February 1998

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John XXIII - Opening the Door

Moved by an intuition that the whole Church was in need of renewal, Pope John convened the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

Vatican II is one of the most important interfaith events in Church history. In choosing to respectfully acknowledge the presence of grace, truth and holiness in other religious traditions, the Council has changed the Catholic Church forever.

While serving as a Vatican diplomat in Greece during the Second World War, Pope John XXIII did what he could to prevent the deportation of Jews. So great an impression did Pope John make upon the Jewish community of Rome that the Chief Rabbi and a number of his congregants went to St. Peter's Square to pray for the dying pontiff during his final days.

Paul VI - Interfaith Architect

Paul VI nourished a dream of a Church in conversation with other religions and cultures. In fact, he is the chief architect of a Catholic infrastructure for interreligious relations.

Even before the Council had ended, he established the Secretariat for Non-Christians (later renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue). The Pontifical Council is the Church's major vehicle for negotiating dialogue with other religions.

Paul VI's first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, focused on the importance of interfaith dialogue. During each of his six pastoral trips abroad, he met with local leaders of world religions. When he visited India, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets and stood in silence. Hindus regard a religious leader, of whatever faith, as a special manifestation of God.

John Paul II - Interfaith Pilgrim

John Paul II readily embraced Paul VI's commitment to dialogue and quickly expanded the interfaith work, bringing a hands-on, practical approach and a tireless capacity for travel. Here are some of his many accomplishments:

  • During many of his 70 or so trips abroad, John Paul has met with leaders of various world faiths;
  • Interfaith encounters have been a staple of his daily ministry in Rome;
  • During his pontificate, he has addressed Muslim groups almost 50 times and has had numerous audiences with Muslim leaders;
  • John Paul is the first Pope in modern history to visit Rome's synagogue.
  • From boyhood to the throne of Peter, Karol Wojtyla has demonstrated a special gift for Jewish-Christian dialogue. This commitment was recognized in 1995 when he won the National Jewish Book Award (USA) for his volume, Spiritual Pilgrimage: Texts on Jews and Judaism. This book is a collection of the Pope's writings (1979-1995) on Jews and Judaism;
  • In 1986 John Paul became the first prominent spiritual leader in history to convene an interfaith gathering of leaders of the world religions to fast and pray for peace (World Day of Prayer for Peace, Assisi, Italy);
  • Since 1978 the Pontiff has produced a staggering output of speeches, writings, documents and encyclicals promoting interfaith dialogue;
  • As a native of Poland, Karol Wojtyla experienced firsthand the suppression of religious freedom that often accompanies totalitarian political regimes. This explains why the promotion of religious liberty has been such a consistent theme of his papal ministry;
  • John Paul has insisted that interfaith and interchurch dialogue be part of the Church's preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000.

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