Dialogue between different faith traditions

Bernadette Sweetman explores using Share the Good News as a catechetical resource

Despite the touch-screen/always on Wi Fi-accessibility with which we are surrounded nowadays, one skill seems to be gaining most value if not prevalence – the ability to engage in fruitful dialogue. Thanks to technological advances we are able to talk to people on the other side of the world, to alert each other of the traffic on the road home as we travel, to instantly share photographs of precious moments with loved ones who are far away. Yet, has there ever been a time when skill in dialogue has been more sought after? In recent times, as clerical appointments have been announced, both at home and abroad, it seems to me that a proven track record of dialogue with, for example, other faith communities, has been somewhat of a clincher.



What is dialogue? More to the point, what is fruitful dialogue? The media most often speaks of dialogue in political and religious dimensions. Unfortunately, there is so much distrust, misunderstanding and discord between various groups on a global scale, that emergency meetings aimed at engaging in fruitful dialogue are more and more commonplace. For example, the summits and meetings of heads-of-states along with security personnel are never far from the headlines.


Ease of communications does not always equate with fruitful dialogue because the latter demands a respect of and openness to the other party’s worldview, belief system and ideologies, not merely open channels for listening and speaking. This is challenging because we can be suspicious of others’ perspectives out of fear of hidden agendas or being accused of pedantry and close-mindedness.



The quest for dialogue is ever-topical. Pope Francis has been vociferous in his call for dialogue in the Syrian crisis, and just last week his letter about dialogue, written in response to a journalist and non-believer, appeared in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. Francis cited two reasons for the importance of dialogue between the Church and non-believers. The first is the historical breach between the Enlightenment culture and the Church. “The time has come, and Vatican II inaugurated this season, for an open dialogue, without preconceptions, which reopens the doors for a serious and fruitful encounter,” wrote the Pope. Second, Francis says, for the believer, dialogue with others is not a “secondary accessory” but rather something “intimate and indispensable”.



This brings us to a more focused question about dialogue between different faith traditions in contemporary Ireland. We only learn about ourselves and others by truly and wholly encountering each other with all our so-called ‘baggage’. Share the Good News: The National Directory for Catechesis acknowledges the plurality that leads to the growing need for fruitful dialogue: “We need new ways of engaging with the variety of cultural influences, indigenous as well as newly-arrived, that make modern Ireland such a rich tapestry…We must attempt to find the language, and live the message, in the public space as well as in our families, parishes and other Christian communities.” (SGN, 64) The directory encourages us to recall that “We do not enter into dialogue with empty hands but bring with us all the riches of the truth that God has revealed to us.” (SGN, 67) Yet we are also reminded that, though closely related, dialogue and proclamation have their own place. (SGN, 67 citing Redemptoris missio, 55)


We are responsible in our daily lives to honour and work towards fruitful dialogue but we must always ensure that those in positions of leadership do so by right example. 


“We should all be able to honour people of different religious convictions, and reverence their commitment, without in any way succumbing to relativism.” (SGN, 67)