"Interreligious Dialogue:
Report of the Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue:
A response"

(A Response to the Section of Fr. Kolvenbach's Report to the Congregation of Procurators pertaining to Interreligious Dialogue)

It is both pleasing and edifying to read Fr. Kolvenbach's comments on Interreligious Dialogue in his report to the Congregation of Procurators. It confirms the depth and solidity of the Congregation's insight that interreligious dialogue is intrinsic to our work as Jesuits. The work in the area of dialogue since the Congregation, described in this report, seems already to be bearing great fruit. The reports that have been published on the Krakow and Cairo meetings, for instance, indicate that these were intellectually challenging and stimulating events, while the relatively new idea of gathering Jesuits to reflect on our contact with indigenous cultures and oral religious traditions sounds exciting. I look forward to hearing more about the reformulated identity and mission of the Biblicum (PBI) in Jerusalem, and particularly about the Center for the Study of Religions at the Gregorian which, I hope, will facilitate the engagement of younger Jesuits in the hard work of learning the details and depth of the philosophies, theologies, and practices of various religious traditions. On the whole, the report should make us appreciate more fully the steady and quiet work of the Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome, and encourage us to read Jesuits in Dialogue regularly where grassroots initiatives and the hitherto unnoticed work of individual Jesuits in dialogue can be brought to our attention.

It is important to recall, of course, that this report on dialogue is just one part of a large appraisal of the Society's response to the Congregation. It is important to emphasize the integrity of the Congregation's work, that all its initiatives need to be considered together, lest individual projects like dialogue seem to rise or fall on their own, as isolated projects. The values of dialogue can fruitfully be integrated with established pastoral and educational works. In particular, interreligious dialogue should fruitfully be kept in connection with the Society's and Church's continuing work in the area of Christian ecumenism. While the issues in Christian ecumenism and those in interreligious dialogue are not identical, the two conversations are deeply interconnected. How the Church engages Protestant and Orthodox Christians necessarily affects how we think of ourselves as Catholic Christians, and consequently how we see ourselves in relation to Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, and members of other and the various smaller indigenous traditions. So too, as we learn from people of other faiths, this will affect the way we think of ourselves as Catholics and Christians, and so too how we relate to other Christians as well.

While the Report describes interesting and new initiatives, of course we all know that the Society has been involved in interreligious encounter for a very long time. We are now revitalizing concerns and commitments that go back to the origins of the Society, to Ignatius's contact with Jews and Muslims, Francis Xavier's encounters with Hindus and Buddhists in Asia, and the local theologies, experiments, and practical projects of Jose Acosta, Alessandro Valignano, Mateo Ricci, Roberto de Nobili, Alexander de Rhodes, the Jesuits in French Canada, and many others as well. Over the centuries Jesuits have been educated to think about other religions in certain ways, and we have fashioned particularly, peculiarly Jesuit combinations of erudition, apologetics, education, and pastoral accommodation in many parts of the world. It will be important to get more deeply in touch with this past - perhaps at the centers in Rome and Jerusalem - so that we can refine our particular Jesuit charism for some (and not all) modes of dialogue. Our future in dialogue is in part predicted by our history, and in this case it will be of practical value to study our past anew.

But as soon as I make this point about retrieving "our" history, I become very aware that for the most part I am speaking about early European Jesuits who ventured out into a wider world. We can stumble at this point by thinking of dialogue as yet another version of "Europe meets the world." Indeed, my impression is that the Congregation's words, and Fr. Kolvenbach's report, will be taken by many of us as referring to settings in Asia and Africa that were traditionally considered missionary territory. Dialogue may be taken as an expected activity in settings where well-established Christian and non-Christian communities have lived side by side for a long time, and nowadays have to devise better ways to reach out to one another. Likewise, dialogue will seem to make sense in settings where a tiny Christian minority seeks dialogue with a majority comprised of people from one or more other faith traditions. But the United States has not been a missionary territory for a rather long time; Christians form the vast majority of the population, and we Catholics comprise the largest single religious group. We can easily think of ourselves as a Christian, or "Judeo-Christian" culture, and it may seem rather exotic, a low priority on a long list of things to do, to expect that we American Jesuits should think seriously about dialogue with people belonging to diverse religious traditions which are now actually quite near to us - e.g., Native Americans in the Midwest and Northwest, Vietnamese Buddhists in California, Muslims in Detroit, Hindus in New Jersey, Rastafarians from the Caribbean, recent converts to Asian religions, and New Age searchers everywhere.

Yet American individualism (each of us is expected to plot her or his own life journey, on every level) and pluralism (nowhere on earth is as religiously diverse as are the big cities of the United States) create a situation where all of us - devout Christians and Jesuits included - are inevitably involved in a complex, multi-leveled interaction with people of other traditions, and in the construction of personal religious identities where many choices crowd in upon us. Choices abound and individuals are drawn into dialogue long before their institutions and leaders take notice. It is a great challenge for us Jesuits living in countries like the United States to take to heart and find local, practical applications for those exciting goals and initiatives of the Congregation which Fr. Kolvenbach's report has brought again before our eyes.

Since the Society is so deeply rooted in different cultures now, I would also love to hear more about the experience of Asian and African and South American Jesuits who have lived in Europe and North America and formed views of these cultures and religious situations. I.e., we need to hear, for example, not simply what Asian Jesuits think we can do in Asia, but how they think we should respond to religious pluralism in London and Warsaw and Los Angeles. Ideally, interreligious dialogue will also involve a new crosscultural dialogue among ourselves in the various assistancies of the Society.

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.
Coordinator for Interreligious Dialogue, United States Assistancy,
Professor of Comparative Theology, Department of Theology, Boston College

This article orignally appeared in: " CIS, Review of Ignatian Spirituality, xxxiii , pp 63-66



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