Is interfaith dialogue a threat to Catholicism?

Seeing recent popes visiting with leaders of other faiths can be confusing to some. Why does the Catholic Church work at opening lines of communications with other faith traditions? An anonymous listener of Go Ask Your FatherTM was offended by Pope John Paul II’s meetings with Muslim leaders and statement that Muslims worship the same God. They asked, “Doesn’t [interfaith dialogue] pose a great hurdle to authentic Catholicism?”

“How you look at Islam and assume that because they don’t believe in the Trinity that they can’t worship the same God, that’s highly problematic as an idea. Because if that’s true then that means Jews don’t worship the same God, which would be very odd for us as Christians to say, given that our faith comes from the Jewish people. And … we are taught by Paul in the New Testament that the model for faith for us is Abraham. We have the faith of Abraham, and of course Abraham had not had the Trinity revealed to him. So the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Jesus Christ, is the God I worship. And in that sense, we recognize that the Jewish people, our older brothers and sisters in faith … worship God, the one God that is. And I believe that anyone who is sincerely attempting to worship the one God, the creator of all things, merciful and just, is worshipping the one God,” replied Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your Father on Relevant Radio®.

Our Catechism teaches in paragraph 841:

The Church’s relationship with the Muslims. “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

“I don’t think ecumenism or interfaith dialogue is a hurdle or an obstacle to authentic Catholicism. I believe authentic Catholicism requires us to be in dialogue and to try to work in right relationship with other Christians and with people of other faith or people of good will who have no faith. We believe that our role starts with having authentic human relations—you can’t really evangelize someone that you’re not willing to enter into human relationship with. And authentic human relationships begin with discussing and finding out what you share,” said Msgr. Swetland.

If we only condemn others rather than work for an authentic relationship with others who don’t share our Catholic faith, we will not receive opportunities to share that fullness of faith with them. Msgr. Swetland says that part of being an authentic Catholic is entering into real dialogue and solidarity with others.

“I think that what we share is much much much more important and larger than what we disagree about. Now don’t get me wrong, obviously Christians and Muslims disagree about many things but we share many things as well. And we should be honest about that just like with our Jewish brothers and sisters we share many things. We should start there with what we share; then we can be honest about where we disagree.”

Msgr. Swetland broke down some basic similarities and differences between Catholicism and Islam. “So, Muslims believe Christ was a prophet, they believe Mary was a virgin, they believe in the virgin birth, they believe in Christ’s role as an important prophet—we believe all that. We believe Jesus was more than a prophet, that he was God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made—Muslims don’t believe that. So we have to be honest about where we disagree because that allows us to see where we can work together and also it challenges us to understand the other and hopefully as we explain and show the truth of the matter—which is Jesus was and is God—that they might come to believe that. Now we have to do that in an efficacious way … we can’t just say it and assume everyone will believe it. It has to be shown in the way we live our lives.”

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.