Tuesday, 24 June 2014 14:21

Dialogue with other Christians: Open Hearts and Minds

Written by

As the world has watched Pope Francis in action over the last couple of weeks, both in Israel and in Rome, his desire and his capacity to talk and pray with those who are not Catholic is worthy of comment. Such a practice is not new and nor is it restricted to Pope Francis. Saint John Paul II is rightly famous for inaugurating regular gatherings in Assisi of religious leaders from a whole range of faiths and traditions. Pope Benedict also prayed at Assisi with religious leaders from all over the world and we recently marked 50 years since Pope Paul VI met with the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

When it comes to interfaith or ecumenical dialogue sometimes it is easier to talk to people of other faiths than to talk to fellow Christians with whom there has been a history of disagreement and misunderstanding.

Division in the Body of Christ is a scandal in that it stands as a counter-witness to the unity that all Christians have been called to. In his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis challenges all Christians with the following words:

If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us. n246

The Pope is inviting Catholics not just to study other expressions of Christianity as an anthropologist might study an interesting instance of cultural expression. The challenge to Catholics from the Holy Father is to see those who are members of other Churches and ecclesial communities as fellow pilgrims, that is, as people with whom we share our journey. When we walk alongside each other suspicion and mistrust fades and understanding begins to develop.

As a rich religious tradition Catholicism does not need to loudly announce the way it differs from other faiths. Differences will be evident through actions. By way of analogy mature confident adults feel no need to ridicule those with whom they differ. As children mature they gradually come to identify themselves as separate from others by distinguishing their personal identity from parents, siblings and peers. This stage of separation in relation to others is important and needs to be successfully navigated.

In his first letter to the Christian community in Corinth St Paul notes that there is a difference between children and adults.

When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways. I Cor 13:11

Pope Francis is inviting all Catholics to be mature in their faith and with the security that such maturity affords open their hearts and minds in dialogue with other Christians.

Confident in the knowledge that the Catholic faith is a continuation of the message and mission of Jesus Christ the Pope is inviting all Catholics to a mature faith, a faith that is finished with all childish defensive ways, a faith that is secure enough to engage in genuine and open dialogue with fellow Christians and recognise what the Spirit has sown in them.

Dr John Francis Collins


John Collins

John has worked for over twenty years in Church agencies. His roles have included pastoral work in a Catholic hospital, primary, secondary and tertiary teaching in Catholic institutions, adult faith education, diocesan renewal, and co-ordination of RCIA.

John joined the National Office for Evangelisation – Catholic Enquiry Centre in 2007  after 14 years at Centacare Sydney where he worked in a variety of roles including marriage education, research and the development of social policy.

John recently graduated completing his PhD in Method and practical theology at Australian Catholic University. John has Bachelor of Theology, a Master of Theology, a Graduate Diploma in Education and a Master of Education in Pastoral Guidance. He is an active member of the Australian Catholic Theological Association and currently vice president of the Association for Practical Theology in Oceania.  He is also passionate Sydney Swans supporter.

Originally from Melbourne he now lives in Sydney’s Inner West with his wife Dr Sandra Carroll and they have two young adult sons, Paul and Bede.