VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A line in Pope Francis’ first World Day of Communications’ message revived the question of how Christians are called to both search for truth in others and proclaim the truth in Jesus Christ.
“Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute,” the pope wrote.
What is being called into question is not the fullness and absolute truth of Christ, but rather the individual’s personal ways of trying to express and live out that truth, said Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which released the message Jan. 23.
“The thing to understand is that it’s not the faith, the Gospel that is relativized, but how I live the Gospel and how I live that faith,” he told reporters.
Rather than “a relativism” of the faith, he said the pope is continuing his predecessors’ calls for the church to actively engage with a multicultural and multireligious world.
A major aspect of the three-and-a-half-page papal message about communication needing a new “culture of encounter” was the importance of genuine dialogue in a world where people continue to suffer divisions, poverty, neglect and isolation. The pope asks: How is it that such problems persist in a world that is being made ever more interdependent, small and connected by so many low-cost, high-speed, high-tech tools?
No matter the technology, genuine dialogue is still the answer, his message said. And genuine dialogue, the pope explained, requires seeking others out with love and mercy, sincerely listening to them and believing they may have some goodness and truth to bring to the world.
“The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another,” the papal message said.
Communication — itself a process of give and take that must be carried out with patience, love and mercy — is what brings people together, builds trust and understanding, the pope said.
“To dialogue means to believe the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective,” he said.
Dialogue involves expressing one’s ideas and traditions with sincerity, clarity and transparency, while avoiding the presumption and claim that one’s own ideas are absolute and the only valid ones out there, Archbishop Celli told reporters during a briefing.
Dialogue, the archbishop said, demands a deep awareness of and a “pastoral sensitivity” to others’ ideas, concerns, questions and beliefs, and it requires “being convinced the other has something good to say, and to make room for their point of view and proposals.”
Such an approach is “in harmony with the entire teaching of the church,” he said.
While the Catholic Church is convinced that the Holy Spirit works in a full and particular way within the church, it recognizes that the Spirit is at work in every human person.
While the declaration “Dominus Iesus” (“Jesus is Lord”), a 2000 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Christ and the church are necessary for salvation, the congregation’s head — the future Pope Benedict XVI — said the church teaches that good things can exist in other religions.
“One cannot close one’s eyes to the errors and illusions that are also present” in other religions, the future pope wrote later in an article in the Vatican newspaper. But he wrote that he was saddened and disappointed people had misunderstood the true theme of the document, which was an invitation to Christians to strengthen their faith and not a critique of other religions.
As pope, Benedict reaffirmed the Second Vatican Council’s call that the church must enter into dialogue with the world.
Speaking to artists and people from the world of culture in Lisbon in May 2010, he said “people need not only to accept the existence of the culture of others, but also to aspire to be enriched by it and to offer to it whatever they possess that is good, true and beautiful.”
Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the social communications council, told Catholic News Service that his 15 years of experience teaching young people about the Catholic faith showed him what role listening and learning play in bringing the truth to others.
“I began with my own very clear way of teaching the church’s teaching,” he said, but listening to and reflecting on the kids’ questions and misunderstandings led him to look for and express that truth in ways that better responded to their concerns.
“I’m never going to renounce the truth and my understanding that Christ is the one who answers the search for meaning that is at the core of every human person,” he said. “(But) how can I best express that? Or how do I make that pertinent to the particular dilemmas of the person’s life?
“I’m going to be absolutely clear that Christ is the answer,” the monsignor said, “but I realize my ways of expressing that may be limited,” and “may sometimes fall short of the fullness of the Gospel.”
Listening and respecting others in dialogue has “forced me to go deeper and find a richer truth within my own tradition” and re-express the truth in new ways, he said, which is what Pope Francis is proposing.