Rev. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., emphasized the need for balance between the assertion of Catholic faith and recognition of its similarities to other religions in a lecture in Riggs Library yesterday.

O’Collins cited doctrines laid down by the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II and the Old Testament in the first of two speeches at Georgetown on Catholicism and world religions.

O’Collins described the roots of inter-religious dialogue established by Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council in 1964. By realizing that Christ died for all human beings, O’Collins said, the Council maintained that all humans are united in the kingdom of God and that the presence of the Holy Spirit exists in everyone.

O’Collins said that acknowledgement of the universal spirituality of all religions forced the Church into a balancing act in which it simultaneously acknowledged the innate spiritual truth of all religions and the uniqueness of Catholicism.

He quoted Nostrae Aetate, The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, which states that other religions, “often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all human beings. Yet [on the other hand], Christ . is the way, the truth and the life.”

Citing an increase in religious tolerance, O’Collins expressed his concern that this balance between acknowledgement and assertion could be shifted.

He described an incident he witnessed in which a group of exiled Buddhist monks from Tibet led a group of Christian male students to a river to toss away the colorful sands of a sacred mandala, a ritualistic geometric design used in Buddhism, after it was destroyed. While watching the event, O’Collins said he was bothered by the carefree religious exchange between the monks and the students.

“For more than 30 years I have respected Buddhist monks who are exiled in Tibet,” O’Collins said. “I’ve said to myself that I want a stronger life of contemplative prayer like them. But I was scared that Christian boys were beginning to believe that one religion is as good as another when in fact, Jesus is the way.”

Distinguishing Jesus from other spiritual figures such as Buddha and Mohammed, O’Collins said that Christ is a unique and universal savior of all people and the son of God.

The divinity of Jesus is the basis for Christianity’s differentiation from other religions, O’Collins said. Even if different religions look similar, he claimed, one religion can never be as good as another because their respective founders are different.

O’Collins maintained that the uniqueness of Christ should not be taken as a sign of arrogance on the part of the Catholic Church. Catholics should equate Christ with a faith which should be shared with everyone, he said.

O’Collins also expressed concern with followers of the Catholic Church who have criticized the value of other faiths. He stated that all faiths contain some degree of truth because God raises true faith, rather than belief, in every human being.

The theology professor also commented on the inter-religious dialogue that John Paul II established during his papacy. When the Pope held a prayer with the Dalai Lama in 1986, many Roman Catholics criticized this action, O’Collins said. The Pope defended the interaction, saying that every authentic prayer is called forth by the Holy Spirit, no matter the faith of the person who is praying.

O’Collins said he recognized that the complex balance of religious tolerance has been present for centuries. He cited the prophet Isaiah’s contention that divine law includes all peoples, despite shock from ancient Israelites at God’s selection of Gentiles to become priests and religious officials in the temple.

O’Collins concluded his lecture by stating that the distinction of Catholic faith is necessary, although it is equally necessary to accept the universality of faith and salvation.

O’Collins currently teaches theology at the Gregorian University in Rome, where he served as dean of the theology faculty from 1986 until 1991. He received his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1968. He has also written more than 40 books, including Catholicism, Easter Faith, Incarnation and The Redemption.

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