National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  November 14, 2003

Vatican documents not always helpful, but they don’t stop dialogue

At the Graymoor Catholic-Buddhist Dialogue, John Borelli, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, highlighted 38 years of Catholic documents relating to Buddhists and Buddhism.

Borelli began with the groundbreaking Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions. The document calls Buddhism “a way of life by which men can … attain a state of perfect liberation and reach supreme illumination either through their own efforts or by the aid of divine help.”

The pronouncement of the council fathers in 1965 held out far more hope of dialogue between these two ancient religions than did Pope John Paul II’s 1995 book, Threshold of Hope, that saw Buddhists as atheists and called their creed “a religion of detachment.” Buddhists expressed displeasure with the pope’s characterization and said they preferred to be called non-theists and seen as a religion of loving kindness and compassion.

In response to the pope’s language and following his 1995 trip to Sri Lanka, a largely Buddhist nation, the Vatican quickly organized its first Buddhist-Christian Colloquium, held in a Buddhist monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1995.

The Buddhists requested a second meeting that took place in a Catholic monastery in Bangalore, India, in 1998. A third colloquium met last autumn in Tokyo.

While other religions may have taken more umbrage with the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus, issued in 2000 and interpreted by many religious leaders as triumphal and anti-ecumenical, its release did not impede dialogue already begun between Catholics and Buddhists.

-- Patricia Lefevere

National Catholic Reporter, November 14, 2003

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