Hindu-Catholic Interfaith Relations and World Peace.
Rev. Dr. John Dupuche, Chair, Catholic Interfaith Committee
The relationship of the Catholic Church to the vast world of Hindu thought has changed enormously in recent times. The watershed in this relationship, like in so many other matters, was the Second Vatican Council which occurs in the early 60’s of last century. Readers may be interested to know that these sorts of Ecumenical Councils are very rare. There have only been 21 of them in the 2000 years of the Catholic Church’s history.
The epoch making document in the field of interfaith relations was the ‘Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions’ (Nostra Aetate). A bit of background might be useful here. In the aftermath of the ‘holocaust’ in Europe during the Second World War when some 6 million Jews were put to death, the Catholic Church felt it necessary to make an official statement concerning the attitude of the Church towards the Jews. It was then felt inappropriate not also to make a statement regarding Muslims since they, along with Christians and Jews, constitute one of the Abrahamic communities. It was further felt that something should also be said concerning Hinduism and Buddhism. What, therefore, originally began as a statement concerning the Jews ended up as a statement about all non-Christian religions.
The declaration contains the following all-important statement:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. …. The Church, therefore, urges her [children] to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture.”
It recognises not only that many truths are to be found in religions other than Christianity but also that holiness is to be found there, and therefore deep religious experience and salvation.
The Declaration goes on to urge Christians to enter into both discussion and collaboration with members of these religions. Gone are the days of hostility or domination, fear or arrogance! Collaboration is specifically promoted. This is extraordinary in its consequences. It means that Catholics must cooperate with members of other religions in all respects and of course in the work of establishing world peace. The old rivalries must be put aside.
An anecdote: I was spending a few months in Varanasi, the sacred city of the Hindus located magnificently on the Ganges. In the apartment next door was an American from the Mid-west. He had come to India to evangelise. He would befriend students from the university and invite them to his apartment and speak about Christianity. Nothing wrong in that of course! However, it became quite clear, from our conversations that he had a completely closed mind. Anything I said about Christianity – and I know a thing or two – he would simply reject if it did not already form part of his outlook. He despised the teachings of Hinduism and saw them as so many errors from which the students had to be freed if they were to be saved. That attitude must go.
Another anecdote. Henri le Saux, a Catholic monk, came to India to set up the Benedictine form of monastic life in the India style. Soon after arriving in India he went to see the famous Ramana Maharshi and was thunderstruck. The mere sight of this extraordinary man – they never exchanged words – made Henri realise the depths of the Hindu faith. The years that followed saw him trying to link his Christian faith which he never abandoned with his new-found appreciation of Hindu truth. He said: “I cannot be just Christian; I cannot be just Hindu; but I don’t know how to be both Christian and Hindu.”
That may have been true in his case, but there must be some way, for human nature is one and Ultimate Reality is one. It doesn’t mean the Christians will cease to be Christian in the fullest sense or that Hindus will cease to be Hindus. There is no question of dropping one to become the other, for that would be not dialogue but monologue. The road of inter-faith dialogue is both long and exciting.
The text of Vatican II goes on to make the remarkable statement that Catholics should “acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture”. These are strong words. It not is not just a matter of ‘putting up with’ but of ‘encouraging’ the spiritual and moral truths. This statement is very important and is a model for all participants in interfaith dialogue.
The dialogue is also a moment of revelation since the Truth perceived in another person shows all the more powerfully the Truth present in me. We bring each other into contact with the Truth and are thus initiated into the Truth. We are good news to each other.
Catholics and Muslims in Australia have no direct political power but the fact that we get on well together shows that there is no justification for hostility. The peace between us influences social thought as a whole. We enjoy each other’s diversity and in this way show Governments that diversity is a reason for rejoicing. Hostility between religions leads to hostility between governments and vice versa the mutual respect between religions will help convince Governments of the value of cooperation and peace.
Australia is well placed to engage in this inter-faith dialogue since we are now a highly diverse nation with people of all culture and religions, well educated and open. We are a sort of laboratory.
 ‘Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions’ (Nostra Aetate), in Austin Flannery, Vatican Council II, the Conciliar and Post-conciliar Documents, Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1975. p.739.