In the decree below, the Jesuit delegates attending the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus argue, given the worldwide religious diversity and division, that it is “imperative that we collaborate with others to achieve common goals.” The decree offers guidelines for how Jesuits can foster dialogue within the Catholic Church and between different religious cultures (specifically, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism). It concludes that the Jesuits’ “heritage of creative response to the call of the Spirit in concrete situations of life is an incentive to develop a culture of dialogue in our approach to believers of other religions.”
For more from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
1. If we imagine ourselves with the Trinity, in the spirit of Ignatius, looking down on the earth as the third millennium of Christianity is about to unfold, what do we see? More than ﬁve billion human beings—some male, some female; some rich, many more poor; some yellow, some brown, some black, some white; some at peace, some at war; some Christian (1.95 billion), some Muslim (1 billion), some Hindu (777 million), some Buddhist (341 million), some of new religious movements (128 million), some of indigenous religions (99 million), some Jewish (14 million), some of no religion at all (1.1 billion). What meaning and what opportunity does this rich ethnic, cultural, and religious pluralism that characterizes God’s world today have for our lives and for our mission of evangelization? And how do we respond to the racism, cultural prejudice, religious fundamentalism, and intolerance that mark so much of today’s world?
2. General Congregation 34 encourages all Jesuits to move beyond prejudice and bias, be it historical, cultural, social, or theological, in order to cooperate wholeheartedly with all men and women of goodwill in promoting peace, justice, harmony, human rights, and respect for all of God’s creation. This is to be done especially through dialogue with those who are inspired by religious commitment, or who share a sense of transcendence that opens them to universal values.
The Church and Interreligious Dialogue
3. Vatican II has exhorted all Catholics to a dialogue which will “acknowledge, preserve, and promote the spiritual and moral goods found in other religions, and the values in their society and culture” in order to “join hands with them to work towards a world of peace, liberty, social justice, and moral values.” The Holy Father has repeatedly asked Jesuits to make interreligious dialogue an apostolic priority for the third millennium. In a world where Christians comprise less than 20 percent of the population, it is imperative that we collaborate with others to achieve common goals. In the context of the divisive, exploitative, and conﬂictual roles that religions, including Christianity, have played in history, dialogue seeks to develop the unifying and liberating potential of all religions, thus showing the relevance of religion for human well-being, justice, and world peace. Above all we need to relate positively to believers of other religions because they are our neighbors; the common elements of our religious heritages and our human concerns force us to establish ever closer ties based on universally accepted ethical values. Dialogue is “an activity with its own guiding principles, requirements, and dignity” and it should “never be made a strategy to elicit conversions.” To be religious today is to be interreligious in the sense that a positive relationship with believers of other faiths is a requirement in a world of religious pluralism.
4. The Society must foster the fourfold dialogue recommended by the Church:
a. The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations
b. The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people
c. The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance, with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute
d. The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values
This dialogue of theological exchange can more easily be carried on with religions which have a written tradition. However, the dialogue with indigenous religions is equally important. These religions express a sense of the divine and the transcendent which must be “approached with great sensitivity, on account of the spiritual and human values enshrined in them.” They play an important role in creating ecological harmony and human equality and have developed a great variety of expression and ways of communicating religious experience through devotional practices, ritual, dance, and song, which are a true source of blessings.
The Society and Interreligious Dialogue
5. Our experience in the service of faith and promotion of justice over the last twenty years has brought many of us into closer contact with believers of other religions. They have helped us to respect the plurality of religions as the human response to God’s salviﬁc work in peoples and cultures. We realize that God, who wants all people to be saved, leads believers of all religions to the harmony of the Reign of God in ways known only to him. God’s Spirit is in continuous dialogue with them. “Interreligious dialogue at its deepest level is always a dialogue of salvation, because it seeks to discover, clarify, and understand better the signs of the age-long dialogue which God maintains with humanity.” An open and sincere interreligious dialogue is our cooperation with God’s ongoing dialogue with humanity. “By dialogue we let God be present in our midst, for as we open ourselves to one another, we open ourselves to God.” Interreligious dialogue is therefore “a work desired by God,” “an integral element of the Church’s evangelizing mission,” which ﬁnds expression in the service of faith and the promotion of justice.
6. Our service of faith takes place today in a world that is becoming increasingly conscious of the plurality of spiritual experiences in diverse religions. Dialogue helps us to recognize that these religions are graced with an authentic experience of the self-communication of the divine Word and of the saving presence of the divine Spirit. n ecclesial communion we experience in Jesus Christ the uniquely concrete revelation of the divine Word and the universally signiﬁcant outpouring of the divine Spirit. With love and conviction we share this experience with our sisters and brothers of other religions, for “we are all pilgrims setting out to ﬁnd God in human hearts.”
7. Interreligious dialogue and proclamation of the Gospel are not contrary ministries, as if one could replace the other. Both are aspects of the one evangelizing mission of the Church. “These two elements must maintain both their intimate connection and their distinctiveness; therefore they should not be confused, manipulated, or regarded as identical, as though they were interchangeable.” Dialogue reaches out to the mystery of God active in others. Proclamation witnesses to and makes known God’s mystery as it has been manifested to us in Christ. Our spiritual encounter with believers of other religions helps us to discover deeper dimensions of our Christian faith and wider horizons of God’s salviﬁc presence in the world. “Dialogue is a new way of being Church.” Through proclamation others encounter the compassionate God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose Spirit brings about a new creation in all realms of life. Without in any way relativizing our faith in Jesus Christ or dispensing with a critical evaluation of religious experiences, we are called upon to grasp the deeper truth and meaning of the mystery of Christ in relation to the universal history of God’s self-revelation. “It is the same Spirit, who has been active in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and in the Church, who was active amongst all peoples before the Incarnation and is active amongst the nations, religions, and peoples today.”
8. Our involvement in the promotion of justice takes place in a world in which the problems of injustice, exploitation, and destruction of the environment have taken on global dimensions. Religions have also been responsible for these sinful elements. Hence our commitment to justice and peace, human rights, and the protection of the environment has to be made in collaboration with believers of other religions. We believe that religions contain a liberating potential which, through interreligious collaboration, could create a more humane world. Through this process the Holy Spirit overcomes the structures of sin and creates anew the face of the world until God will be all in all. Jesus always focused on the human person as the center of religious beliefs and practices. Hence commitment to integral human liberation, especially of the poor, becomes the meeting point of religions. “Christians will join hands with all men and women of goodwill and work together in order to bring about a more just and peaceful society in which the poor will be the ﬁrst to be served.”
9. Though interreligious dialogue is an integral element of Jesuit mission, the forms of its practice depend on the concrete situations of our life and work. Indigenous religions and the great world religions, the new religious movements and the fundamentalist groups invite us to a dialogue that is proper to the perspective and challenge of each. Hence no universally valid guidelines can be given for the dialogue itself. What is important is that we grow in openness to the divine Spirit to be able to walk with others on a “fraternal journey in which we accompany one another towards the goal which God sets for us.” The following guidelines offer an orientation for developing a culture of dialogue in our life and ministry.
9, 1. Our spirituality should be characterized by a “deep respect for everything that has been brought about in human beings by the Spirit who blows where he wills.” Consequently, we must be alert to the global quest for a contemplative experience of the Divine, and compassionate towards the poor who seek justice and freedom. We will seek to be enriched by the spiritual experiences and ethical values, theological perspectives, and symbolic expressions of other religions.
9, 2. Genuine dialogue with believers of other religions requires that we deepen our own Christian faith and commitment, since real dialogue takes place only between those rooted in their own identity. For this reason, we need a solid foundation in philosophy and theology, with a special focus on the person and mystery of Jesus Christ. GC 34 urges all Jesuits to study carefully the decrees of Vatican II, the papal documents, and the statements of episcopal conferences on the value and necessity of interreligious dialogue.
9, 3. In our formation a closer acquaintance with the beliefs and practices of other religions must be given through special courses and actual involvement in a pluralistic milieu. Since the core of all true religion consists in its capacity to lead people to an authentic and deeper spiritual experience, it is important that we strengthen in our formation the mystical dimension of Christian faith and Jesuit spirituality in encounter with the spiritual traditions of others.
9, 4. Our proclamation of the Gospel must be sensitive to the religious and cultural background of those to whom it is addressed, and “attentive to the signs of the times through which the Spirit of God is speaking, teaching, and guiding all men and women.”
9, 5. Theological reﬂection must dwell on “the signiﬁcance in God’s plan of the different religious traditions and the experiences of those who ﬁnd in them their spiritual nourishment.” It has to explore the meaning of the Christ-event in the context of the spiritual evolution of humanity articulated in the history of religions.
9, 6. Our commitment to justice demands that we share in the life and the struggles of the poor and work with believers of other religions in creating basic human communities founded on truth and love. In social action we willingly collaborate with them in the prophetic denunciation of the structures of injustice and in the creation of a world of justice, peace, and harmony.
9, 7. Our social and cultural centers will identify and promote the liberating dynamics of the local religions and cultures, and initiate common projects for the building of a just social order.
9, 8. Our educational institutions will conscientize their students on the value of interreligious collaboration and instill in them a basic understanding of and respect for the faith vision of the members of the diverse local religious communities, while deepening their own faith response to God.
9, 9. Pastoral service will prepare our Christian communities for dialogue. We must be concerned with people beyond the limits of the Christian community and help them experience God’s compassionate love in their lives. “We are all children of God and we must all work together in harmony for the mutual beneﬁt of all.” The Church is a “community in pilgrimage journeying with peoples of other faiths towards the Kingdom that is to come.” In this process she is called to be the voice of the voiceless, in particular of the young, women, and the poor.
10. Some Jesuits have already been trained for the fourth aspect and are actively engaged in conversations among experts in religious traditions. Their experience has been rewarding and fruitful. Their own faith has been deepened and shared with others, and their respect for the spirituality of other religions has grown. But given the task ahead, their number is inadequate.
11. GC 34 encourages each assistancy to prepare Jesuits able to become experts in the fourth aspect of interreligious dialogue. Since this dialogue is becoming a global concern, such planning should include interprovincial and international exchange of persons and be done in collaboration with other groups. Jesuits involved in this aspect of interreligious dialogue have a two-directional responsibility: (1) to engage in honest, respectful dialogue with experts in the other religious traditions, and (2) to communicate the fruits of this dialogue to those of the Society engaged in the ﬁrst three aspects of dialogue, in order to help them understand and appreciate its urgency. Since this is a new and uncharted frontier, there will certainly be misunderstandings and misconceptions. We are once again invited to make ours the presupposition of St. Ignatius: “to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.”
12. Dialogue with the Jewish people holds a unique place. The ﬁrst covenant, which is theirs and which Jesus the Messiah came to fulﬁll, “has never been revoked.” A shared history both unites us with and divides us from our elder brothers and sisters, the Jewish people, in whom and through whom God continues to act for the salvation of the world. Dialogue with the Jewish people enables us to become more fully aware of our identity as Christians. Since the publication of Nostra Aetate in 1965, the Catholic Church has radically renewed the Jewish-Christian dialogue after centuries of polemics and contempt in which our Society shared. To enter into a sincere and respectful relationship with the Jewish people is one aspect of our efforts to “think with and in the Church.”
13. The emergence of Islam as a religious, political, and economic force is a fact of our world even in Western Christian countries; it has truly become a global religion. Although rivalry, conﬂict, and even war in previous centuries have made dialogue in recent times more difficult, both the Church and the Society have striven to build bridges of mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims. In Vatican II the Church expressed her esteem for Muslims, recognizing the positive values in Islam and pointing to the close bond Muslims have with the Church. The relations of the Society of Jesus with Muslims go back to St. Ignatius himself, from the time he discerned his vocation at Manresa as the call to go to Jerusalem and remain there among Muslims. The experience of Jesuits who have approached Muslims with preparation, knowledge, and respect has often shown that a fruitful dialogue is indeed possible. However, in some places Jesuits have found it difficult to dialogue with Muslims, especially in states based on Islamic law. In such situations they feel apprehensive about possible violations of religious rights and even of basic human rights. To face such situations, Jesuits need great faith, courage, and the support of the rest of the Society.
14. Hindus in general welcome the Christian initiatives of dialogue. Their threefold way of spiritual growth through ardent devotion, profound meditation, and action for the welfare of all offers an integrated vision and way of life. Their profound philosophical enquiries and mystical perceptions, their noble ethical values, “ashram” heritage, and rich symbolism of popular religious practices—all open broad avenues for fruitful dialogue. In the context of social discrimination and revivalist movements, partly the result of religious ideologies, Jesuit involvement in dialogue between Hindus and Christians becomes a great imperative.
15. Buddhism, in its many forms, is a major religion inﬂuencing the lives of millions of people around the world. The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path of the Buddha propose a view of this world based on its essential inadequacy and a way of life which, through the practice of ethical discipline, wisdom, and meditation, leads to a state of inner liberation and spiritual enlightenment. Buddhism calls its followers to a selﬂess universal compassion for all living creatures; it has a special appeal for contemporary men and women seeking a true, personal spiritual experience. Dialogue with Buddhists enables Christians to join hands with them to face the basic frustration so many feel today and to address together problems of justice, development, and peace; in addition, it invites Christians to rediscover the contemplative riches within their own tradition.
16. The phenomenon of religious fundamentalism, which is found in all religions, including Christianity, poses serious difficulties. A passionate concern to return to the foundations of each religion combined with a reaction to the onslaught of modern secular culture has given great impetus to the growth of revivalist movements. The history of oppression of one religion by a more dominant one has produced animosities and prejudices which add fuel to such movements. Often religious feelings and structures are manipulated by political, economic, cultural, or ethnic power groups in order to safeguard their vested interests. All this results in fundamentalist ideologies and movements within religious communities. Our Jesuit responsibility is “to understand why the members of a revivalist movement have taken their particular stance, and to discover in an unprejudiced manner their legitimate intentions and hurt feelings.” This can pave the way for dialogue and reconciliation, which would demand from us the willingness to acknowledge our past intolerant attitudes and injustices towards others. Apostolic discernment should be used to determine what can be done in such situations.
17. As companions of Jesus sent into today’s world, a world characterized by religious pluralism, we have a special responsibility to promote interreligious dialogue. The Ignatian vision of reality provides the spiritual inspiration and ministerial grounding for this urgent task. It opens our eyes to the incomprehensible mystery of God’s salviﬁc presence (Deus semper major) in the world. It makes us sensitive to the sacred space of God’s direct dealing with human persons in history. The contemplation of God laboring in all things helps us to discern the divine spirit in religions and cultures. The Kingdom meditation enables us to understand history as God’s history with us. The Jesuit heritage of creative response to the call of the Spirit in concrete situations of life is an incentive to develop a culture of dialogue in our approach to believers of other religions. This culture of dialogue should become a distinctive characteristic of our Society, sent into the whole world to labor for the greater glory of God and the help of human persons.
Recommendations to Father General
18. GC 34 asks Father General to explore the feasibility of setting up a secretariat for interreligious dialogue to promote and coordinate Jesuit initiatives in this area. The secretary could help to ensure that training programs for Jesuits are organized in view of a wider involvement in dialogue. He could publish a bulletin for the exchange of Jesuit experiences and theological reﬂections in the area of dialogue.
19. The general congregation asks Father General to explore the possibility of establishing a department for the study of religions at the Gregorian University. This department could offer academic courses on Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions, as well as on the theology of religions. It could establish academic rapport with other universities and centers for religious studies in various parts of the world.
20. The general congregation asks Father General to explore the possibility of expanding the scope of the apostolate of the Jesuit community of the Pontiﬁcal Biblical Institute in Jerusalem, so that, in dialogue and in concert with other Christian centers in Jerusalem, the Jesuits there might explore programs in interreligious dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, along with their continuing work of biblical and spiritual renewal of Jesuits from various provinces.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 34, Decree 5, “Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue,” pg. 547–556 [128–157].