A fourth challenge that we wish to mention is that of continuing the move beyond the Western mould of Catholicism and, indeed, of much Christianity. The Catholic message about Jesus Christ and the way of living it in practice have, to some extent, already been indigenized in various cultures around the world. But more needs to be done, so as to adapt the language and life of Catholic faith to African, Chinese, Indian, and other cultural and religious forms.257 Being Catholic means hearing all the voices, so as to respect and incorporate within a united tradition all the true, healthy, and life-giving elements from cultures and religions everywhere. Here the teaching and practice of Pope John Paul II were exemplary; right from the start of his pontificate he showed himself open to what he called 'the treasures of human wisdom and religion' (Fides et Ratio, 31) and to the 'spiritual riches' with which God has endowed the peoples of the world (Redemptoris Missio, 55).
256 Belief or Unbelief , 78, 79; trans. corrected.
257 See what the post-synodal papal exhortations say on inculturation: from the 1995 Ecclesia in Africa (59—62, 78); from the 1999 Ecclesia in Asia (21—2); from the 2001 Ecclesia in Oceania (16—17).
The 'inculturation' of the Catholic proclamation of Jesus Christ is much more than a marketing device for adapting and selling the message. It comes right out of faith in Jesus himself. He is the Saviour who died for all (e.g. 2 Cor. 5: 14, 19) and who, in his risen glory, will be the final destiny of every man and woman of all times and places (Rev 21: 22—22: 5). But right here and now he has already united everyone to himself, as Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes, 22) and John Paul II (Redemptor Hominis., 13) vigorously insisted. All human beings, both individually and collectively, are affected by the powerful presence of Christ but also, as the Pope repeatedly emphasized, of the Holy Spirit, whose activity affects not only individuals but also the world's 'cultures and religions' (see Ch. 4 above). The Pope's teaching here recalls for us what St Irenaeus wrote about the Son and the Spirit as the 'two hands of God' working inseparably together for the enlightenment and salvation of all.
Such a faith in the universal presence and activity of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit provides, from a Catholic and Christian perspective, the deepest motivation for the most respectful and prayerful dialogue not only with Jews but also with Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the adherents of the other world religions. To be sure, admirable Catholics and other Christians have long ago initiated such a dialogue around the world. And they have frequently met remarkable partners in this dialogue. But the painful strife between Christians and members of other religions in the Balkans, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Sudan, and elsewhere makes the call to patient and forgiving dialogue more urgent than ever. John Paul II's peace message for New Year's Day 2002 rightly emphasized the need for greater interreligious understanding and co-operation. Worn out with age, gunshot wounds, and sickness, he gave right to the end a shining example by trying to encourage greater respect and solidarity between all religions. It was precisely his faith in the powerful presence of the Son of God and the Holy Spirit in all cultures and religions that propelled him to such dialogue. The migrations of Muslim workers, the diaspora of Tibetan Buddhists, and further developments have brought peoples of different faiths into a new proximity with each other. But will they be true neighbours to each other? Catholics and Christians of every kind have an urgent obligation to bring about a true and gracious harmony. Their transparent faith in the ever-present Christ and Spirit should powerfully motivate every kind of harmonious dialogue.
Any interreligious dialogue and collaboration remain, however, hampered by the divisions between Christians. To the degree that Christians remain separated and at odds with each other, they are weakened in what they can do towards interreligious dialogue. Undoubtedly, the ecumenical movement has succeeded to some extent intellectually, as patient Catholic exchanges with Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and other Christians have uncovered a remarkable amount of common ground. But institutionally the goal of Christian unity continues to be a matter of hope and of prayer. Nevertheless, some fruit of Christian ecumenism was strikingly symbolized on 18 January 2000, when the archbishop of Canterbury and a representative of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople joined the Pope in opening together the holy door of St Paul's Outside the Walls (Rome). The photograph of the three Christian leaders kneeling together in prayer at the open door of the basilica encouraged fresh hopes for a living and loving unity between all Christians.
Only courageous love can carry forward authentic mission and dialogue. Most people naturally think of love as following on knowledge; through seeing and knowing we come to love someone or something. But the experience of interpersonal relationships supports a view that goes back through St Augustine to St John's Gospel: we will know the truth, and especially the truth about persons, because we already love them. Love predisposes us to see. In Thomas Aquinas's lapidary phrase, 'ubi amor, ibi oculus' (where there is love, there is vision) (III Super Libros Sententiarum, 35. 1. 2). Only a deep love for Christ and all his brothers and sisters around the globe can enable Catholics to see the truth about all men and women and in all men and women.
Both within the Catholic Church and in all its contacts with those who do not or do not yet accept Catholic faith, it is love that will open up the future. Here we end with the greatest challenge to Catholicism and the greatest gift from God to human beings, the divine love that, as the final line of Dante's Divine Comedy attests, 'moves the sun and the other stars'. The Babylons of world history, built on human greed and ruthless power, will all fall sooner or later. But the heavenly Jerusalem, built on God's infinite love revealed at the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, will never fail.
We end by making our own the sentiments expressed by Clement of Alexandria (d. ¿.215): 'The eternal Jesus, the one high priest' cries,
'I summon the whole human race. Come unto me and gather together as one well-ordered unity under the one God, and under the one Logos of God' (Protrepticus, 12). Around the same time, Hippolytus of Rome expressed the same hope in his vision of Christ as 'the queen bee' who has come to gather around him the whole of humanity (In Canticum, 1. 16).
Was this article helpful?