Global Perspective

July 12, 2005 Vol. 3, No. 11

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emmanuel dominic
Fr. Dominic Emmanuel, a priest of the Divine Word, is the director of the communication and information bureau of the Delhi Catholic archdiocese.



Open Letters to the New Pope:

Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity

By Dominic Emmanuel, SVD

(Editor's Note: Global Perspective is featuring Catholics from across the globe writing open letters to the new pope, Benedict XVI. Today, Dominic Emmanuel, SVD writes from New Delhi, India.)

Your Holiness Pope Benedict,

Read more letters to the pope
  • Jesuit Fr. Francis Gonsalves from Chennai, India: Wilkommen, Welcome, Swagatham!.
  • Joseph Adero Ngala from Nairobi, Kenya: Africa knows the church's good works, not its doctrine.
  • Geraldine Hawkes from Adelaide, Australia: In the right hands, a garden can flourish.
  • Janina Gomes from Mumbai, India: Churchgoers must confront some tough questions.
  • Michael Gillgannon from La Paz, Bolivia: We can, must learn from our errors.
  • Antonio D. Sison from the Philippines: The musings of a Filipino Catholic.
  • Dominic Emmanuel from New Delhi: Building bridges to other religions doesn't compromise Catholic identity.
  • Virginia Saldanha from Mumbai, India: Asian women request a true dialogue.
  • Greg Lopez from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: How much is too much?.
  • My sincere congratulations to you on your election! It came as something of a surprise although I believe the right decision was made. As a spokesperson for the church in Delhi, I have had several opportunities to speak for you and the church in the past months. Some viewers of a popular TV channel phoned to tell me that I defended Your Holiness well on a program that held that the church would become ultra-conservative under your leadership.

    I know that you are not so nave as not to imagine what apprehensions many people initially had with your election. I believe that here in India the fears of those who were particularly anxious are being gradually laid to rest.

    In this Year of the Eucharist I would like to share a major problem with you that practically all of us in India often face, and not without some embarrassment.

    Despite Christians being a minority in India, foreigners visiting our country are surprised to see that our churches are always full. It is pointed out to them that so are the Hindu temples, Sikh gurudwaras and mosques and that Indians, by and large, are a religious-minded people in search of the Divine. Here in Delhi, hundreds of people visit the cathedral regularly. Most of them are Hindus or Sikhs who spend time reverently in prayer and silence and many of them even light a candle before leaving the church.

    Such scenes are moving and often ignite within me an evangelistic zeal to reach out to them. Many of these Hindus and Sikhs, who comprise nearly 82 percent of the Indian population, return to attend the Mass, often showing greater devotion than many of our own Catholic faithful. And yet before the distribution of the Holy Communion, the celebrant is heard to announce that peoples of other religions should not come forward to receive the Eucharist.

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    I have seen the faces of those being excluded suddenly fall with sadness. Some of them become angry at this exclusivist stand of the church. Two years ago I met a man who vowed never to go to a Catholic church again because of this prohibition. What could I say to his question, "Do you think if I approached Jesus Christ in person, he would tell me to first go and fulfill the requirements of baptism and confession and then come back to meet him?"

    I would like to know what is the best way to handle such a situation, especially since Hindus and Sikhs come from a tradition where, at the end of their worship in the temple or gurudwara, they are used to receiving a tiny bit of some sweet substance called prasad in Hindi. The word used in Hindi for holy communion is param prasad; param means "holy."

    Similarly, we in India (as also in other parts of Asia), born and brought up in a religious pluralistic environment and who were beginning to rejoice with the Second Vatican Council's views in the document Nostra Aetate about non-Christian religions, are confused about certain contents of Dominus Jesus, published from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 2000 when you were its prefect.

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    I am no theologian and may fail to put my arguments coherently, but our particular difficulty as Christians in India, while relating to 80 percent Hindus; 2 percent Buddhists; 2 percent Sikhs; 0.5 percent Jains and smaller numbers of Zoroastrians and others, is the stand taken in Dominus Jesus with regard to other religions.

    Dominus Jesus states: "If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation." (no. 22) Such a position can surely be detrimental for dialogue with other religions to reach a common meeting ground, and gives Christians a superior place vis--vis their counterparts in society.

    It is true that we should avoid any suggestion of syncretism or relativism that some Asian theologians seem to have strayed into, but the problem of living alongside people of other religions and sharing humanity is constantly problematic. It should be recognized that there are very many enlightened, God-fearing and morally upright individuals among people of other religions as well as Christianity.

    The most difficult part comes when, unlike Christians who refuse to have anything to do with others' religious beliefs, Hindus and Sikhs are ready to accept Christ as one of the incarnations of God, and willing to worship him and abide by his teaching without giving up faith in their traditional beliefs.

    How can we continue to build bridges with them and share a common humanity so as to build a peaceful and harmonious society without compromising our own identity?

    Wishing you all the best in the difficult task of leading the church in these times and promising to say a special prayer for you, I remain,

    Yours sincerely in the Divine Word

    Dominic Emmanuel, SVD

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