June 28, 2003

[Chapter Three, Section II - Bearing Witness in Unity and Dialogue]

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Webmaster's Note: The following excerpt is a section of chapter 3, "Proclaiming the Gospel of Hope,"  of  Ecclesia in Europa.  In this section on ecumenical and interreligious matters, John Paul II links the "new evangelization" with "a profound and perceptive interreligious dialogue, particularly with Judaism and Islam." Earlier in the text, the pope had stated that "that the new evangelization is in no way to be confused with proselytism, without prejudice to the duty of respect for truth, for freedom and for the dignity of every person" [32]. Throughout the text, "new evangelization" encompasses all aspects of Christian life.  

In a very nuanced paragraph, the pope observes that interreligious dialogue "as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment" is an expression of the Church's mission ad gentes [to the nations].  His reaffirmation shortly afterwards that the Jewish people "are called by a God to a covenant which remains irrevocable (cf. Rom 11:29) and has attained a definitive fullness in Christ," recalls Cardinal Walter Kasper's recent statement that "There cannot be the same kind of behavior towards Jews as there exists towards Gentiles."

Note also the pope's declaration that "it is necessary to encourage dialogue with Judaism ... to work for a new springtime in mutual relations;" his insistence that "forgiveness must be sought for [antisemitism by Christians] from God;" and his reiteration that "every effort must be made to favor encounters of reconciliation and friendship" with Jews.


II. Bearing witness in unity and dialogue

Communion between the Particular Churches

53. The power of the proclamation of the Gospel of hope will be all the more effective if it is linked to the witness of a profound unity and communion in the Church. The individual Particular Churches cannot face alone the challenge before them. There is need for genuine cooperation between all the Particular Churches of the Continent as an expression of their essential communion; a cooperation which is also called for by the new reality of Europe.(95) Here mention must be made of the contribution offered by continental ecclesial bodies, beginning with the Council of European Episcopal Conferences. The Council is an effective means for exploring together appropriate ways of evangelizing Europe.(96) Through an “exchange of gifts” between the various Particular Churches, the experiences and the reflections of Western and Eastern, Northern and Southern Europe are shared and common pastoral approaches emerge. The Council is becoming an increasingly significant expression of the collegial sentiment linking the Bishops of the Continent, aimed at proclaiming together, boldly and faithfully, the name of Jesus Christ, the sole source of hope for everyone in Europe.

Together with all Christians

54. The duty of fraternal and committed ecumenical cooperation also emerges as an irrevocable imperative.

The future of evangelization is closely linked to the witness of unity given by all Christ's followers: “All Christians are called to carry out this mission in accordance with their vocation. The task of evangelization involves moving towards one another and moving forward together as Christians, and it must begin from within; evangelization and unity, evangelization and ecumenism are indissolubly linked”.(97) Therefore I once again make my own the words written by Paul VI to Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I: “May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind”.(98)

In dialogue with other religions

55. As is the case with the overall commitment to the “new evangelization”, so too proclaiming the Gospel of hope calls for the establishment of a profound and perceptive interreligious dialogue, particularly with Judaism and with Islam. “Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions”.(99) Engagement in this dialogue must avoid yielding to a “widespread indifferentism, which sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is often based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that 'one religion is as good as another' ”.(100)

56. It is rather a matter of being more vividly aware of the relationship which binds the Church to the Jewish people and of Israel's unique role in salvation history. As was already clear from the First Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops, and was reaffirmed in the latest Synod, there is need for acknowledgment of the common roots linking Christianity and the Jewish people, who are called by God to a covenant which remains irrevocable (cf. Rom 11:29) (101) and has attained definitive fullness in Christ.

Consequently it is necessary to encourage dialogue with Judaism, knowing that it is fundamentally important for the self-knowledge of Christians and for the transcending of divisions between the Churches, and to work for the flowering of a new springtime in mutual relations. This demands that each ecclesial community engage, to the extent that circumstances permit, in dialogue and cooperation with believers of the Jewish religion. This engagement also implies that “acknowledgment be given to any part which the children of the Church have had in the growth and spread of antisemitism in history; forgiveness must be sought for this from God, and every effort must be made to favour encounters of reconciliation and of friendship with the sons of Israel”.(102) It will likewise be appropriate to mention the many Christians who, sometimes at the cost of their lives, helped and saved, especially in times of persecution, these their “elder brethren”.

57. It is also a question of growing in knowledge of other religions, in order to establish a fraternal conversation with their members who live in today's Europe. A proper relationship with Islam is particularly important. As has often become evident in recent years to the Bishops of Europe, this “needs to be conducted prudently, with clear ideas about possibilities and limits, and with confidence in God's saving plan for all his children”.(103) It is also necessary to take into account the notable gap between European culture, with its profound Christian roots, and Muslim thought.(104)

In this regard, Christians living in daily contact with Muslims should be properly trained in an objective knowledge of Islam and enabled to draw comparisons with their own faith. Such training should be provided particularly to seminarians, priests and all pastoral workers. It is on the other hand understandable that the Church, even as she asks the European institutions to ensure the promotion of religious freedom in Europe, should feel the need to insist that reciprocity in guaranteeing religious freedom also be observed in countries of different religious traditions, where Christians are a minority.(105)

In this context, “one can understand the astonishment and the feeling of frustration of Christians who welcome, for example in Europe, believers of other religions, giving them the possibility of exercising their worship, and who see themselves forbidden all exercise of Christian worship” (106) in countries where those believers are in the majority and have made their own religion the only one admitted and promoted. The human person has a right to religious freedom, and all people, in every part of the world, “should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power”.(107)


(95) Cf. Propositio 22.

(96) Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Presidents of the European Episcopal Conferences (16 April 1993), 1: AAS 86 (1994), 227.

(97) John Paul II, Address during the Ecumenical Liturgy of the Word in Paderborn Cathedral (22 June 1996), 5: Insegnamenti XIX/1 (1996), 1571.

(98) Paul VI, Letter of 13 January 1970: Tomos Agapis, Rome-Istanbul, 1971, 610-611; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint (25 May 1995), 99: AAS 87 (1995), 980.

(99) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), 55: AAS 83 (1991), 302.

(100) Ibid., 36; loc. cit., 281.

(101) Cf. Synod of Bishops – First Special Assembly for Europe,, Final Declaration (13 December 1991), 8: Ench. Vat., 13, Nos. 653-655; Second Special Assembly for Europe, Instrumentum Laboris, 62: L'Osservatore Romano, 6 August 1999 – Suppl., 13; Propositio 10.

(102) Propositio 10; cf. Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, 16 March 1998, Ench. Vat., 1, Nos. 520-550.

(103) Synod of Bishops – First Special Assembly for Europe, Final Declaration (13 December 1991), 9; Ench. Vat., 13, No. 656.

(104) Cf. Propositio 11.

(105) Cf. ibid.

(106) John Paul II, Address to the Diplomatic Corps (12 January 1985), 3: AAS 77 (1985), 650.

(107) Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 2.