The Acts of the Apostles relate St Paul's discourse to the
Athenians, which seems very timely for the areopagus of religious
pluralism in our times. To present the God of Jesus Christ, Paul
starts with the religious practices of his audience, expressing his
appreciation: "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in
every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at
the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the
inscription, 'To an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as
unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22-23).
On my spiritual and pastoral pilgrimage around today's world, I have
repeatedly expressed the Church's esteem for "whatever is true and
holy" in the religions of the various peoples. I have added,
following the Council, that Christian truth serves to "encourage the
spiritual and moral good found among them, as well as their social
and cultural values" (Nostra aetate, n. 2). The universal fatherhood
of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, spurs us also to dialogue with
religions outside Abraham's stock. This dialogue offers a wealth of
themes and challenges, when we think, for example, of Asian cultures
deeply imbued with the religious spirit, or of African traditional
religions, which are a source of wisdom and life for so many
2. At the root of the Church's encounter with world religions there
is a discernment of their specific features, that is, of the way
they approach the mystery of God the Saviour, the ultimate Reality
of human life. Every religion, in fact, presents itself as a search
for salvation and offers ways to attain it (cf. CCC, n. 843).
Dialogue presupposes the certitude that man, created in God's image,
is also the privileged 'place' of his saving presence.
Prayer, as an adoring recognition of God, as gratitude for his
gifts, as an invocation of his help, is a special form of encounter,
especially with those religions which, although not having
discovered the mystery of God's fatherhood, nevertheless "have, as
it were, their arms stretched out towards heaven" (Paul VI,
Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 53). However, dialogue is more difficult
with certain contemporary forms of religious belief in which prayer
often ends up as an enhancement of one's vital potential in exchange
3. Christianity's dialogue with other religions takes various forms
and operates at different levels, beginning with the dialogue of
life, in which "people strive to live in an open and neighbourly
spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and
preoccupations" (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and
the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Instruction
Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations, 19 May
1991, n. 42).
The dialogue of action has particular importance. Among these works
we should mention education in peace and respect for the
environment, solidarity with the world of suffering, the promotion
of social justice and the integral development of peoples. Christian
charity, which knows no borders, gladly joins forces with the shared
witness given by the members of other religions, rejoicing over the
good they accomplish.
Then there is the theological dialogue, in which experts try to
deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages
and to appreciate their spiritual values. Meetings between the
specialists of different religions, however, cannot be limited to
the search for a least common denominator. Their purpose is to lend
courageous service to the truth by highlighting areas of convergence
as well as fundamental differences, in a sincere effort to overcome
prejudice and misunderstanding.
4. The dialogue of religious experience is also becoming more and
more important. The practice of contemplation answers the great
thirst for inner life of those who are spiritually searching, and
helps all believers to enter more deeply into the mystery of God.
Some practices derived from the great Eastern religions hold a
certain attraction for people today. Christians must exercise
spiritual discernment in their regard so as not to lose sight of the
conception of prayer as it has been explained by the Bible
throughout salvation history (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, Letter Orationis formas, on Some Aspects of Christian
Meditation, 15 October 1989: AAS 82 , II, pp. 362-379).
This necessary discernment does not hinder interreligious dialogue.
In fact, for many years meetings with the various monastic
communities of other religions, marked by cordial friendship, are
opening ways for the mutual sharing of other spiritual riches "with
regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for
God or the Absolute" (Dialogue and Proclamation, n. 42). Mysticism,
however, can never be invoked to support religious relativism in the
name of an experience that would lessen the value of God's
revelation in history. As disciples of Christ, we feel the urgent
need and the joy of witnessing to the fact that God manifested
himself precisely in him, as John's Gospel tells us: "No one has
ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he
has made him known" (Jn 1:18).
This witness must be given without any reservation, but also in the
awareness that the action of Christ and his Spirit is already
mysteriously present in all who live sincerely according to their
religious convictions. And with all genuinely religious people the
Church continues her pilgrimage through history towards the eternal
contemplation of God in the splendour of his glory.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am always pleased to greet the NATO Defense College, recognizing
your Organization’s role in the service of peace. Today,
unfortunately, the Balkans are without peace, and we are daily
witnesses of the great suffering of so many of our brothers and
sisters. I urge you to keep clearly before your eyes the need for
everyone to work to ensure that dialogue and negotiation will
succeed in bringing an end to violence in the area. I extend a
special greeting to Up With People, and to the members of the
Dominican Festival Choir. Upon all the English- speaking pilgrims
and visitors, especially those from England, Scotland, Denmark, Hong
Kong, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant
blessings of Almighty God.
The Holy Father greeted the many Polish pilgrims in attendance and
recalled the battle of Monte Cassino (18 May 1944), in which many
Poles lost their lives. Here is a translation of his remarks, which
were made in Polish.
I would cordially like to greet my compatriots attending today's
audience who have come to Rome from Poland or from abroad to
celebrate the 55th anniversary of the memorable battle of Monte
I joyfully welcome the soldiers who took part in that battle, as
well as the representatives of the Veterans' Associations. I welcome
the Cardinal Primate, the Cardinal Metropolitan of Wrocław,
Archbishop Szczepan - Pastor of Poles abroad, Bishops Fraszewski and
Głódź, the representatives of the supreme authorities and the Polish
Government, with the President of the Senate, the representatives of
the Polish Army and the Ambassador of the Polish Republic to the
Apostolic See. Most of all, I would like to mention two persons
here: President Kaczorowski and Mrs Anders, whose presence is
particularly significant today.
The battle of Monte Cassino is inscribed forever in the history of
Poland and Europe. It showed what great value there is in love for
one's homeland and in the desire to regain lost independence. "At
Monte Cassino", as I once said, "the Polish soldier fought, here he
fell, here he shed his blood, thinking of his country, of that
country which is for us a beloved Mother precisely because love for
her demands sacrifice and hardship.... [The Polish soldier was]
guided by the consciousness of a just cause, since a just cause was
and shall never cease to be the right of a nation to existence, to
independent existence, to social life in the spirit of its own
national convictions and religious traditions, and to the
sovereignty of its own territory" (Homily, 18 May 1979;
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 28 May 1979, pp. 6-7).
Through the sacrifice of their lives and the tribute of blood paid
there, our compatriots laid the foundations of a new Europe faithful
to its Christian tradition, conscious of its spiritual roots and
more united. They also laid the foundations of a new Poland. May
this battle always be remembered by today's generation and those to
come. It is a great challenge for us on the way to creating a new
social life in new circumstances - a life based on the teaching of
the Gospel and the 1,000-year-old spiritual heritage of our nation.
In our prayer today let us include the soldiers who fought at Monte
Cassino, their families and all the concerns of our homeland.