Written by Sherry
Friday, 24 August 2007 07:13
John Allen posted an intriguing piece yesterday about how the changing global make-up of Catholicism is changing how ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue is understood.
In the immediate post-Vatican II period, the architects of Catholicism’s relationships with other churches and other religions were mostly Europeans, many of whom carried a sense of historic guilt for sins of the past, from the Crusades to the Wars of Religion, and in particular they were haunted by the Holocaust. Their approach was therefore dominated by the need for an examination of conscience, and a spirit of reconciliation.
Tomorrow’s trailblazers will be Africans, Latin Americans and Asians, who are often more likely to regard themselves as victims rather than perpetrators of religious intolerance. In the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia today, Catholics suffer under aggressive forms of Islamicization, while Catholics in India are reeling from militant Hindu nationalism. In Latin America, Catholics often see themselves as targets of aggressive proselytism from Pentecostal and Evangelical movements.
In such contexts, self-defense rather than deference becomes the leitmotif. Two stories this week, both from the Indian subcontinent, help make the point.
None of this means that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue is headed for extinction under Southern leadership. On the contrary, the Catholic bishops of Asia have pioneered a flourishing “triple dialogue” with the cultures and religions of Asia and with the continent’s poor. In much of Africa and the Middle East, relations among Christians are close, in part because they face a common threat vis-à-vis radical Islam. Anglican/Catholic relationships in Africa may be stronger than anywhere else on earth, as both share a sense of revulsion about liberal moral tendencies among their co-religionists in the North. In Latin America, Catholics and Pentecostals are making common cause against the stirrings of secularization, especially in the legislative arena.
Demographic shifts in Catholicism are nevertheless reorienting the ecumenical and inter-faith outreach of the Catholic Church in two important ways.
First, reconciliation and mutual theological understanding are yielding pride of place on the inter-faith agenda to reciprocity and religious freedom. If the top post-Vatican II question was how Catholicism can be reformed to make space for a positive view of others, the question more likely to drive the 21st century is how other religions, and the societies they shape, can be reformed to make space for Christianity.
Second, the monopoly of “dialogue” as virtually the only way Catholicism relates to other Christians and other religions is giving way to more complex forms of engagement. Dialogue will remain important, but the 21st century is also seeing a comeback of apologetics, meaning a principled defense of the faith, and proclamation, meaning explicit efforts to invite others to conversion. Both are a reflection of the fact that many Southern Catholics are less inclined to tip-toe around the sensitivities of others, because they don’t feel responsible for creating those sensitivities in the first place.