Booklet 23: Inter-religious dialogue and Claretian formation

Mathew Vattamattam cmf

1. Introduction:

The present day history marks a period of frequent movement of people leading to encounters between cultures, religions and nationalities. It provides a rich arena of mutual exchange and enrichment between cultures and religions. The following factors urge inter-religious dialogue opportune and effective in evangelization today.

  • growing living contact between people of different faiths in modern society due to globalization and emigration. Europe witnesses the rise of immigrant population from 1990s. (For example Percentage of immigrant population: Switzerland 19.1%, Austria 9.3 %; Germany 8.9 %; Belgium 8.8%; Italy 5.6% UK 4%, Netherland 4.1%).[1]
  • September 11 and the US approach to antiterrorist warfare seem to polarize the Christian-Muslim world and the spread of violence into public life.
  • The need to retrieve religious values to build peace and justice in a broken world.
  • Christian presence is minimum among vast majority of world population. Claretian presence is mostly centred in the Christian sector of world population.
  • Christian faith calls us to recognize and appreciate from the seeds of the word present in other religious traditions.

2. Claretians among the people of God:

We situate our presence and mission among the peoples who inhabit our planet.

World population: 6,455,481,693 (6 billion and above)[2]

CONTINENT OF AFRICA 891,437,541 (14%)



CONTINENT OF ASIA 3,913,842,171 (60.5%)

CONTINENT OF EUROPE 729,341,014 (11%)

CONTINENT OF OCEANIA 32,744,469 (.5%)

37% of world population live in 2 countries (China and India)

Claretians are present in 63 countries. Our distribution is as follows: Europe: 34%; South America 26%, Asia 20%, Africa 15% and North America 5% (as in 2002).[3]

Population by Religion[4]

Christianity 1.9 billion (33%)
Islam 1.1 billion (21%)
Hinduism 781 million (16%)
Buddhism 324 million (6%)
Sikhism 19 million (0.36%)
Judaism 14 million (0.22%)
Baha’ism 6.1 million
Confucianism 5.3 million
Jainism 4.9 million
Shintoism 2.8 million

Christian Population[5]
Catholics – 53%
Orthodox – 11%
Protestant and Others – 36%

Catholics In the world: 1.07 billion [6] (17% of the world population)

30% of all Catholics live in Latin America

15% in North America

30% in Europe

12% in Africa
12% Asia

1% Oceania

Catholic Religious men in the Church: total: 137,409+ 54,620= 192,029

Claretians number 3100 among the consecrated men in the church. We are a very small community of consecrated people in the vast ocean of Christians and among the people in the planet. But we have a charism that has a thrust to reach out to all God’s people. Besides, we have the advantages of being present in most of the countries that host a good number of world population and to be present in the midst of people of other faiths.

3. Inter-religious Dialogue in the consciousness of the Claretians:

3.1. The founder and the early Claretians

  • St. Claret. “My sprit is for the whole world”
  • Going to offer himself to propaganda Fide
  • The first foreign mission of ours was in Algeria. After the first missions in Americas, missionaries were sent to China in.1929.

We shared the self-understanding of the church as having the mission to evangelize the world and that we are at the vanguard of its mission

3.2. Cmf after Vatican Council

We notice the progressive interiorization of the theology of mission that the Council initiated in the church. Our constitutions invite us to be open-minded, receptive and respectful of the religious and cultural customs and values of people in carrying out our mission (CC 48). The General chapters often referred to this aspect of our mission.

  • MCT: Following the lead of the teachings of Vatican council, MCT looked at the wealth of diverse cultures in which we are present to evangelize and affirmed the need to speak the language proper to the culture to communicate the Gospel (106, 107, 167,). The Chapter noted that two thirds of the world (2 billion) have still not being evangelized and resolved to reinforce existing communities in the non-Christian world (182). CPR evaluated our presence in non Christians as having barely reinforced (33) and invited the congregation to strengthen our missionary presence in Asia and Africa and offer an active witness that generates and promotes a true dialogue of life and Faith with the people and groups in whose midst we live (82).
  • SW: The chapter of 1991 again pointed to the small percentage of Claretians dedicated to mission ad Gentes, in a world where majority have still not heard of Christ (3.3). The renewal of our missionary dimension ad Gentes needed education for dialogue with cultures and religious traditions of people of other faiths (4.8). Speaking of Asia where Christians are barely 2% the chapter called for new areas and concrete means for mission ad Gentes in dialogue of faith and life with other religions, cultures and the poor (29.2) and training our seminarians for faith sharing, discernment and dialogue (29.6)
  • IPM: the term inter-religious dialogue is now more evident when speaking of contact with other religious faiths in Africa (5; 14.1) and Asia (8). The chapter pointed out that the great religions of Asia demand of the small community a serious commitment to inter-religious dialogue (8; 14.4). The Chapter called for a prophetic ministry which participates in inter-religious and intercultural dialogue, which forms part of the evangelizing mission of the Church (46.3) and asked the general government to establish a group of experts in the theology of mission (46.4). The chapter asked the Asian Claretians to enhance formation for inculturation, inter-religious dialogue and deepen our commitment to mission ad Gentes (61.3,7).
  • THL: The Chapter of 2003 placed the whole challenge of dialogue in the globalized context and placed inter religious dialogue in our priority of inculturation of Gospel through ecumenical, interrelgious and intercultural dialogue in all our missionary works ( 45). The chapter proposed to initiate and cultivate a dialogue of life and faith with other churches and religious groups and participate in forums of dialogue (68.1) and include it in our formation curriculum and to create experiences in this area and have some Claretians specialized (68.4).

In our self understanding there is a growing awareness of the need to be sensitive to the culture and faith of the people among whom we are present. There is also a growing awareness that the congregation too is constituted of members from different backgrounds and cultures. In the apostolate there is progressive recognition of the people of other faiths and the need to enter into fruitful inter-religious dialogue.

4. The Praxis of Inter-religious Dialogue

Dialogue in the context of interreligious relations means “all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment”, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom. It includes both witness and the exploration of respective religious convictions (cf. Dialogue and Proclamation, Pont. Council for interreligious dialogue, 1991)

The practice of Interrelgious dialogue in the Church is in a stage of maturing with the experiences of the past. The path of inteerreligious dialogue has not been easy owing to the mutual fears, prejudices, history and the absolutist stand different religions have in relations to other faith systems. The promulgations of the church in the past (extra ecclesiae nulla salus) and the language employed in explaining the other religions (e.g. Non-Christians, anonymous Christians etc) were not adequate to pave the way for dialogue. The openness of Vatican II and the initiatives of Pope Paul II in asking pardon for the ills of the past and to create a forum for inter-religious prayer for peace in Assisi and the works of the pontifical council for other faiths have made many strides in promoting inter-religious dialogue.

Church and the congregation invite us to enter into dialogue with culture and faiths as true expressions of our faith experience. We need to prepare ourselves for dialogue by properly integrating principles and practice of dialogue in our formation program. It would be naïve to venture into inter-religious dialogue without the proper attitudes and principles of dialogue. Besides, as the congregation is becoming more and more multicultural even in its local community set up, our future depends on how effective we are in dialogue with one another with our intercultural richness. Basically it is the same skills of dialogue that are at work in inter-religious dialogue.

4.1. Some f basic principles of inter-religious dialogue

  • Catholic church is committed to dialogue as a valid form of seeking and serving God
  • Church holds hierarchy of truths (unitatis reintegration 11). Ultimately all doctrines refer to the Mystery of Christ and Trinity which are foundational to Christian faith which cannot be sacrificed, if we remain faithful to Christian Faith.
  • There is a distinction between content of Faith and expression of Faith. (GS 62). There can be better expressions of the content of faith that can be helpful for dialogue.
  • Church holds that other faiths do the seeds of truth and that there are many common grounds to stand together the proclaim the glory of God (LG 16, EA 2)
  • Freedom of conscience and respect for religious traditions does not mean that all the religions are same and all that is held by religious traditions are true.
  • Dialogue is not an arena of winning over the other or proving any superiority of any party
  • Syncretism and supermarket approach wherein a person picks up what one likes from each of the religious traditions is not conducive to dialogue nor to serving the truth.

4.2. Obstacles to Dialogue[7]

  1. 1.Insufficient grounding in one’s own faith.
  2. 2.Insufficient knowledge and understanding of the belief and practices of other religions, leading to a lack of appreciation for their significance and even at times to misrepresentation.
  3. 3.Socio-political factors or some burdens of the past.
  4. 4.Wrong understanding of the meaning of terms such as conversion, baptism, dialogue, etc.
  5. 5.Self-sufficiency, lack of openness leading to defensive or aggressive attitudes.
  6. 6.A lack of conviction with regard to the value of interreligious dialogue, which some may see as a task reserved to specialists, and others as a sign of weakness or even a betrayal of the faith.
  7. 7.Suspicion about the other’s motives in dialogue.
  8. 8.A polemical spirit when expressing religious convictions.
  9. 9.Intolerance, which is often aggravated by association with political, economic, racial and ethnic factors, a lack, of reciprocity in dialogue which can lead to frustration.
  10. 10.Certain features of the present religious climate, e.g., growing materialism, religious indifference, and the multiplication of religious sects which creates confusion and raises new problems.

4.3. Formation for dialogue: required faith experience, attitudes and skills:

Formation for dialogue implies two aspects. A content aspect where in a person deepens his faith and seeks to know the faith experience of the other. It includes:

  • a solid sense of identity as Christians and Claretians. Deep Knowledge and experience of our own faith
  • basic knowledge about the faith of other people beyond the popular stereotypes

The other aspect is the relational aspects which includes respectful attitudes and skills for dialogue.

  • Capacity to acknowledge our own prejudices and limitations in our faith life and consequent attitude of conversion
  • Capacity to listen to differences with respect and present one’s faith with clarity.
  • Appreciation of plurality as willed by the creator and positive value of it at all levels
  • Awareness of the dangers of absolutism and fundamentalism within ourselves and in others
  • Willingness to purify and deepen one’s own faith and accept vulnerability as a result of our encounter with other faiths

4.4. Some recent affirmations by the official Church regarding dialogue [8]

In the context of the emerging trends in the theology of interreligious dialogue, the congregation of Faith has notified some theologians about being faithful to the catholic faith when we enter into dialogue with other religions. The sacred congregation reaffirmed the following as central to catholic faith to be held as central to Christian Faith.

  • The sole and universal salvific mediation of Christ,
  • The unicity and completeness of Christ’s revelation,
  • The universal salvific action of the Holy Spirit,
  • The orientation of all people to the Church

4.5. Forms of dialogue[9]

  1. 1.The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.

It includes:

  • No tolerance to any form of disrespect to belief systems in public forum
  • Avoidance of possible conflicts by dialogical decision making
  • Creating a secular society which respects and favours religious faith
  1. 3The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.
  • to address the poverty and injustice facing in the same place
  • to restore peace in places of conflict especially with religious underpinnings
  • To support cause of peace and justice in the world.
  1. 4The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values
  2. 5The 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.

4.6. Some suggestions for formation:

Claretian formation needs to include practical and theoretical programs to prepare missionaries in the mission of interreligious dialogue. I list a few possible means below:

  • Courses to impart basic knowledge of other religions especially the more prevalent ones as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism
  • Visits to possible places of worship of other religions
  • Participation in interfaith prayer meetings
  • Exposure to ministry among migrant population

5. Conclusion

Contact with people of other religions and belief systems can challenge us to authenticity in our own faith and wake us up from our lukwarmness of faith. Our Christian life witness is the most apt means to communicate the Gospel to the world. As missionaries we need to equip ourselves to enter into fruitful dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different faiths who form majority in the world today.

for sharing and discussion:

  1. 1.Any experience of dialogue with people of other faiths. What are some of the impressions you have of Muslim and Hindu religions.
  2. 2.The teaching of the church on dialogue and proclamation make many people of other faiths to suspect the intentions of the church in dialogue. How do we reconcile both dialogue and proclamation of Gospel?
  3. 3.How do you react to the recent admonitions of theologicans of dialogue by the congregation of Faith? Do you think we have a sound theology of interreligious dialogue? What do you think could be the common grounds for dialogue with other faith systems.
  4. 4.suggestions for formation for interreligious dialogue in our centres of formation.



1. Vat II, Lumen Gentium, 16.

Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

2. Vat II, Nostra aetate, 2

2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

3. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH NOTIFICATION on the book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralis by Fr JACQUES DUPUIS, S.J.

I. On the sole and universal salvific mediation of Jesus Christ

1. It must be firmly believed that Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, crucified and risen, is the sole and universal mediator of salvation for all humanity.

2. It must also be firmly believed that Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary and only Saviour of the world, is the Son and Word of the Father. For the unity of the divine plan of salvation centred in Jesus Christ, it must also be held that the salvific action of the Word is accomplished in and through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of the Father, as mediator of salvation for all humanity It is therefore contrary to the Catholic faith not only to posit a separation between the Word and Jesus, or between the Word’s salvific activity and that of Jesus, but also to maintain that there is a salvific activity of the Word as such in his divinity, independent of the humanity of the Incarnate Word.

II. On the unicity and completeness of revelation of Jesus Christ

3. It must be firmly believed that Jesus Christ is the mediator, the fulfilment and the completeness of revelation. It is therefore contrary to the Catholic faith to maintain that revelation in Jesus Christ (or the revelation of Jesus Christ) is limited, incomplete or imperfect. Moreover, although full knowledge of divine revelation will be had only on the day of the Lord’s coming in glory, the historical revelation of Jesus Christ offers everything necessary for man’s salvation and has no need of completion by other religions.

4. It is consistent with Catholic doctrine to hold that the seeds of truth and goodness that exist in other religions are a certain participation in truths contained in the revelation of or in Jesus Christ. However, it is erroneous to hold that such elements of truth and goodness, or some of them, do not derive ultimately from the source-mediation of Jesus Christ.

III. On the universal salvific action of the Holy Spirit

5. The Church’s faith teaches that the Holy Spirit, working after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is always the Spirit of Christ sent by the Father, who works in a salvific way in Christians as well as non-Christians It is therefore contrary to the Catholic faith to hold that the salvific action of the Holy Spirit extends beyond the one universal salvific economy of the Incarnate Word

IV. On the orientation of all human beings to the Church

6. It must be firmly believed that the Church is sign and instrument of salvation for all people. It is contrary to the Catholic faith to consider the different religions of the world as ways of salvation complementary to the Church.

7. According to Catholic doctrine, the followers of other religions are oriented to the Church and are all called to become part of her.

V. On the value and salvific function of the religious traditions

8. In accordance with Catholic doctrine, it must be held that «whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions, serves as a preparation for the Gospel (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 16)». It is therefore legitimate to maintain that the Holy Spirit accomplishes salvation in non-Christians also through those elements of truth and goodness present in the various religions; however, to hold that these religions, considered as such, are ways of salvation, has no foundation in Catholic theology, also because they contain omissions, insufficiencies and errors regarding fundamental truths about God, man and the world.

[1] Cf.

[2] Cf. Internaitonal data base (IDB)., US Census bureau.

[3] Cf. Report of Government presented in the General Chapter of 2003, p. 5.

[4] Cf.

[5] Cf.,

[6] Cf.

[7] Cf. Dialogue and Proclamation, Pontifical Council for interreligious Dialogue, 1991, No. 52

[8] Cf. congregation for Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus, 2000; Notification on the book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, by Jacques Dupuis sj, 2001.

[9] Cf. Dialogue and Proclamation, Pontifical Council for interreligious Dialogue, 1991, No. 42