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Theology of Dialogue in the Context of FABC during the forty Years : Its Beginning and Future Vision



Dr Soosai Arokiasamy, S.J.

Vidyajyoti, Delhi

When we reflect on dialogue and its theology, we note that 85% of the people of the world who do not belong to the Christian community live in Asia. Of this only 4.5% are Christian and 3% are Catholic. We are aware of the minority situation of Christians in the continent. Commitment to dialogue goes beyond a mere practical response to the minority situation of Christians and the church. It springs from a theological understanding of the reality of Asian religions and God’s salvific design for all.

First, we need to recognise that in the multicultural and multireligious continent that Asia is, people of different faiths have lived a life of dialogue for long and continue to live it today. Relations between people and daily encounter are part of people’s life and history in our continent. Asian people have a deep sense of community, spontaneity of compassion and a consistent desire for harmony of life. Intercultural and interreligious relations define their dialogue of life. They also experience occasional conflicts. The collective wisdom born of their sense of community, compassion and harmony of life helps them handle conflicts.  Dialogue of life is part of the style and the way of life of Asian peoples. The reality tag for all forms of dialogue is building relations between communities and peoples.

It is here we situate our reflection on theology of dialogue.

There are three parts in the paper. In part I, I deal with the opening of the windows of the Second Vatican Council for fresh air in the Church calling for a Church in dialogue. In part II, I reflect on the praxis and theology of dialogue in FABC. In part III, I reflect on the future of praxis and theology of dialogue for the Church in Asia.

First I want to underline that the dialogue of life mentioned above historically precedes the openings for interreligious dialogue of Vatican II for the mission of the Church.

We also note the simple fact of dialogue of life present in our ministries of service. In schools and colleges, in centers of health care of the Churches in the continent, people of different religions are fellow students and fellow patients. The multifaceted daily relatedness is part of the Asian Christians.  This relatedness of the Church with people of other faiths should not be taken for granted but needs to be gratefully accepted and reflected upon in the light of faith for its effective mission of witness and service.  This will be our starting point and an initial strength for the ministry of dialogue. This way we enter into other forms of dialogical living, action, theological exchange and sharing of religious experiences. Our interreligious encounter is always for the service of the Gospel for the life of the world.

FABC in its agenda for interreligious dialogue for mission assumes the history of dialogue of life Asian peoples existing for centuries and claims that church( hence Christians of the continent) is part of this reality of Asian peoples.

Hence in Asia we do not start our ministry of dialogue as if from a clean slate. That people of different religions and cultures in Asia have been living as neighbours in daily life and in work places becomes a locus theologicus and an important source for the understanding and praxis and theology of dialogue for FABC.

For the Church of Today, the Second Vatican Council made a difference to become a Church in dialogue. Let me briefly refer to the openings made by the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church through its conciliar and post-conciliar documents.

Part I. The Second Vatican Council and the Opening of the Windows for Fresh Air.

John XXIII in the context of convoking the Council spoke of opening the windows of the Church for fresh air to blow in. Today we could speak of a dialogal Church. For Karl Rahner, the Church of Vatican II has become a world Church. One important result of the opening of the windows for fresh air to blow into the Church is the Church in dialogue. The Church in her mission of witness and service is a Church in dialogue with the world and religions of the world. Being Church is being in dialogue. In this connection, we mention the important documents of the Council that clearly articulate the mandate for a Church in dialogue with the world and with religions: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, 28 Oct. 1965), Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes, 7 Dec. 1965) and Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae, 7, Dec. 1965).  Besides these three documents, I mention also Ad Gentes and Lumen Gentium.  Among all these Nostra Aetate is the document that deals specially with Church’s relations with other religions. In this connection I would refer to what John Paul II says on this conciliar document. John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (31) refers to this document of the Council as “the magna carta of interreligious dialogue for our times.”

It clearly mentions the duty and the challenge of dialogue with other religions (no.2). In the same no. 2, the Declaration speaks of the positive yearnings of the followers Hinduism and Buddhism for liberated life. “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrine which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless, often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.”  The same declaration speaks of Islam and Judaism in a positive tone underlining their monotheistic faith and their spiritual treasures.

We mention also Ad Gentes on missionary activity of the Church. It speaks again of the need for familiarity with the religious traditions of people and respect the seeds of the word that lie hidden among them (no.11).

Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium no.16) states that the followers of other religions can be saved: “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know through the dictates of their conscience- those too may achieve eternal salvation. Nor shall divine providence deny the assistance necessary for salvation to those who without any fault of theirs have not yet arrived an explicit knowledge of God , and who, not without grace, strive to lead a good life.” This statement also contributes to a positive attitude towards other religions.

The Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) speaks of the objective foundation of religious liberty and its necessity for man’s relationship with God and affirms freedom for believers to practice their religion immune from coercion and give public expression to it as right of individual believers and community of believers subject only to the just requirements of public order (no.4).

Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) provides a broader vision of the Church in dialogue with the world in all aspects of people’s lives, cultures, politics, economics and religions for its mission of witness and service (cf nos 1,42,,58, 73, 76. 92).  The Church respects everything good in culture, religions and the ways of people’s life. Nothing human is alien to the Church.  “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts” (no.1) As John Paul II used to say that the way of the Church is the way of human person.  Another important text of Gaudium et Spes in the context of dialogue is: “For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” (no. 22). In this connection we cannot forget Ecclesiam Suam of Paul VI affirming the dialogue of God with all humankind and the way of dialogue as essential mode of the Church’s life for its mission  and works for peace.

Resource Manual for Catholics in Asia, Dialogue edited Edmund Chia introduces the post-conciliar documents bearing on dialogue published by the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of FABC (Cf pp. 24-90). I refer to some them relevant to theology of dialogue.   


It recognises the need for dialogue in the changing relationship between the sacred and the profane and demanded by the pluralism of society. It speaks of three concentric circles of dialogue, namely with the world of non-believers, with people of other religions and with other Christians. The other post-conciliar documents affirm the dialogue agenda. We mention the following: In 1984, the Pontifical Secretariat for dialogue with other religions  on the Church’s relation with the followers of other religions focusing on the common journey of religions towards a world of peace, justice and harmony as an expression of God’s will for the fullness of life for all. John Paul II addressing the Secretariat for Non-Christians on 3rd March, 1984 emphasised  “the importance and the need  which interreligious dialogue  assumes for all religions and all believers, called today more than ever to collaborate  so that every person can reach  his transcendental goal and realise his authentic growth, and to help cultures to preserve  their own religious and spiritual values  in the presence of rapid social changes” (Quoted in Being Church in Asia, Vol, Ed. John Gnanapragasam and Felix Wilfred, Quezon City, Claretian Publications, 1994, p.8).

In May 1991, two dicasteries of the Vatican, namely the Congregation for Evangelisation of Peoples and the Pontifical Secretariat for Non-Christian Religions came out with a common document: Dialogue and Proclamation outlining the interrelatedness between proclamation of the Gospel and dialogue with religions.

Benedict XVI responding to the letter of 138 Islamic scholars on The Common Word says that the path to true dialogue lies in “effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.”

Ecclesia in Asia the post-synodal apostolic exhortation basically affirms the perspectives of the Council with attention to the understanding and the practice of interreligious dialogue of FABC.

Part II. Theology of Dialogue in FABC.

Preliminary Observations: I make two simple introductory observations. 1. In FABC documents, one would not find an ex professo development of theology of dialogue. What we find is the consistent emphasis on dialogue as the way of being Church and the mode of doing mission in Asia. FABC does provide also the theological parameters for this mode and praxis of the mission of the Church.  All of this implies a theology of dialogue though implicit in all the activities engaged by FABC and its various offices.

  1. Besides, we keep in mind that theology of dialogue is not a theology of propositions but one based on experience of dialogical relations and engagements and therefore one of praxis.

In theology of dialogue, I would like to underline the need for a sound theology of religions and its importance for the practice of dialogue. In this paper I do not enter into theology of religions which is intimately related to praxis and theology of dialogue.

In a theology of dialogue, the following idea is significant. In a theology of dialogue, theology of religions and the practice of dialogue, we do not bracket our personal and collective faith as it were in an ‘epoche’. In our faith we remain open to the self-understanding of other religions by their followers and are ready to receive from them what the religions can offer us to help us discover the truth. It also creates interreligious friendship. These encounters of friendship enrich our perceptions and understanding of our own faith. In this we learn to recognise and appreciate faith as a blessing and above all as a gift, not a conclusion of intellectual arguments.

Beginnings and orientations.

With the  orientation  and impetus for dialogue given by Vatican II and by some of the postconciliar documents of the Vatican referred to in Part I, Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences(FABC) gave itself a vision for mission of the Church in Asia . It meant a new self-understanding of the Church. It is a Church in dialogue on mission.  It also meant the Church is an insider and is part of the realities of the continent. From the time 189 Asian bishops met together in Manila on the occasion of the visit of Pope Paul VI in 1970 and reflected on the task of evangelisation in Asia, for FABC,  dialogue has been the essential mark of being Church in Asia and its mode of doing mission.

The first General Plenary Assembly in Taipei in 1974 understands the mission of the Church in Asia in this way: “The most basic mode of mission in Asia must be dialogue, missionary dialogue, of course; we must explore the interface of the Gospel’s meanings and values with the realities of Asia and its many peoples- its histories and cultures, religions and religious traditions and especially its “its poor masses” in every country. These realities- cultures, religions life situations of poverty- make up the ambience and context where the Gospel is to be proclaimed” FABC Paper, 131, p.7). The same statement continues:  “This overarching program of dialogue with cultures (i.e.inculturation), with the religions and religious traditions (i.e. interreligious dialogue), and with our peoples, especially the poor multitudes in Asia (i.e. development/liberation) has been the thematic background of both the pastoral and missionary activity of the local churches in Asia” (Ibidem, pp7-8). The first FABC Plenary Assembly statement (28 April 1974, Taipei) serves as an overall framework for the missionary and pastoral activities of FABC in the succeeding years. It was also understood that “interreligious dialogue is neither a replacement for the proclamation of Christ nor a preliminary to proclamation.  The ideal for evangelisation should be dialogue” (FABC Paper, 9).

The subsequent Plenary Assemblies followed the orientation that the mode of dialogue is the way of being Church and doing mission in Asia. It meant engagement and dialogue with the realities of religions of the continent, the cultures and the poor of Asia. This became the well-accepted triple dialogue of FABC.  FABC in all its work through its Plenary General Assemblies, its various offices, especially the Office for Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs promoted mission in the framework of triple dialogue.  Sri Lankan theologian, Aloysius Pieris would speak of double baptism that the Church in Asia must undergo to fulfil its mission. It is baptism in the Jordan of Asian religiosity and baptism on the Calvary of Asian poverty. The triple dialogue of FABC embraces this double baptism. I would say that theology of dialogue in FABC has integrated the triple dialogue with a spirituality of double baptism for the praxis of mission.  One could say that FABC in all its work was striving to realise this in the work of evangelisation. In the 1971 meeting of the Asian bishops said: “We pledge ourselves to an open, sincere and continuing dialogue with our brothers (and sisters) of other great religions of Asia, that we may learn from one another how to enrich ourselves spiritually and how to work more effectively together on our common task of total human development” FABC Paper 131, p.6). Dialogue which summarises the orientation of FABC is the pivotal point around which FABC understands the Church and its mission in Asia.

The second Plenary Assembly in 1978 reflected on the prayer life of the Church. In this context, it considered that interreligious dialogue would enrich the prayer life and spirituality of the Church by the spiritual traditions of other Asian religions. Theology of dialogue includes also spirituality of dialogue.

The Assembly of East Asian Region of FABC in March of 1979 affirms that interreligious dialogue is integral part of the mission of the Church and that it will serve as a common point of contact with other religions in the search for a new humanity and new human family (FABC Paper, 131, p.11).

FABC Office created by the Central Committee in October, 1974 planned a series of Bishops’ Institute of Interreligious Affairs (BIRA) starting from 1979 when First BIRA meeting was held.

BIRA I in Oct. 1979, in its statement clearly affirms that dialogue is intrinsic to the life of the Church and the essential form of all the work of evangelisation (Ibidem). The same BIRA meeting recommends dialogue as a component of parish life, friendship and collaboration in building harmonious ways of living. The two  Seminars for Religious Affairs (SIRA) of FABC consider interreligious dialogue a pastoral priority and that it should be a lifestyle encompassing living in harmony with peoples of other faiths  (FABC Paper 131, p.20).

In this connection, we must mention the attitudes required for the work of dialogue with other religions. FABC in its General Assembly statements and the different BIRA meetings emphasise them. They are not merely human attitudes of etiquette but also expressions of a spirituality of dialogue: openness and sensitivity, receptivity, honesty and humility of spirit, sincere disinterestedness and fraternal love that holds reverence for the feelings of others. Here we could add courtesy and hospitality and the Buddhist ‘reverence for reverence’ (Kenneth Cragg, The Christian and Other Religion, London, Mowbrays, 1977, p.18).

BIRA II held in Nov. 1979, emphasises dialogue of life  “as the most essential of dialogue in which the daily living together in brotherhood, helpfulness and open-heartedness with people of other religions and mutual witness from the values found in their faiths”( FABC Paper 131, p.14).

The Consultation on Christian Presence among Muslims in Asia held in Nov.-Dec. 1983 mentions the theological foundation for dialogical relations: “The Church believes that all are offered salvation in Jesus Christ, and this universal salvific will of God affirms God’s activity in other living faiths” (FABC Paper, 131, p. 17). The same Consultation affirms that the twin reality of poverty and religiosity in Asia should be the meeting point for dialogue with followers of other faiths (Ibidem, p.18). Dialogical theology affirms that dialogue is always between persons, not systems. Others (here Muslims) become fellow pilgrims on the path to the Divine and be open to the “ever more abundant movement of God’s grace” (Ibidem). Praxis of dialogue by addressing social issues of the time becomes   meaningful and fruitful in service at moments of disaster, suffering, marriage, death and festivities.

A true metanoia is part of a theology of dialogue.

BIRA IV-1 (Oct. 1984) gives expression to the need for a true metanoia: “A true metanoia regarding the importance of dialogue in the mission of the Church is one of the first goals to be attained if interreligious dialogue may ever become a reality. This affects both pastors and ordinary faithful. Measures should be taken to favour this change of heart and mind at the earliest possible time: the Church in Asia should move now” (Ibidem, p.21).

BIRA IV-2 took up the theme “The Church in the Service of God’s Reign” which would strengthen the theological perspectives of the theology of dialogue.  In this meeting, BIRA affirmed that “this dialogue is based on the firm belief that the Holy Spirit is operative in other religions as well” (Ibid. p.22). The same  meeting observes further: “The Church in dialogue with all of creation, with all peoples, with her own self and above all with God. In concrete this dialogue takes into account the totality of life” (Ibid. p. 22). This BIRA meeting emphasised the formation of basic Christian communities leading to the formation of basic human communities because they will be the agents of interreligious dialogue at the base level.  In the ongoing reflection of FABC and BIRA meetings, the thinking is that the local community is the prime agent of dialogue. Since it is dialogue of faith, it breathes spiritual values. Spirituality of dialogue is a transformative spirituality helps us in the work of creating new humanity. It also helps the new way of being Church to serve God’s purposes for humankind. This has been one of the constant affirmations of FABC. The same meeting expressed the need for formation programmes to help these communities to have knowledge of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam with the help of courses (Ibidem, p. 22).

BIRA IV/ 4  in its reflection on theology of dialogue  stated: “Interreligious dialogue flows from the nature of the Church , a community in pilgrimage journeying with peoples of other faiths  towards the Kingdom that is to come (Gaudium et Spes,1).  It is an ongoing process of common search  for mutual understanding and trust, leading us,  and our fellow pilgrims , towards a deeper appreciation of truth- truth about God and human person” (Ibidem, p. 24).

BIRA IV/ 6 in July 1987, also a Joint FABC-CCA Consultation considered that in the presence of  diverse religious traditions and ideologies together with situations of poverty  and political oppression and with politicalisation of religions dialogue is a clear priority for the Churches. Moreover it stressed the importance of sharing spiritual riches as people face great crises of life and death. This offers a chance to bear witness for Christians. According the statement of BIRA IV/ 6, dialogue is a lifestyle learned by doing (Ibid. pp. 25-26). It also emphasised the need for courses on dialogue and on other religions.

BIRA IV/7 in OCT.-NOV. 1988 emphasised the need for dialogue to address the socio-political context of fundamentalism and the need for a spirituality of dialogue for witness and proclamation in difficult circumstances. The meeting offers perspectives that touch theology of dialogue and its spirituality. According to it, dialogue cannot grow in a context of power but in vulnerability and trust. Indeed dialogue demands Christ-like self-emptying. We must acknowledge our own failure for conflict and disharmony (Ibid. p. 27).

BIRA IV/ 10 held in June, 1988 took up the theme of theology of harmony.  In this connection we could recall an elaborate study prepared by Theological Advisory Committee (TAC) of FABC entitled: Asian Christian Perspectives on Harmony (cf For All the Peoples of Asia, Vol. 2. ed. Franz-Josef Eilers, Manila, Claretian Publications, 1997, Pp.229- 298).  There is no harmony without justice. Social justice is integral to peace and harmony. Harmony is deeply an Asian Value emphasised by Asian religions, especially Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. BIRA IV/ 11 in its reflection on the theme “Theology of harmony rightly emphasised that “peace, harmony, fellowship and cooperation among religions seem to be a sure way to peace and harmony in our Asian societies” (FABC Paper, 131, p. 29). In Asian situation of religions and cultures, theology of harmony is part of theology of dialogue. In this connection, we mention one insight of BIRA IV/12 that “realisation the religions of Asia have a crucial role to play in God’s great enterprise to bring peace, communion and a more humane way of life to all peoples in Asia, indeed to the whole human family” (cf Ibidem, p.31).

BIRA V meetings mark a shift on themes for reflection. They started the series on particular religious traditions as found in different countries of Asia with a view to learning their valuable and meaningful perspectives for furthering harmony and cooperation between peoples.

BIRA V/1 was held in October, 1992 in Pakistan on the theme:  Working together for Harmony in the World in the context of Muslim population of the country. Participants understood harmony “as the presence in human interaction of order, wellbeing, justice, and love” (Ibid. p. 32). This is significant for the Church living with Muslims.  The same meeting underlined that our deepening of faith enables us to see the other as true brother and sister (Ibid. p.34).

BIRA V-3 held in Oct. 1995 reflected on dialogue in the context of Christians living with Hindus as in India. In a situation of pluralism the question was: Can we discover “the liberative and unifying potential of each religion” for effective for integral transformation? (Ibid. p.35). The meeting deliberated on the possibility of organising in every village and town friendship groups to promote interreligious understanding and cooperation. (Ibid. p.36).

 BIRA V-4 held in April 1996 in Taiwan reflected on what could learn from dialogue with Confucian philosophy and culture and on Taoism both of which emphasise social harmony of life. The participants realised that Christians realised that they could join in this project of harmony with their own understanding of the double commandment of love (cf ibid. 36-37).

In the BIRA meetings, participants were aware of the obstacles to dialogue: prejudiced attitudes towards other religions, lack of knowledge, fears that dialogue will dilute one’s religious convictions, fear of conversion.  They were aware of the obstacles created by exclusivist and extremist trends that could lead to violence whereas in their view should be a force for harmony in society.

In this connection we must mention Formation Institutes for Interreligious Affairs (FIRA) must be mentioned.  FIRA I was held in Sept. 1998.  In this meeting, bishops, priests, religious, ministers, parents, students and teachers took part to reflect and learn interreligious relations, prayer and spirituality including serious study of religions and the lessons of living together in brotherhood for building peace and harmony.  FIRA II held in July 1999, affirmed dialogue as a constituent dimension of every local church. “To be Church means to be a faith community in dialogue” (ibid. p.42). It also recommended learning of other religions through representatives of these religions.   It also stressed the need for a spirituality of dialogue for a healthy dialogue.

FIRA III held in Oct. 2000 emphasised the contextual approach to respond to the Asian realities of poverty and religious pluralism. The participants committed themselves to “the rereading and reunderstanding of the Bible in the context of Asian theologies” for interreligious dialogue (ibid. p.43).

FIRA IV held in Thailand in 2001 affirms that interreligious dialogue goes with intercultural dialogue and solidarity with the suppressed (cf ibid. p. 43). For the young bishop participants “dialogue of life is central to Christian life in Asia and a way to witness Gospel values” (ibid. p.43). It also stated that culture of dialogue   should grow from below for which basic Christian/basic human communities should serve as agents of dialogue of life from below (ibid. p.44). In the thinking of FABC-OEIA, the topic of interreligious dialogue will no longer be an appendix or supplement [FIRA V, ibid. p.45).

For the Church interreligious dialogue becomes a deep learning across religious borders. It leads to complementary enrichment, widening its self-understanding and learning more holistic perspectives of the mission of the church  for its future engagements with the others  and work for the common goal of a better world for all,  in the spirit of the Gospel of God’s reign.

The bishops of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei speak of what we can learn from different religions in their response to Lineamenta for the Asian Synod:

  • From Muslims, the Church can learn about prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
  • From Hindus, the Church can learn about meditation and contemplation.
  • From Buddhists, the Church can learn about detachment from materials goods and respect for life.
  • From Confucianism, the Church can learn about filial piety and respect for elders.
  • From Taoism, the Church can learn about simplicity and humility.
  • From Animists, the Church can learn about the reverence and respect for nature and gratitude for harvests.
  • The Church can learn from the rich symbolism and rites existing in their diversity of worship.
  • The Church can, like the Asian religions, learn to be more open, receptive, sensitive, tolerant, and forgiving in the midst of plurality of religions.

In our reflection we have to mention the contribution of Theological Advisory Committee (TAC) on theology of interreligious dialogue.

This committee prepared a document: Theses on Interreligious Dialogue. It was approved in 1987 in Singapore. It did facilitate reflection in FABC on dialogue and theology of dialogue. It states in its introduction: “The community of God, one and triune, the communion of His Kingdom, to which God calls all peoples and of which the church is the servant, make dialogue an integral dimension of the mission of the Church” (Being Church in Asia, Vol. I,   ed. John Gnanapragasam and Felix Wilfred, Quezon City, Claretian Publications, 1994, p.8).  The theses seek to provide a new paradigm for a new way of looking at reality in a pluralistic world, especially Asia.  TAC offers its reflection in the form of seven theses with commentary and recommendations. I would mention some of the important insights and perspectives the document offers.

Thesis 1 affirms the need for all religions in the context of multireligious and multicultural societies of Asia   struggling for liberation and wholeness to come together and provide “a common and complementary moral and religious foundation for this struggle” (Being Church in Asia, pp9-10). In this context, the Church is called to play a prophetic role in the public life of the people.  Religions are engaged in a common search, a common pilgrimage and growth in communion towards fullness (cf Being Church, p.12). Interreligious dialogue must embrace all dimensions of life and bring the liberative meaning of religions to bear on them.

 Thesis 2 calls the Churches and Christians in Asia to common witness and grow together towards fuller ecumenical communion (Being Church, p.12). The commentary draws attention to the unity of God’s salvific plan for humanity and the Church’s mission in relation this divine plan (ibid. p.13).

Thesis 3 affirms that interreligious dialogue is a demand of the mystery the communion of the Triune God who in Christ is reconciling all things to himself and is calling the church as the servant of this communion (Ibid. p.14).

Moreover, as thesis 4 states “interreligious dialogue is a communication  and sharing of life, experience, vision and reflection by believers of different religions searching  together to discover the work of the Spirit among them…It is journeying together in a communion of minds and hearts  towards the Kingdom to which God calls all peoples”( ibid.p.16).

Thesis 5 mentions the importance of communion that finds expressions in common prayer, reading of the Scriptures, Holy Books, participation in festivals and common action for liberation, animation and transformation of culture  and society. The same thesis mentions that renewal through interreligious dialogue must acknowledge sinfulness and accept mutual forgiveness and reconciliation (ibid. 17).

Thesis 6 observes that in evangelisation “dialogue and proclamation are integral but dialectic and complementary dimensions”.  While the Church bears witness to its own faith in dialogue, it must be open to the similar witness of other religious believers in dialogical relations and conversations (ibid. p.21). If proclamation is witness to God’s action in oneself, dialogue is openness to mystery of God’s action in the other believer (ibid. p.22). In this connection Asian bishops understand that evangelisation focused on building the local church takes place always in a triple dialogue with the cultures (inculturation), with religions (interreligious dialogue) and with the poor (liberation).

Thesis 7 affirms the task of the Church to be involved in the struggles of the people, especially the poor. This is integral to the task of building the local church (ibid. p. 24) and is part of the triple dialogue.

One could say that the theses on interreligious dialogue proposed by TAC have helped FABC in its reflection on the praxis of interreligious dialogue and have indicated also the theological foundations and parameters. Though theses do not speak explicitly of spirituality of dialogue, I understand it is implicit in its various theological affirmations and perspectives.

Part III

The Vision for the Future of Theology of Dialogue in Asia.

Can we articulate what it means to live Christian faith interreligiously in Asia? What have we to do to promote this way of living? These questions will call for ongoing reflection on the part of Christians and the Churches in the context of rapid changes of the continent.

I put my comments and suggestion for the future vision   for praxis and theology of dialogue under two broader headings:  A. The first will deal with the points that need consolidation and strengthening and new horizons for the practice of dialogue.

  1. The second will deal with the elements that need greater emphasis and development and thus would enter somewhat into the content of theology of dialogue.
  1. Points for consolidation and strengthening of praxis and new horizons for the same.
  1. We need to appreciate solidarity as a fine expression of interreligious relations. It can become an epiphany of our fundamental relational humanity. Dialogue and theology of dialogue can expand, enrich and deepen the quality of basic human solidarity which can become a source of great strength at times of great tragedies natural or of human origin besides being a precious source for building harmony and peace.

I give two examples of some charismatic persons and their expressions of solidarity.

I think of two great heroes of the 1990s. One is Cardinal Kuharic of Zagreb, famous for saying: “If someone burns down my house, I will go protect his house. If someone kills my father, I will go protect his father. If someone burns down my church, I will go protect his church.” Kuharic did that over and over again and set an important model. And alongside him and probably standing over him, standing over almost any one in that conflict, was Bishop Komarica of Banja Luka, who was a symbol always of inter-faith cooperation, caring for Muslims and Serbs and Croats in what had been the rectory – over 30 people living in that rectory from the different religious groups, feeding them all every day and speaking out for human rights. Whenever there was pressure on the Muslims, he was immediately at the side of the imam.

We also need to celebrate examples of international forgiveness, and repeat them.  I mention the deeply edifying expression of healing and reconciling outreach of King Hussein of Jordan. King Hussein’s great act was that after a Jordanian soldier killed a number of Israeli school girls on an outing, he came to Israel, visited each family and kissed the feet of the parents. It’s a great deed. It needs to be much better known. When King Hussein visited Jerusalem for this purpose, I was there attending an international meeting.

The above stories bear witness to the liberative and peace-building potential of all true religions and religious traditions and their power for healing and reconciling solidarity.

  1. Interreligious relations, never a means.

In these stories, there is no room for a mindset that tends to use interhuman and interreligious relations as a means. True religion liberates us from the idolatry of using people and interreligious relations as a means which is a betrayal of our relational humanity and its vocation to seek and build inclusive humanness in a world rampant with alienating ruptures.

  1. One significant shift of interreligious dialogue for the future would be: While we have a tradition of dialogue at the level of sharing religious experiences by way of prayer, meditation and interreligious prayer services, we may have consider how interreligious dialogue can engage with hard questions of social and political relations.
  1. Positively speaking, theology of dialogue in future will continue to set great store by interreligious living in which we journey together, work together and build together a more humanised world sustained by a persevering openness to the beckonings of God’s Spirit in the ongoing history of our continent.

In a pluralistic Asia, we need to affirm a dialogical way of living as the Gospel culture of Christian praxis in harmony with the spirit of reign of God. It can never be alien to the Gospel.

  1. before revisiting the triple dialogue of FABC, I would like to affirm two levels of dialogue in the mission of the Church.
  2. The first dialogue takes place at the level of our common relational humanity marked by spontaneity of respect for the dignity of fellow human beings and love. Without this first level dialogue, other forms and levels of dialogue are not possible. Here we are guided by an anthropological vision of relational humanity in which we affirm the equality of dignity and intrinsic worth of every human person. Here at this level we actualise our relational humanity in qualitative interhuman relations marked by equality of relationship free from hierarchical grading of human relationality and equality of dignity and intrinsic worth of every human person.
  3. In the context of our reflection on interreligious dialogue, we affirm the second dialogue at the level of fellow human beings being fellow believers. In this we recognise God’s presence and action in other religions and believers.
  1. Moreover I would like to emphasise that the forms of dialogue would get different emphasis according to situations of people- a demand of a pluralist situation. This also means that we also recognise that theology of dialogue in a situation religious and cultural pluralism of the continent will have situationally differentiated understanding, emphasis and responses but they will reflect at the same time certain common characteristics. That was why that some of the BIRA meetings considered this and reflected on the Church in dialogue according to the predominance of a particular religion in a country. This task has to continue to respond to newer challenges arising from such situations.

I would like to mention what we can learn through dialogue with Buddhist and Hindu traditions concerning relationality and interrelatedness as the core value for theology of dialogue and praxis of dialogue.

In the Buddhist tradition, interconnectedness between beings rooted in the theory of dependent co-origination in a recognition of the fundamentally relational nature of all reality and beings. In this perspective every being is “inter-being” (cf. M. Amaladoss, Making Harmony, (IDCR and ISPCK, 2003), p. 162).

 I would like to refer the Hindu concept of Yajna. According to the worldview implied in this concept, “everything is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. Interconnection, interrelation and interdependence are different aspects of all that is real (sat). Whatever is not interconnected, interrelated and interdependent is not real (asat). The real in this world is relational, the related” (Francis D’Sa, “Lokasangraha, The welfare of the whole world: A Hindu vision of world order”, Jnanadeepa, Vol. 2, no.1, 1999, p.49).  One would say that sat is samsat – ‘being with’, that is, sat is relational. The oriental tradition emphasises the relational nature of reality.

  1. FABC has recognised from the beginning that the church in dialogue will include ecumenical relations. In pluralistic Asia, the call for united common witness of all Christians and churches has become clearer than ever. We need to affirm the ecumenism of interreligious dialogue as essential for the oikumene of all believers and all peoples. It implies that the Catholic Church together with other churches learns new ways of interreligious dialogue for mission in Asia and works for solutions to fundamental issues of religion, culture and society.
  1. In the project of liberative social harmony between peoples which has been one of the goals of dialogue, we do face conflicts. In this context, the culture of dialogue religious communities would like to foster conflict resolution and conflict transformation as a search for peace based on common ethics and values. BIRA meetings of FABC did reckon with this task as part of interreligious dialogue. In the context of increasing violence, especially terrorism, conflict resolution and conflict transformation may need new dimensions for their effective practice in future.
  1. One important goal of interreligious dialogue remains still incomplete namely, building multi-cultural harmony. Because of this, the core focus of dialogue can never slip away from building peaceful and harmonious relations between people of different religious traditions and cultures. In this context, we must keep in mind that given the differing situations of religious pluralism of our continent, forms of dialogues will get different emphasis in different countries according to the composition of religious communities for which the local churches make choices and priorities in a process of discernment.
  2. Moreover, in a modernizing situation of Asia, dialogue between religions has to engage in more creative ways in encounter with the secular for a just world for all. This is important for the contribution of religions for a world of justice for all, for which all the secular forces and religious movements have to enter into the cooperative project of promoting the common good of all peoples. For us it is not clash of civilisations that matters but encounter and dialogue with religions and cultures.
  1. Elements and Perspectives that Need Greater Emphasis and Development for the Future
  1. The event of 9/11/2001 though it happened in the U.S., in a globally communicated and globally communicating world does raise a question on the future of interreligious relations which a relevant theology of dialogue has to continually grapple with. Such an event raises concern for the future of interreligious relations. We have to include its significance for the future of dialogue and its theology. We have to bring our faith to bear on it. In this connection, I am reminded of the words of Stanley Hauerwas on the same event: “The world changed in 33 AD. The question is how to narrate what happened on Sept 11 in light of what happened in 33 AD.’’ (Quoted by Michael Barnes in his reflection on 9/11 event in Thinking Faith Alerts. This is the task of theological reflection on such events that rattles our agenda of dialogue and its theology. Such events makes think about the value of human solidarity.

In our future reflections on theology of dialogue, the mission of the Church in the spirit of the Gospel of God’s reign will never cease to reject destructive biases which could be a temptation in the context of events like 9/11 and will always be faithful to the mission of building an interreligious fellowship of believers and fostering the value of human solidarity In our future reflections on theology of dialogue, the mission of the Church in the spirit of the Gospel of God’s reign will never cease to reject destructive biases which could be a temptation in the context of events like 9/11 and will always be faithful to the mission of building an interreligious fellowship of believers.

  1. In Asia we have made an exit from the colonial mindset that often accompanied Christian mission. Instead the Church has realised that it has to live the truth of the self-emptying (kenosis) of Christ as the supreme way of self-giving and serving. It is the mark of discipleship of the Church in Asia. It is conducive to dialogical living open to God’s ways. If we forget the kenotic Christology, we may cheapen our faith in crucified saviour.

Living the kenosis of Christ will bring about a new missiology that would stress listening, service and building relations.  In the Synod for Asia, a number of interventions by Asian bishops stressed kenotic Christology for the mission of the Church in Asia and the bishops affirmed strongly that we should leave behind the triumphalism that sometimes marked the missionary work. We may have to examine how much kenotic Christology has been part of theology of dialogue. An Asian theology of dialogue should be marked by the finality of crucified and humiliated Christ (Koyama).

  1. Fellowship of Faith Communities.

People of other faiths are our neighbours and fellow believers. In this approach missiology would be in the words of Kosuke Koyama “neighbou-rology” (Kenneth Fleming: Asian Christian Theologians in Dialogue with Buddhism, Oxford, Peter Lang, 2002, p.112) in which there is appreciation of ‘truth lived rather than proclaimed’. But evangelism and dialogue need to focus more on humanizing approach and ethical concerns with readiness to serve and meet people’s needs rather than getting fixated on doctrinal content with their controversies.  At the same time we have to recognise that there is a place for genuine dialogical efforts to understand the beliefs of the believers of different religions. We emphasise again that in this approach building relations with people comes first before dialogue with the content of religious beliefs.

  1. Are We Ready for Ethical Judgement in Dialogue with Religions?

We have learnt that dialogue with other religions affirms not only our positive attitude and appreciation of the value perspectives of other religions but also it leads to mutual enrichment and deepening of our own faith. There is also mutual purification. We must be open to the ethical judgement that comes from other religions.

5, Theology of dialogue includes inseparably perspectives of spirituality. For example, in a western approach, wisdom may be defined as a philosophy. In Asian religions, wisdom of religions is not just a fine species of philosophical knowledge. As Koyama points out, wisdom in the Buddhist tradition is a path which one walks doing acts of mercy (Fleming, p.7). Thus in Buddhism, wisdom and mercy form an inseparable unity (Fleming, p.79). 9). In Indian tradition wisdom could be named a sadhana, not only a marga. For Christians, the wisdom of Christ is the path of self-denial and self-emptying. It is our sadhana and marga. Buddhism has a deep insight into greed which for Koyama is a sign of God’s presence in the Buddhist way of life. This should be integrated in a spirituality of dialogue.

The above reflection affirms the need for the development of a Christian spirituality of interreligious dialogue. It should be part of theology of dialogue. This is absolutely in harmony with the ethos of Asian religions. The source of a spirituality of dialogue lies in God’s own dialogue with humankind that begins in creation, manifested in the ongoing history of humankind as liberation, redemption and salvation. Theology of dialogue too is founded in this great dialogue of God, for us Christians of the triune God with humankind.

A PIME missionary, Fr Sebastian D’Ammbra   working among Mindanao Muslims speaks of the style of God’s dialogue marked by compassion and love for all humankind because God is God of all (cf Faith Encounters in Social Action (FEISA) IV, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 2001, pp. 147-150). It means that we are taught by the dialogue of God with humankind.  This enters in the theology of dialogue and its spirituality.

In FABC BIRA meetings organised by the Office Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism the need for spirituality of interreligious dialogue was often emphasised.  Spirituality of dialogue as part of theology of dialogue is praxis-based. Learning from the traditions of spirituality of other faiths will also contribute to our efforts to develop and articulate a sound and solid spirituality of interreligious dialogue to sustain the Church’s mission in dialogue. This task has to continue.

  1. More than Language and Vocabulary.

The language of proclamation in the context of dialogical relations and fellowship of faiths: We are used to the traditional language of proclamation and dialogue in the work of mission while affirming their inseparability.  If dialogue and proclamation are inseparable, we need a language   appropriate to the way we understand the two expressions of the one mission of the Church. The word ‘proclamation’ of biblical provenance, especially N.T. is ‘kerussein’ (inf. ‘to proclaim’) and   the noun kerygma signifying that which is proclaimed is part of the mission language of the Church. Today in the context of the Church in dialogue with religions and relations and fellowship that develop between Christianity and other religions, we use more and more the expression of “sharing of our faith or the Gospel with others” (sharing what is uniquely specific and precious) and “bearing witness to our faith” in mutuality as appropriate expression of what we traditionally call proclamation. What we traditionally mean by proclamation is at the core of ‘sharing of faith’ and ‘bearing witness to faith.’ In theology of dialogue we take into account this new style of language for a dialogal Church.

  1. In a theology of dialogue, we need to foster and strengthen courtesy (here I would mention the Buddhist idea of ‘reverence for reverence’ and hospitality as specifically Asian expressions of appreciation and welcome marked by mutuality. ‘Hosting otherness of the other’ (Raimon Panikkar) means respecting and appreciating the otherness of the other which includes recognition of God’s presence and action and the work of the Spirit in other religions , their self-understanding of their own religious beliefs and praxis and their spirituality. It is basic to a culture of dialogue and style of dialogical fellowship. Have we grown in this and given sufficient thought to it in our theology of dialogue?
  1. We may ask if theology of dialogue has developed its thinking for praxis of dialogue on the conjunctive approach of ‘both and’ of Asian way of thinking in contrast to the disjunctive approach of ‘either or’ (principle of contradiction). Here we are reminded the expression of Nicholas of Cusa, ‘co-incidence of opposites’ (coincidentia oppositorum). However, we do not reject the principle of contradiction.
  1. Revisiting Triple Dialogue of FABC.

 Vatican II presents a church in dialogue with the world and affirms dialogical way belongs to the very nature of the Church rooted in God’s own dialogue with humankind.  The Church in Asia from the beginning of FABC understood the dialogical way of the Church in terms of triple dialogue, namely dialogue with cultures, dialogue with religions and dialogue with the poor. Let us remember that the expression is not three dialogues or three disparate dialogues but triple dialogue to emphasise the interrelatedness between them. Hence it is right to say that in triple dialogue the Church does its mission in Asia. It means that the Church shares (proclaims) its faith always in dialogue with the triple reality of cultures, religions and the poor. Theologically speaking, dialogue as the style of the Church in her work of evangelisation is rooted in God’s own dialogue with humankind as has been affirmed by FABC in its General Assemblies and BIRA meetings.  Doing mission in triple dialogue means we discern God’s presence and action of the Spirit in the three realities.  This I emphasise. Hence these three realities become resources for dialogue and theology of dialogue, not mere contextual background throwing up challenges for mission.  God’s dialogue with humankind embraces these realities of Asia (cf FABC VII, in For all the people’s of Asia, vol. 3.4).  The Church is there where God is.

“It is through the process of dialogue that the Church inculturates itself and contextualizes its mode of being and operating so as to give birth to a truly local church in Asia.”(Towards A Theology Of Dialogue, Edmund Chia, Bangkok, Thailand, 2003, p. 236). This statement makes clear that truly local church in Asia will be a church in dialogue. This vision for praxis of dialogue has to be affirmed and consolidated.

The three circles of dialogue of FABC may have to expand to include other realities of Asia including the type of globalisation that is engulfing Asia.  In a globally communicating and globally communicated Asia, interfaith relations hold promise for more creative and liberative solidarity between peoples, especially the poor, cultures, religions.

  1. Knowing the Scriptures of the Other

I consider that we learn more lessons from our dialogue with the way the people of other religions live their faith rather than from speculative knowledge of their beliefs which we could gather from the libraries. This in no way diminishes the importance of research and study of other religions. Even such a study of religions will bring richer understanding if done in a context of dialogical experience and praxis.   Study of texts of scriptures would demand an environment of dialogical relations. Dr Clooney is engaged in such studies which would benefit Christians for interreligious living (cf the book review by Gispert in VJTR).

In this connection what Clooney says according to the review of the book by Gispert in VJTR is important: His “favourite approach of dialogal theology calls for the study of foundational texts, generally “scriptural,” and their classical commentaries. He invites us to do a parallel reading of these texts with similar texts of our own faith tradition. One could perhaps say that the work he proposes has to do with spiritual intertextuality. He expects the comparative theology to be more than an academic undertaking: for him it is a spiritual sadhana that requires us to be vulnerable to the other and ever humble to learn from other than our own sources.” Study of religious texts done in this way could be an experience of and encounter with other religions. This could be an important task for theology of dialogue for the future. Though something in this area is being done, it would need greater emphasis and a new quality.

  1. Dialogue can help expand the understanding of the common good for our life in common. In this way, the very concept of the common good gets enriched and expanded by the dynamic value heritage of cultures including those of indigenous peoples and religions for a pluralist world. This applies very relevantly and meaningfully to pluralist Asia. Here we recognise the contribution of dialogue between cultures, religions and the poor and towards this enrichment and the promise it holds for the future of the common good of Asian peoples and the global community. This could make rich sense for the future of dialogue and its theology.

We could conclude this paper on a note of hope that the early part of the third millennium would mark the beginning of a new spiral of creative and liberative spiral interaction between Christians and other religions of the world for a civilisation of solidarity and harmony.


<Asian Theology for the Future>, Seoul : WTI 2012