Wednesday 21 April 1999 - Dialogue is part of Church's saving mission

1.“One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (
Ep 4,6).

In the light of these words from the Apostle Paul's Letter to the Christians of Ephesus, today we wish to reflect on how to witness to God the Father in dialogue with the followers of all religions.

In our reflection we have two reference-points: the Second Vatican Council's Declaration Nostra aetate on “The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” and the goal of the now imminent Great Jubilee.

The Declaration Nostra aetate laid the foundations for a new style of dialogue in the Church's relationship with the various religions.

For its part, the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is a privileged opportunity to witness to this style. In Tertio millennio adveniente, I invited people, precisely in this year dedicated to God the Father, to take a closer look at the dialogue with the great religions, which includes meetings in places of significance to them (cf. TMA 52-53).

2. In Sacred Scripture the theme of the one God in relation to the universality of the peoples seeking salvation is gradually developed until it culminates in the full revelation in Christ. The God of Israel, expressed by the sacred Tetragrammaton, is the God of the patriarchs, the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (cf. Ex 3) to free Israel and make it the people of the covenant. The Book of Joshua tells how they chose the Lord at Shechem, where a great multitude of people opted for the God who had shown himself benevolent and provident, and forsook all other gods (cf. Jos 24).

18 In the religious awareness of the Old Testament, this choice increasingly takes the form of a rigorous and universalistic monotheism. If the Lord God of Israel is not one god among many but the only true God, it follows that all the nations “to the end of the earth” (Is 49,6) must be saved by him. The universal salvific will transforms human history into a great pilgrimage of peoples towards one destination, Jerusalem, but without loss of any of their ethnic-cultural differences (cf. Ap 7,9). The prophet Isaiah vividly expresses this outlook in the image of a road connecting Egypt to Assyria, stressing that the divine blessing will join Israel, Egypt and Assyria (cf. Is 19,23-25). All peoples, while fully preserving their own identity, are called to turn more and more to the one God who revealed himself to Israel.

3. This “universalistic” inspiration in the Old Testament is further developed in the New, which reveals to us that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tm 2,4). The conviction that God is really preparing all people for salvation is the basis of Christian dialogue with the followers of other religious beliefs. The Council described the Church's attitude to non-Christian religions in this way: “The Church has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims, and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14,6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself, men find the fullness of their religious life” (Nostra aetate NAE 2).

In years past, some considered dialogue with the followers of other religions to be opposed to proclamation, a primary duty of the Church's mission. In fact, interreligious dialogue is an integral part of the Church's evangelizing mission (cf. CEC 856). As I have often stressed, it is fundamental for the Church, is an expression of her saving mission and is a dialogue of salvation (cf. Insegnamenti VII/1 [1984], 595-599). Thus, interreligious dialogue does not mean abandoning proclamation, but answering a divine call so that exchange and sharing may lead to a mutual witness of one's own religious viewpoint, deeper knowledge of one another's convictions and agreement on certain fundamental values.

4. Reference to the common “fatherhood” of God will therefore not prove vaguely universalistic, but will be lived by Christians with full knowledge of that saving dialogue which comes through the mediation of Jesus and the action of his Spirit. Thus, for example, while taking from religions such as Islam the powerful affirmation of the personal Absolute who transcends the cosmos and man, on our part we can offer the witness of God in his inner Trinitarian life, explaining that the Trinity of Persons does not diminish but characterizes the divine unity itself.

Therefore, in religious journeys which lead to a monistic conception of ultimate reality as an undifferentiated “Self” into which everything is resolved, Christianity also discerns the call to respect the deepest meaning of the divine mystery, beyond every human word and concept. And yet it does not hesitate to affirm God's personal transcendence, while proclaiming his universal and loving fatherhood which is fully revealed in the mystery of his crucified and risen Son.

May the Great Jubilee be a valuable opportunity for the followers of all religions to grow in knowledge, esteem and love for one another through a dialogue which will be an encounter of salvation for all!

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a particular greeting to the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, and I encourage them in their joyful service of the Church's evangelizing mission. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Philippines, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the risen Saviour.

In these joyous days of the Easter season, unfortunately many of the world's people continue to suffer.

In addition to the ongoing tragedy in Kosovo, today I would like to recall the “forgotten wars” which are soaking Africa in blood. From Angola to the Great Lakes, from Congo-Brazzaville to Sierra Leone, from Guinea-Bissau to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, from the Horn of Africa to Sudan, a long, bitter series of conflicts within and between States continue to strike innocent people especially and to upset the life of Catholic communities. The arrest of Bishop Augustin Misago of Gikongoro, Rwanda, has caused particular pain and regret.

The risen Christ says again and again to our sorely tried brothers and sisters: “Peace be with you” (cf. Jn 20,19). May his divine voice be heard by those who obstinately refuse to accept his message of life! May he enlighten the blindness of those who stubbornly pursue the tortuous ways of hatred and violence, convincing them to decide once and for all on sincere and patient dialogue, which will lead to beneficial solutions for everyone!

In the certainty that the power of the Resurrection is stronger than evil, let us implore the Conqueror of sin and death so that the desire for a peaceful and fraternal Africa may soon become a comforting reality.

I have closely followed reports about the situation of a group of people kidnapped on 12 April as they were flying from Bucaramanga to Bogotá and who are still being held against their will in northern Colombia. I vigorously appeal to the kidnappers to stop their unjust treatment of these people, whose rights they are seriously violating, and to restore their freedom. This will encourage the reconciliation process to which that entire beloved nation is committed and for whose success I pray constantly to the God of peace.

Wednesday 28 April 1999


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The interreligious dialogue which the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente encourages as a characteristic feature of this year particularly dedicated to God the Father (cf.
TMA 52-53) first of all concerns Jews, our “elder brothers”, as I called them on the occasion of my memorable meeting with the Jewish community of Rome on 13 April 1986 (L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 21 April 1986, p. 6). Reflecting on the spiritual patrimony we share, the Second Vatican Council, especially in the Declaration Nostra aetate, gave a new direction to our relationship with the Jewish religion. We must reflect ever more deeply on that teaching, and the Jubilee of the Year 2000 can be a magnificent occasion to meet, possibly, in places of significance for the great monotheistic religions (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente TMA 53).

We know that, from the beginnings of the Church down to our century, relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters have unfortunately been difficult. However, throughout this long and tormented history there have been occasions of peaceful and constructive dialogue. We should recall in this regard that the first theological work entitled “Dialogue” was significantly dedicated by the philosopher and martyr Justin to his encounter with Trypho the Jew in the second century. Also of note is the vivid dialogical dimension strongly present in contemporary neo-Jewish literature, which has deeply influenced the philosophical and theological thought of the 20th-century.

2. This dialogical attitude between Christians and Jews not only expresses the general value of interreligious dialogue, but also the long journey they share leading from the Old to the New Testament. There is a long period of salvation history which Christians and Jews can view together. “The Jewish faith”, in fact, “unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's revelation in the Old Covenant” (CEC 839). This history is illumined by an immense group of holy people whose lives testify to the possession, in faith, of what they hoped for. Indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes this response of faith throughout the history of salvation (cf. He 11).

Today the courageous witness of faith should also mark the collaboration of Christians and Jews in proclaiming and realizing God's saving plan for all humanity. If his plan is interpreted in a different way regarding the acceptance of Christ, this obviously involves a crucial difference which is at the very origin of Christianity itself, but does not change the fact that there are still many elements in common.

It still is our duty to work together in promoting a human condition that more closely conforms to God's plan. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which refers precisely to the Jewish tradition of jubilee years, points to the urgent need for this common effort to restore peace and social justice. Recognizing God's dominion over all creation, particularly the earth (Lv 25), all believers are called to translate their faith into a practical commitment to protecting the sacredness of human life in all its forms and to defending the dignity of every brother and sister.

3. In meditating on the mystery of Israel and its “irrevocable calling” (cf. Insegnamenti IX/1 [1986], p. 1028), Christians also explore the mystery of their own roots. In the biblical sources they share with their Jewish brothers and sisters, they find the indispensable elements for living and deepening their own faith.

This can be seen, for example, in the liturgy. Like Jesus, whom Luke shows us as he opens the book of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth (cf. Lc 4,16ff.), the Church draws from the liturgical wealth of the Jewish people. She arranges the liturgy of the hours, the liturgy of the word and even the structure of her Eucharistic prayers according to the models of the Jewish tradition. A few great feasts like Easter and Pentecost recall the Jewish liturgical year and are excellent occasions for remembering in prayer the people God chose and loves (cf. Rm 11,2). Today dialogue means that Christians should be more aware of these elements which bring us closer together. Just as we take note of the “covenant never revoked by God” (cf. Insegnamenti, 1980, [III/2], pp. 1272-1276), so we should consider the intrinsic value of the Old Testament (cf. Dei Verbum DV 3), even if this only acquires its full meaning in the light of the New Testament and contains promises that are fulfilled in Jesus. Was it not Jesus' interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures which made the hearts of the disciples “burn within” them on the road to Emmaus (Lc 24,32), enabling them to recognize the risen Christ as he broke bread?

4. Not only the shared history of Christians and Jews, but especially their dialogue must look to the future (cf. CEC 840), becoming as it were a “memoria futuri” (We Remember: A Reflection on the “Shoah”; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 18 March 1998, p. 6). The memory of these sorrowful and tragic events of the past can open the way to a renewed sense of brotherhood, the fruit of God's grace, and to working so that the seeds infected with anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism will never again take root in human hearts.

Israel, a people who build their faith on the promise God made to Abraham: “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17,4 Rm 4,17), shows Jerusalem to the world as the symbolic place of the eschatological pilgrimage of peoples united in their praise of the Most High. I hope that at the dawn of the third millennium sincere dialogue between Christians and Jews will help create a new civilization founded on the one, holy and merciful God, and fostering a humanity reconciled in love.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

In the joy of the risen Lord, I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially the members of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the United States. I also greet the Sri Lankan pilgrims and pray that a just and lasting peace may come to your troubled land. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Norway, the Philippines, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the blessings of almighty God.

                                                                                   May 1999

Wednesday 5 May 1999

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Continuing our discussion of interreligious dialogue, today we will reflect on dialogue with Muslims, who “together with us adore the one, merciful God” (Lumen gentium
LG 16 cf. CEC 841).The Church has a high regard for them, convinced that their faith in the transcendent God contributes to building a new human family based on the highest aspirations of the human heart.

Muslims, like Jews and Christians, see the figure of Abraham as a model of unconditional submission to the decrees of God (Nostra aetate NAE 3). Following Abraham's example, the faithful strive to give God his rightful place in their lives as the origin, teacher, guide and ultimate destiny of all beings (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Message to Muslims for the end of Ramadan, 1417/1997). This human docility and openness to God's will is translated into an attitude of prayer which expresses the existential condition of every person before the Creator.

Along the path marked out by Abraham in his submission to the divine will, we find his descendant, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, who is also devoutly invoked by Muslims, especially in popular piety.

2. We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: “We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection” (Insegnamenti, VIII/2, [1985], p. 497). The patrimony of revealed texts in the Bible speaks unanimously of the oneness of God. Jesus himself reaffirms it, making Israel's profession his own: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mc 12,29 cf. Dt 6,4-5). This oneness is also affirmed in the words of praise that spring from the heart of the Apostle Paul: “To the king of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1Tm 1,17).

21 We know that in the light of the full Revelation in Christ, this mysterious oneness cannot be reduced to a numerical unity. The Christian mystery leads us to contemplate in God's substantial unity the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: each possesses the divine substance whole and indivisible, but each is distinct from the other by virtue of their reciprocal relations.

3. Their relations in no way compromise the oneness of God, as the Fourth Lateran Council explains (1215): “Each of the persons is that supreme reality, viz., the divine substance, essence or nature.... It does not generate, is not begotten and does not proceed” (
DS 804). The Christian doctrine on the Trinity, confirmed by the Councils, explicitly rejects any form of “tritheism” or “polytheism”. In this sense, i.e., with reference to the one divine substance, there is significant correspondence between Christianity and Islam.

However, this correspondence must not let us forget the difference between the two religions. We know that the unity of God is expressed in the mystery of the three divine Persons. Indeed, since he is Love (cf. 1Jn 4,8), God has always been a Father who gives his whole self in begetting the Son, and both are united in a communion of love which is the Holy Spirit. This distinction and compenetration (perichoresis) of the three divine Persons is not something added to their unity but is its most profound and characteristic expression.

On the other hand, we should not forget that the Trinitarian monotheism distinctive of Christianity is a mystery inaccessible to human reason, which is nevertheless called to accept the revelation of God's inmost nature (cf. CEC 237).

4. Interreligious dialogue which leads to a deeper knowledge and esteem for others is a great sign of hope (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Message to Muslims for the end of Ramadan, 1418/1998). The Christian and Muslim traditions both have a long history of study, philosophical and theological reflection, literature and science, which have left their mark on Eastern and Western cultures. The worship of the one God, Creator of all, encourages us to increase our knowledge of one another in the future.

In today's world where God is tragically forgotten, Christians and Muslims are called in one spirit of love to defend and always promote human dignity, moral values and freedom. The common pilgrimage to eternity must be expressed in prayer, fasting and charity, but also in joint efforts for peace and justice, for human advancement and the protection of the environment. By walking together on the path of reconciliation and renouncing in humble submission to the divine will any form of violence as a means of resolving differences, the two religions will be able to offer a sign of hope, radiating in the world the wisdom and mercy of that one God who created and governs the human family.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I extend a special welcome to the members of the Catholic Biblical Federation who are celebrating the Federations's 30th anniversary, and I encourage you to do all you can to ensure that the inexhaustible riches of God's word become ever more truly the heart of the prayer and daily lives of Christ's faithful. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, the Philippines, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the risen Saviour.

Attending the General Audience were His Beatitude Jean-Pierre XVIII, Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians, and the Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church, who were holding a Synod at the Vatican. The Pope expressed his best wishes to the prelates in French:

Dear Brother Bishops of the Armenian Catholic Church,

22 As you hold a Synod at the Vatican dedicated to important issues in the life of your communities, the Church is grateful to your people for their witness of fidelity to Christ, and she rejoices over the celebration of the 1,700th anniversary of your evangelization. It is with courage, faith, enthusiasm and prayer that you have been called to new apostolic fervour. Your people are expecting a bold word and concrete actions which confirm it.

I offer my wish for fruitful work to His Beatitude Jean-Pierre XVIII, Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenians, and to all the Bishops, and I invoke upon them the help of the Holy Spirit, praying that he will give strength and courage to the Armenian Catholic community at this important turning-point in its history.

At the General Audience, the Holy Father spoke of the meeting under way at the United Nations headquarters in New York, USA, on implementation of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo:

In these days an important meeting is being held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on the implementation of the decisions taken at the Cairo Conference in 1994.

At that time the Holy See had insistently stated that the human person must be put at the centre of every development programme. This means that the solution of population problems must respect the dignity of every human being and, at the same time, promote his fundamental rights, first of all the right to life. To this should be added the right to health and education, involving the family in its irreplaceable role as teacher of human, spiritual and moral values.

Five years after the International Conference on Population and Development, Governments must renew the commitments they signed to ensure genuine and lasting human development.

Wednesday 12 May 1999 - Reflection on the visit to Romania


Romanians have ancient Christian roots

1. My thoughts keep returning with deep emotion to the visit God enabled me to make to Romania a few days ago. This was an event of historic importance because it was my first visit to a country where the majority of Christians are Orthodox. I thank God who in his Providence determined that this should take place shortly before the Year 2000, offering Catholics and our Orthodox brothers and sisters the opportunity to take a particularly significant step together on the way towards full unity, in fidelity to the spirit of the Great Jubilee which is now at hand.

I would again like to express my gratitude to all who made this apostolic pilgrimage possible. I thank the President of Romania, Mr Emil Constantinescu, whose courtesy I appreciated, for his kind invitation. With a warm sense of brotherhood I thank His Beatitude Teoctist, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and the Holy Synod: their great cordiality in welcoming me and the sincere affection that was apparent in the words and on the faces of them all have left an indelible mark on my heart. I also thank the Latin and Greek-Catholic Bishops, with whom I was able to strengthen the bonds of deep communion in the love of Christ.

Lastly, I thank the authorities, organizers and all who worked to ensure its success. When we think of what the political situation was until a few years ago, how can we not regard this event as an eloquent sign of God's action in history? To foresee a papal visit at the time would have been totally unthinkable, but the Lord who guides human steps has made possible what seemed humanly unattainable.

2. With this journey I wanted to pay homage to the Romanian people and to their Christian roots, which according to tradition date back to the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostle Andrew, brother of Simon Peter. The people understoood this, lining the streets and flocking to the celebrations. Down the centuries the lifeblood of their Christian roots has nurtured a continuous growth of holiness, with many martyrs and confessors of the faith. This spiritual legacy was taken up in our century by a great many Bishops, priests, religious and lay people who witnessed to Christ during the long, harsh communist domination, courageously facing torture, imprisonment and sometimes even death.

How deeply moved I was to stop at the graves of Cardinal Iuliu Hossu and Bishop Vasile Aftenie, victims of the persecution under the dictatorial regime! Honour to you, Church of God in Romania! You suffered greatly for the Truth, and the Truth has set you free.

The experience of martyrdom joined Christians of different denominations in Romania. The Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants gave a united witness to Christ by the sacrifice of their lives. From the heroism of these martyrs springs an encouragement to harmony and reconciliation in order to overcome the divisions which still exist.

3. This journey gave me an opportunity to experience what a blessing it is for Christians to breathe with the two “lungs” of the Eastern and the Western tradition. I realized this during the solemn and moving liturgical celebrations, for I had the joy of presiding at the Eucharist in the Greek-Catholic rite; I attended the Divine Liturgy for my Orthodox brethren led by the Patriarch in the Byzantine-Romanian rite and was able to pray with them; and lastly, I celebrated Mass in the Roman rite with the faithful of the Latin Church.

During the first of these moments of solemn and intense prayer, I paid homage to the Greek-Catholic Church, sorely tested during the years of persecution, and I recalled that the third centenary of her union with Rome will occur in 2000. The revered Cardinal Alexandru Todea, who was punished by the regime with 16 years of prison and 27 of house arrest, is a symbol of this Church's heroic resistance. Despite his advanced age and ill health, he was able to come to Bucharest: embracing him was one of the greatest joys of this pilgrimage.

4. Particularly desired and important was the meeting with Patriarch Teoctist and the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church. On Saturday afternoon they welcomed me at the Patriarchate with great cordiality and I found in His Beatitude and in the other members of the Holy Synod fraternal understanding and a sincere desire for full communion according to the Lord's will. On this occasion I wanted to assure the Romanian Orthodox Church, involved in an important work of renewal, of the affection and collaboration of the Catholic Church. Fraternal love is the soul of dialogue and is the path for overcoming the remaining obstacles and difficulties in order to reach full Christian unity. God has already worked marvels on this journey of reconciliation: we must press ahead with confident enthusiasm, because Europe and the world have greater need than ever for the visible witness of the brotherhood of all who believe in Christ.

In this light, I feel the need once again to thank the Romanian Orthodox Church, because her invitation gave me the opportunity to carry out essential aspects of the Petrine ministry in the perspective I indicated in the Encyclical Ut unum sint.

5. Ecumenical commitment does not lessen but rather strengthens the task of Peter's Successor as Pastor of the Catholic Church. I carried out my ministry especially by meeting the Romanian Episcopal Conference, composed of Bishops of the Latin and Greek-Catholic rites, and whose President is Archbishop Lucian Murelan of Flgral and Alba Iulia. I urged them to proclaim the Gospel without tiring, to be builders of communion, to provide for the formation of their priests and of the many who are called to the consecrated life, as well as the laity. I encouraged them to promote the pastoral care of young people and schoolchildren, and to make every effort to defend the family, to protect life and to serve the poor.

6. The Romanian nation arose with evangelization and in the Gospel it will find the light and strength to fulfil its vocation as a crossroads of peace in the coming millennium.

For this beloved country too, the year 1989 marked a turning-point. With the sudden collapse of the dictatorship, a new springtime of freedom began and the country thus became a worksite of democracy, to be built with patience and honesty. Drawing on its authentic cultural and spiritual sources, Romania inherited the culture and values of both the Latin (as its language attests) and the Byzantine civilizations, with many Slavic elements. Its history and geographical location make it an integral part of the new Europe, which is gradually being constructed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Church intends to serve this process of growth and democratic integration in a spirit of active cooperation.

7. Recalling the widespread popular tradition according to which Romania is known as the “Garden of Mary”, I would like to ask the Blessed Virgin, in this month dedicated to her, to rekindle in Christians the desire for full unity, so that they may be a Gospel leaven together. I ask Mary that the Romanian people may grow in the spiritual and moral values which are the foundation of every society worthy of the human person and concerned for the common good. To her, the heavenly Mother of Hope, I above all commend the families and young people, who are the future of the beloved people of Romania.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims present at this Audience, especially those from England, Finland, Greece, Australia and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of the risen Saviour.

Wednesday 19 May 1999 - Dialogue with the great world religions


1. 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" (
Ac 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 NAE 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 peoples.

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. CEC 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 EN 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 for salvation.

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).

25 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 [1990], 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 Cassino.

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 Wroclaw, Archbishop Szczepan - Pastor of Poles abroad, Bishops Fraszewski and Glódz, 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.