beautiful in all cultures by the Catholic Church has its biblical foundation, and it is further explained in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of the Popes. The Gospel is at home in every continent and among all peoples. This is why the Second Vatican Council and some of the Synods of Bishops have emphasized the need for inculturation of traditional or tribal values to make every person who converts to the catholic faith to be at home in his or her culture and at the same time an authentic Christian. Cardinal Arinze addressed the Tekakwitha Conference in Melbourne in 1997 on such matters. The writer misquoted the Cardinal on these two talks and showed that she did not understand what he actually said.
8. May I add that there are indeed some organizations and sects which may be working for a “one-world church” or “one-world religion”. The Catholic Church does not approve of such. It is, however, not impossible that in some international conferences, there are interests at work of which a Catholic participant may not be aware. Our Pontifical Council tries to be discerning when we receive invitations. We welcome advice and suggestions. May I finally suggest that Catholics and others who want to know the stand of our Church should strive to read official Church documents, especially in the last forty years. Moreover, they should insist on reading the original texts of speeches said to have been made by officials of the Church, rather than relying on secondhand reports.