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HVK Archives: The Popes Call For A Dialogue

The Popes Call For A Dialogue - Hindu Vivek Kendra

Ashok Chowgule, ()
October 98.

Title: The Pope's Call For A Dialogue
Author: Ashok Chowgule,
Publication: Hindu Vivek Kendra
Date: October 98.

In its editorial "Call for a dialogue" (October 19), The Indian Express
has said that latest Vatican encyclical - Fides et Ratio (Faith and
Reason) - 'shows a greater readiness to engage in dialogue with other
cultures and philosophies as well.' This indeed is a welcome step
forward. However, the document has not dealt with some of the
statements, which precludes dialogue, made by members of the Catholic
hierarchy in the past.

Dialogue is the only way the members of the two faiths can comfortably
live with each other in sympathy and harmony and most of all with
tolerance of each other's beliefs and faith. This is particularly the
case where an outside faith comes to a land with an objective of proving
its superiority, and hence supplanting it. The dialogue will help the
indigenous faith to understand its short comings, and do something about
it, if possible. For the outside faith, it will help in understanding
the indigenous faith in a better manner.

The past record of the Catholic church on dialogue has not been
particularly outstanding. In 1985, said, "Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
made man, is our saviour.... He ascended to heaven but not before he had
carefully prepared his apostles to bring salvation to all men, of all
times, in all places..... Interreligious dialogue would be unnecessary
if all men believed in Jesus Christ and practiced only the religion
which he estab-lished." This has to be read in the context that when
it was made, the Cardinal was the president of the Vatican Secretariat
for Non-Christians, and the statement is in the opening lines of the
official declaration on "Urgen-cy of Dialogue with Non-Christians".

That this is the consistent official line is clear when we see the
statement of the same Cardinal in 1997. He said, "Has the Church
anything else to do? No. Evangelisation is central to the mission of the
Church. The task of evangelising all people constitutes the central
mission of the Church. The Church has no other assignment. If
Catholics today won souls at the rate that the early Christians did as
recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Father would very soon
have to close down the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue
because there would be nobody left to talk to." The Cardinal made this
statement as head of the very council which he says would 'have to close

These sentiments are confirmed by another Cardinal, Ratzinger, also in
1997. He said, "A true dialogue with other faiths should not be a
journey into emptiness, but a search for the eternal truth revealed in
Jesus." Cardinal Ratzinger is supposed to be very close to the Pope,
and is consulted on ideological matters.

Under the circumstances, one has to wonder why there is the present call
for a dialogue. This reminds us of a statement, made about four years
ago, by Raimundo Panniker, a one time priest, and now a secular
theologian. He is still involved in Hindu-Christian studies, and is
recognised internationally as an expert in the field. He said, "The
first lesson history makes us aware of is that all our disquisitions are
dependent on a temporal factor - that is, on historical circumstances.
Were it not for the fact of the political decolonisation of the world,
we would not be speaking the way we are today. Dialogue has not sprung
out of pure speculation. Praxis conditions theory. Yet it is also
wisdom to make a virtue out of necessity."

To what extent virtue is being out of necessity is a moot point. The
quotes from the Cardinal does open a window for doubt. The present
Pope's writings also do not give a comfortable feeling in this respect.
In India there is a project called Catholic Ashrams. It is supposed to
be a programme of inculturation, where indigenous symbols are adopted
for the Christian rituals. However, the ultimate objective is not an
enrichment of local culture, but of bringing the people in the Christian

There is one such Ashram near Mumbai. As an office bearer of VHP, I
wrote to the priest (incidentally a foreigner) asking him whether he
still believes that Christ is the only son of god and hence following
him alone would guarantee salvation, his response was: "Repent, and
believe in Christ." Thus, by adopting the Hindu symbols the local
people are made to believe that they are really visiting an indigenous
place of worship.

A dialogue can only be conducted by equal parties. Otherwise it becomes
a monologue. A successful dialogue can only be achieved if both sides
go into it with an open mind. There should not be any pre-conceived
ideas of the conclusion. Whatever comes out should be in the natural

(Ashok Chowgule is the President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra.)

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