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  • Dialogue of Suffering, Liberation, and Fraternity: A Report on the Anniversary of Nostra AetateCastel Gandolfo and Vatican City June 23–27, 2015
  • Jim Fredericks

Over a year ago, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Prefect of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, met with Pope Francis, reminding him that the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s call to the Catholic Church for interreligious dialogue, was coming in October 2015. The Cardinal came prepared with a number of proposals about how to celebrate the anniversary. The Pope, however, had his own ideas. Francis asked the Cardinal to invite “our friends” who follow other religious paths to come to Rome for a new kind of interreligious meeting, what he called a “dialogue of fraternity.” The first of these new dialogues took place last June. About twenty Buddhists from various US cities gathered with the same number of Catholics at the pope’s summer residence atop Castel Gandolfo for six days of listening, learning and, most of all, imagining how we might work together in the future.

Up in Castel Gandolfo, Cardinal Tauran left us with the clear impression that a new era in the work of dialogue was opening up. In the past, dialogues between Buddhists and Catholics have been focused largely on the need to develop mutual understanding and esteem. Now, the pope was urging us to build on that understanding and esteem by exploring the possibility of interreligious collaboration in addressing social problems afflicting our local communities. This is what Francis means by a “dialogue of fraternity.”

In his three years as pope, Francis has given us a meaty pastoral exhortation Evangelii gaudium and a groundbreaking—and controversial—encyclical on climate change Laudato Si. He has also gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, made all the more memorable because he took with him a Jewish and a Muslim friend from Buenos Aires. I was not at all surprised to hear that this pope’s approach to interreligious dialogue is pragmatic. Francis was inviting us to celebrate Nostra Aetate by rolling up our sleeves and thinking about how we might work together to heal the wounds that afflict the world. In a dialogue of fraternity, Christians and their Buddhist friends, [End Page 213] trusting one another and holding the other in esteem, come together in solidarity to work for the common good.

Cardinal Tauran told us to look to the pope’s message on the 2014 World Day of Peace for a better understanding of the meaning of “fraternity.” The message is titled “Fraternity: The Foundation and Pathway to Peace.” “Fraternity is an essential human quality,” the pope said, “for we are all relational beings.” Without fostering fraternity, “it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.” In his message, the pope went on to say that we must join together to resist “the globalization of indifference,” which inures us to the suffering of the marginalized. Globalization makes us “neighbors, but not brothers.” And yet fraternity is an “inherent calling” and a “longing” within us all. The idea that the human person is relational before being autonomous runs contrary to one of the basic tenants of the politics and economics of the modern West. Of course this aspect of Catholic social teachings is not a hard sell for Buddhists. It goes to the heart of the dharma. The implications of this shared understanding for Buddhist and Christian social action, however, is more difficult to discern. We need to talk to one another. But after the talk, we must learn how to act together.

On our second day together, we left the cool of Castel Gandolfo for the heat of Rome. The original plan was for our group to have orchestra seats at the Wednesday general audience in the piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica: just the pope and us and about six thousand other well-wishers. Once again, Francis had another idea. He insisted on greeting us personally. In the Vatican, we were led past Swiss Guards into a reception room. After a few minutes, the Swiss Guards came to attention and before we knew it, Pope Francis was...


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