TORONTO (CCN) — When Pope Francis talks about dialogue he’s not advancing an agenda or solving the political problems of the church, Saskatoon’s Bishop Don Bolen told audiences in Waterloo, Ont., and Toronto at a pair of lectures on ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.
“Why are we called to be in dialogue?” Bolen asked his audience at Scarboro Missions April 25. “It’s because God is in dialogue with us.”
Talking to other Christians and to non-Christians isn’t an agenda, a program or a hobby horse. Nor is it something forced on the church by the times we live in or a relativistic culture. It’s a theological response to revelation as the church has experienced it, a movement of the Holy Spirit, particularly since the Second Vatican Council.
Bolen believes the church’s age of dialogue can be traced precisely back to the beginning of Vatican II. Looking at the last papal encyclical before the council, Bolen found no specific references to dialogue in St. Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris. But once the world gathering of bishops is in session, dialogue becomes part of the language of the church. In Blessed Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam Suam the word dialogue comes up 64 times.
Dialogue is a theme that can be traced through the pontificates of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but Catholics are right to see a shift, a new emphasis, in Pope Francis, said Bolen.
“Right from the beginning we could see that Pope Francis carried himself as pope in a way that differed,” said Bolen, a former senior official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. “He is clearly someone who prioritized relationships.”
Rather than thinking of interfaith dialogue or ecumenical relations with other churches as an esoteric activity for a few specialists, Pope Francis has brought those dialogues into the centre of the church as part of his papacy, and made dialogue itself central to how Catholics live with each other and relate to the world around them, Bolen said.
“His whole papacy is an engagement in conversation,” he said. “He uses words in a very important and engaging way.”
But it’s not just a style. It’s a theological truth that Pope Francis lives out day to day.
“God speaks and creation comes about. God speaks through the prophets. Finally, God’s Word becomes incarnate,” said Bolen.
The theological truth of dialogue is something Catholics need to incorporate more and more into parish life and their personal lives, said Bolen. Basic truths should spark dialogue which requires Catholics to both speak clearly and listen with care.
“Pope Francis says, ‘Let’s start with human need. Let’s start with human suffering and let’s start with compassion,’ ” said Bolen.
The pope’s recent bull declaring a Year of Mercy promotes dialogue as an effective instrument of mercy. It’s in acting for mercy that our dialogues about truth and justice become a dialogue of prayer and life.
Listening to Bolen summarize the CCCB’s most recent documents in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue left Gwennyth Westra feeling hopeful and positive.
“Just to know that this is carrying on — just to know there isn’t a lot of barriers even between Catholics and Protestants,” she said.
“What I liked is that he quoted a lot from Pope Francis,” said Carol Ramos at the end of Bolen’s lecture.
“This dialogue thing is not only for certain people in a faith tradition. It’s for everybody,” said Intercultural Dialogue Institute executive director Fatih Yegul.