That opportunities may increase for dialogue and encounter between the Christian faith and the peoples of Asia.


On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the Church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all. This is the challenge before you! Dialogue, in fact, is an essential part of the mission of the Church in Asia (cf. Ecclesia in Asia, 29). But in undertaking the path of dialogue with individuals and cultures, what should be our point of departure and our fundamental point of reference, which guides us to our destination? Surely it is our own identity, our identity as Christians. We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. We can’t dialogue, we can’t start dialoguing from nothing, from zero, from a foggy sense of who we are. Nor can there be authentic dialogue unless we are capable of opening our minds and hearts, in empathy and sincere receptivity, to those with whom we speak. In other words, an attentiveness in which the Holy Spirit is our guide. A clear sense of one’s own identity and a capacity for empathy are thus the point of departure for all dialogue. If we are to speak freely, openly and fruitfully with others, we must be clear about who we are, what God has done for us, and what it is that he asks of us. And if our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures. Fearlessly, for fear is the enemy of this kind of openness.

The task of appropriating and expressing our identity does not always prove easy, however, since – being sinners – we will always be tempted by the spirit of the world, which shows itself in a variety of ways. I would like to point to three of these. One is the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pulls us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair. It is a temptation which nowadays also affects Christian communities, causing people to forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, “there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Gaudium et Spes, 10; cf. Heb13:8). Here I am not speaking about relativism merely as a system of thought, but about that everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity.

A second way in which the world threatens the solidity of our Christian identity is superficiality, a tendency to toy with the latest fads, gadgets and distractions, rather than attending to the things that really matter (cf. Phil 1:10). In a culture which glorifies the ephemeral, and offers so many avenues of avoidance and escape, this can present a serious pastoral problem. For the ministers of the Church, it can also make itself felt in an enchantment with pastoral programs and theories, to the detriment of direct, fruitful encounter with our faithful, and others too, especially the young who need solid catechesis and sound spiritual guidance. Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree. An agreement to disagree… so as not to make waves… This sort of superficiality does us great harm.

Then too, there is a third temptation: that of the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations. Jesus clashed with people who would hide behind laws, regulations and easy answers… He called them hypocrites. Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it “goes out”. It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission. In this sense, faith enables us to be both fearless and unassuming in our witness of hope and love. Saint Peter tells us that we should be ever ready to respond to all who ask the reason for the hope within us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). Our identity as Christians is ultimately seen in our quiet efforts to worship God alone, to love one another, to serve one another, and to show by our example not only what we believe, but also what we hope for, and the One in whom we put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:12).

Finally, together with a clear sense of our own Christian identity, authentic dialogue also demands a capacity for empathy. For dialogue to take place, there has to be this empathy. We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns. Such empathy must be the fruit of our spiritual insight and personal experience, which lead us to see others as brothers and sisters, and to “hear”, in and beyond their words and actions, what their hearts wish to communicate. In this sense, dialogue demands of us a truly contemplative spirit of openness and receptivity to the other. I cannot engage in dialogue if I am closed to others. Openness? Even more: acceptance! Come to my house, enter my heart. My heart welcomes you. It wants to hear you. This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity. If we want to get to the theological basis of this, we have to go to the Father: he created us all; all of us are children of one Father. This capacity for empathy leads to a genuine encounter – we have to progress toward this culture of encounter – in which heart speaks to heart. […]

17 August 2014

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The importance of dialogue

Today I will focus on the Apostolic Journey to Sri Lanka and the Philippines, which I made last week. After my visit to Korea a few months ago, I again returned to Asia, that continent rich in cultural and spiritual traditions. The Journey was above all a joyful encounter with the ecclesial communities which, in those countries, bear witness to Christ: I confirmed them in their faith and missionary spirit. I will forever carry in my heart the memory of the festive welcome from the crowds — in some cases the size of an ocean — which accompanied those salient moments of the Journey. Furthermore, I encouraged interreligious dialogue at the service of peace, as well as the journey of those peoples towards unity and social development, especially with families and young people playing a prominent role.

The culminating moment of my stay in Sri Lanka was the canonization of the great missionary Joseph Vaz. This holy priest administered the Sacraments, often in secret, to the faithful, but he helped all those in need from every religion and social condition, without distinction. His example of holiness and love for neighbour continues to inspire the Church in Sri Lanka in her apostolate of charity and education. I pointed to St Joseph Vaz as a model for all Christians, called today to offer the saving truth of the Gospel in a multireligious context, with respect for others, with perseverance and with humility.

Sri Lanka is a country of great natural beauty, whose people are seeking to rebuild unity after a long and dramatic civil conflict. In my meeting with Government Authorities I stressed the importance of dialogue, respect for human dignity, the need to involve everyone in order to find appropriate solutions to further reconciliation and the common good.

The different religions have a crucial role to play in this regard. My encounter with religious leaders was a confirmation of the good relations that already exist between the various communities. In this context, I wanted to encourage the cooperation already undertaken by the followers of different religious traditions, in order to also heal, with the balm of forgiveness, those who are still afflicted by the suffering of the last years. The theme ofreconciliation also marked my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu, deeply venerated by the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples and a centre of pilgrimage for members of other religions. In that holy place we asked Mary, our Mother, to obtain for all the people of Sri Lanka the gift of unity and peace.

From Sri Lanka I flew to the Philippines, where the Church is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Gospel’s arrival. It is the foremost Catholic country in Asia, and the Filipino people are well known for their deep faith, their religiosity and enthusiasm, even in the diaspora. In my meeting with the nation’s Authorities, as well as in moments of prayer and during the crowded concluding Mass, I stressed the continual fruitfulness of the Gospel and its capacity to inspire a society worthy of man, in which there is room for the dignity of each and for the aspirations of the Filipino people.

21 January 2015

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