Ecumenism goes global

Pope: Visit to India puts Eastern and Western faiths in same room, and the same boat.

November 09, 1999

My presence among you is a sign that the Catholic Church wants to enter dialogue with the religions of the world," Pope John Paul II told an interfaith meeting in New Delhi.

Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Parsee and Bahai clergy prayed with him.

On his three-day trip to India, the leader of the world's Roman Catholics also asserted the right of his church to evangelize, and urged its Asian bishops to do so. To some non-Christian hearers, the second message contradicted the first; to others, not at all.

The Catholic Church forged its values where it was the sole church. The Reformation created Protestant alternatives. Many countries, such as Italy, France and Mexico, confronted it with avowedly secular governments. In such countries as the United States, the church is a major faith among others. In India, as in much of Asia, it is a tiny minority.

The pope's call for tolerance and cooperation can only apply to all these situations equally. What he says for India must also apply in Europe and the Americas, where modern immigration has brought Indian and other non-Western faiths to a critical mass.

John Paul II extended ecumenism beyond the pan-Christian relationships that have flourished in this country for two generations, beyond Christian-Jewish dialogue, to something truly global in the one small world that now exists.

What applies to India must equally be his message here. Where immigrant communities have created non-Western houses of worship, interfaith dialogue includes them, too, as it does in India.

And if tolerance means that Christianity can spread its message freely in India, the same value says that Islam and Buddhism and other faiths can do so here and in Italy and beyond.

The pope is an old and frail man. But he is looking forward with clear vision. Better than most he understands the closeness and intimacy of the world created by modern communications.

Interfaith understanding was never a one-way street. Now it must be richer, more varied, than ever.

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