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Relations with Non-Christian Religions

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 5 June 1985 - in French, Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Christian faith meets in the world with various religions that take their inspiration from other teachers and traditions outside the stream of revelation. We must take their reality into account. As the Council says, "Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? What gives rise to our sorrows and to what intent? Where lies the path to true happiness? What is the truth about death, judgment and retribution beyond the grave? What, finally, is that ultimate and unutterable mystery which engulfs our being, and whence we take our rise, and whither our journey leads us?" (NA 1).

With this fact the Council, in the Declaration Nostra Aetate, begins to treat of the Church's relations with non-Christian religions. It is significant that the Council spoke out on this subject. To believe in a Christian way means to respond to God's revelation of himself, contained fully in Jesus Christ. But especially in the modern world, this faith does not escape a knowing relationship with non-Christian religions. Each one of them expresses in some way "what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship" (NA 1). The Church does not avoid this relationship but rather desires and seeks it.

Against the background of a vast communion in positive values of spirituality and morality, there is outlined above all the relationship of "faith" with "religion" in general, which is a special element in man's earthly existence. In religion man seeks answers to the questions listed above and in different ways establishes his own relationship with the "mystery which engulfs our being." The various non-Christian religions especially express this quest on man's part, while the Christian faith is based on revelation on God's part. And here - notwithstanding some similarities with other religions - lies their essential difference.

2. The Declaration Nostra Aetate nevertheless attempts to stress the likenesses. We read: "From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense" (NA 2). With regard to this we can recall that right from the early centuries, Christian thinkers loved to see the ineffable presence of the Word in human minds and in the achievements of culture and civilization: "All the writers, in fact, through the inborn seed of the Logos (Word) implanted in them, were capable of a dim glimpse of reality," said St. Justin (II, 13, 3). With other Fathers, he did not hesitate to see in philosophy a kind of "minor revelation."

But here we must define our terms. That "religious sense," that is, the religious knowledge of God on the part of people, goes back to the rational knowledge of which man is capable through his natural powers, as we have seen. At the same time it is distinguished from purely rational speculations by philosophers and thinkers on the subject of the existence of God. It involves the whole person and becomes a life force in him. It is distinguished above all from Christian faith as knowledge based on revelation and a knowing response to the gift of God present and at work in Jesus Christ. I repeat that this necessary distinction does not exclude a similarity and an agreement in positive values. It does not hinder one from recognizing, with the Council, that the various non-Christian religions (among which the conciliar document mentions especially Hinduism and Buddhism, and gives a brief outline of them) "try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing 'ways,' comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites" (NA 2).

3. The document continues: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men" (NA 2). My predecessor Paul VI, of happy memory, strikingly underlined the Church's position on this in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. These are his words, which borrow from the texts of the ancient Fathers: "They (non-Christian religions) carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. They are all impregnated with innumerable 'seeds of the Word' and can constitute a true 'preparation for the Gospel'" (EN 53).

Therefore the Church exhorts Christians and Catholics that "through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men" (NA 2).

4. We could therefore say that to believe in a Christian way means to accept, profess and proclaim Christ who is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6), so much more fully the more that the values of other religions reveal signs, reflections and, as it were, hints of him.

5. Among non-Christian religions, the religion of the followers of Mohammed deserves special attention by reason of its monotheistic character and its link with the faith of Abraham, whom St. Paul described as the "father...of our (Christian) faith" (cf. Rom 4:16).

The Muslims "adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even his inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God" (NA 3). But there is more. The followers of Mohammed even honor Jesus: "Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, his virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting" (NA 3).

6. Among non-Christian religions, the Church has a special relationship with those who profess faith in the Old Testament, the heirs of the patriarchs and prophets of Israel. The Council recalls "the bond that spiritually ties the people of the new covenant to Abraham's stock" (NA 4).

This bond, to which we have already referred in the catechesis dedicated to the Old Testament, and which brings us close to the Jewish people, is again emphasized by the Declaration Nostra Aetate when it refers to those common beginnings of faith, which are found in the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. The Church "professes that all who believe in Christ—Abraham's sons according to faith are included in the same patriarch's call...the Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy concluded the ancient covenant" (NA 4). From this same people comes "Christ in his human origins" (Rom 9:5), Son of the Virgin Mary, as also his apostles are its sons.

This entire spiritual heritage, common to Christians and Jews, constitutes an organic foundation for a mutual relationship, even though a great part of the children of Israel "did not accept the Gospel." Nevertheless the Church (together with the prophets and the Apostle Paul) "awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and 'serve him with one accord' (Zeph 3:9)" (NA 4).

7. As you know, after the Second Vatican Council a pertinent secretariat for relations with non-Christian religions was established. Paul VI saw in these relations one of the ways for the "dialogue of salvation" which the Church must carry on with all persons in today's world (cf. Encyclical Ecclesiam Suam, AAS 56, 1964, 654). All of us are called to pray and work that the network of these relations may be strengthened and enlarged, stirring up to an ever greater degree the will for mutual knowledge, collaboration and the quest for the fullness of truth in charity and peace. Our faith itself urges us to do this."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Je salue avec joie tous les pèlerins et visiteurs de langue française. Je les encourage à bien célébrer cette semaine la fête du Corps du Christ, présent dans le Saint Sacrement.

J’ai noté la présence de nombreux congressistes de la Fédération internationale des professions immobilières. Je les remercie de leur visite et je forme les meilleurs vœux pour leur activité professionnelle, conçue comme un service de leurs frères.

A tous je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Present at today’s audience are groups from England, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Korea, Canada and the United States.

I welcome the members of the NATO Defense College International Seminar and I pray that your efforts will advance the cause of peace in Europe and throughout the world.

* * *

My greeting goes to the group of Diocesan officials and Canon Lawyers from the United States who are currently visiting the departments of the Roman Curia. I am sure that your presence in Rome will serve to promote more effective collaboration between the Holy See and the local Churches. God bless you for your generosity in assisting your Bishops to perform their vital ministry in the Church.

* * *

I am happy to greet the Choir of the Risen Christ Church from Singapore. Thank you for your participation at this audience. May you be twice blessed as you raise your voices in praise and thanks-giving to the Lord.

And upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially the groups of Sisters, I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.

Ai fedeli tedeschi

Herzlich grüße ich alle heutigen Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Seid euch stets eurer Würde und Sendung als Christen bewußt. Es ist eine große Gnade zur Kirche Jesu Christi zu gehören. Wir haben dadurch aber auch eine um so größere Verantwortung für unsere Mitmenschen und für die Welt. Der Herr schenke euch Treue und Mut in eurem Bekenntnis zu Christus und seiner Frohen Botschaft. Das erbitte ich euch von Herzen mit meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Y ahora presento mi cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular, deseo dar la bienvenida a este encuentro al Presidente del Tribunal Supremo de España y a los miembros del Consejo Superior de la Magistratura, junto con sus esposas.

* * *

Saludo al grupo de religiosas Oblatas de Santa María, procedentes de Saltillo (México) y a las personas integrantes del “Movimiento de Viudas de Naím” en Venezuela.

* * *

Asimismo, a los directivos de la Misión Católica Española en Suiza y a los peregrinos provenientes de Bilbao, San Sebastián, Madrid, Valencia y Palma de Mallorca.

A todos los peregrinos de España y de los diversos Países de América Latina imparto complacido la Bendición Apostólica.

Ad un pellegrinaggio brasiliano

Queridos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Com uma palavra de simpatia, quero saudar os fiéis brasileiros do Movimento “Fonte de Deus”, provenientes do Rio de Janeiro. Desejo-lhes que se alegrem sempre com a própria fé, que esta lhes seja luz na caminhada da vida e, testemunhada, sirva a outros de ajuda, para encontrarem a fonte de felicidade: Deus!

Ad un gruppo di pellegrini ungheresi

Diletti pellegrini ungheresi.

Vi saluto con affetto a Roma.

La mia benedizione apostolica a voi e a tutti i cattolici ungheresi.

Ai fedeli giunti dalla Polonia

Pozdrawiam serdecznie pielgrzymów z parafii św. Katarzyny i św. Małgorzaty z Kęt z archidiecezji krakowskiej; od ojców Redemptorystów z Krakowa; pielgrzymkę katedralną z Tarnowa; pielgrzymkę z archidiecezji w Lubaczowie; pielgrzymkę z parafii Niepokalanego Poczęcia Matki Bożej z Łasku; Matki Bożej Ostrobramskiej z Kolumny, diecezja łódzka; pielgrzymkę Polonii b. Wolnego Miasta Gdańska; z Krotoszyna w archidiecezji poznańskiej; z parafii św. Katarzyny z Goleniowa, diecezja szczecińsko-kamieńska; oraz różne grupy turystyczne, jako też kolejarzy z Lublina . . . Życzę wszystkim obecnym, a także za waszym pośrednictwem wszystkim rodakom w Ojczyźnie i poza Ojczyzną błogosławieństwa Bożego w tym miesiącu czerwcu - zwłaszcza młodzieży, zwłaszcza tym, którzy się przygotowują do matury albo do egzaminów wstępnych na uniwersytety, na wyższe uczelnie. Szczęść Boże.

Ai pellegrini italiani

Esprimo il mio cordiale saluto a tutti i gruppi di lingua italiana che partecipano a questa udienza.

Tra essi sono alcuni ciclisti, i quali, insieme col padre Battista Mondin, intraprenderanno in questi giorni una marcia in bicicletta al santuario della Madonna di Czestochowa.

Accanto a loro vi sono i componenti della società ciclistica “Gruppo 1 San Massimo” di Verona, venuti fino a Roma in bicicletta per prendere parte a questo incontro.

Carissimi, vi ringrazio per questo vostro atto gentile e vi esprimo il mio plauso per lo spirito sportivo e insieme religioso da cui siete animati. Lo sport che voi compite da dilettanti vi alleni anche a meglio conseguire quegli ideali umani e cristiani che sono necessari al controllo e dominio di sé e al rispetto della persona altrui.

* * *

Rivolgo ora un pensiero alla Corale San Gregorio VII di Salerno, della quale ho avuto occasione di apprezzare il canto pochi giorni fa nella loro città.

Ne saluto tutti i componenti, ringraziandoli per la loro presenza e auspicando ogni bene per essi e per le loro famiglie.

Ai giovani

Un paterno saluto rivolgo con compiacimento a voi, giovani. Siate i benvenuti, figli carissimi.

L’imminenza della solennità del Corpo e del Sangue di Cristo mi offre occasione di esortarvi ad avere una familiarità sempre più piena di fede col Redentore ed essere, così, in lui, con lui e per lui, “segno di unità”. Donate all’uomo la ricchezza spirituale che vi è offerta permanentemente alla mensa eucaristica, diventando apostoli tra quanti cercano la verità e hanno bisogno di amore e di aiuto.

Di cuore vi imparto la propiziatrice benedizione apostolica, perché vi accompagni sempre la grazia del Signore.

Ai malati

Mi volgo ora, con particolare affetto e attenzione, ai malati. Carissimi, giunga a ciascuno di voi il mio particolare saluto. Siate certi che Cristo è accanto a voi sempre, soprattutto con quel “sacramento di pietà” che è l’Eucaristia, mediante la quale egli vi sostiene e vi consola, chiamandovi ad essere con lui sacrificio di lode e di intercessione per il mondo.

Abbraccio con la mia benedizione apostolica voi e quanti con amore e dedizione vi assistono.

Agli sposi novelli

Voglio, infine, indirizzare il mio saluto a voi, sposi novelli, che desiderosi di incontrare il Papa, siete qui convenuti, per ascoltarne la parola e riceverne la benedizione.

Vi invito ad alimentare il vostro amore, che il sacramento del matrimonio ha redento e reso santo, col cibo eucaristico, “vincolo di carità”, ed essere testimoni di una vita lieta, capace di condivisione, di perdono e di indefettibile fedeltà.

Nel cammino intrapreso, vi accompagno con la mia preghiera e di cuore vi imparto la propiziatrice benedizione apostolica.


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