The Jesuits and Interreligious Dialogue

[The Thirty-Fourth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, meeting in Rome in 1995, established Interreligious Dialogue as one of the three top priorities of Jesuits and Jesuit institutions. Excerpts from Decree Five, which directly impact the mission of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, appear below.]


Our Mission and Interreligious Dialogue


128 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).1 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?

The Church and Interreligious Dialogue

130 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.”2 The Holy Father has repeatedly asked Jesuits to make interreligious dialogue an apostolic priority for the third millennium.3 … 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”4 and it should “never be made a strategy to elicit conversions.”5 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.

The Society and Inter-Religious Dialogue

133 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.8 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.”9 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.”10 Interreligious dialogue is therefore “a work desired by God,” “an integral element of the Church’s evangelizing mission,”11 which finds expression in the service of faith and the promotion of justice.

135 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.14 “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.”15 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.”16 … 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 among all peoples before the Incarnation and is active amongst the nations, religions and peoples today.”17


137 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.”20 The following guidelines offer an orientation for developing a culture of dialogue in our life and ministry.

145 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.

Concrete Responses

149 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.”28 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 Aetate29 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.”


154 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.


1. International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 19, No. 1 (January 1995), p. 25. 2. Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate nn. 2, 3.

3. John Paul II, “Ad quosdam Societatis Jesu Sodales”(27 February 1992): AR 18 (1982) p. 728; Homily at General Congregation 33 (2 September 1983): AR 18 (1983) p. 1093; Allocution to General Congregation 34, 5 January 1995, n. 6; cf. Appendix I.

4. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, n. 56.

5. Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, in Rosales and Arévalo, eds, For All the Peoples of Asia, New York 1992, Orbis, p. 167.

8. Cf. Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) Statement of 20 November 1979, in Rosales and Arévalo (op. cit.) p. 115.

9. John Paul II, “Address to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue,” 13 November 1992. Cf. Bulletin of the Council n. 82 (1993), p. 6.

10. John Paul II, “Address to the Leaders of non-Christian Religions”, Madras, 5 February 1986; AAS 78 (1986) p. 769 f.

11. John Paul II, “Address to the Pontifical Secretariat for Non-Christians,” 28 April 1987 (Cf. Bulletin of the Secretariat no. 66 (1987), p. 224; Dialogue and Proclamation (op. cit.), n. 38.

14. “Evangelizing mission, or more simply evangelization, refers to the mission of the Church in its totality…. Proclamation… occupies such an important place in evangelization that it has often become synonymous with it and yet it is only one aspect of evangelization…. Dialogue means all positive and constructive interreligious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment.” Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1991), n. 8-9.

15. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, n. 55.

16. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Suam, n. 63.

17. FABC Statement of November 1986, in Rosales and Arévalo (op. cit.), p. 259.

20. John Paul II, Allocution at the Day of Prayer for World Peace, Assisi, 27 October 1986; AAS 79 (1987) p. 868.

28. John Paul II, Allocution to the Jewish Community, Mainz, 17 November 1980; AAS 73 (1981) p. 80. (Cf. Rom 11:29).

29. Cf. Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate, n. 4.