For this reason Meeting God in Friend and Stranger needs to reach a wider readership than just British Catholics. An important attempt to “read the signs of the times” and, as a consequence, to promote the importance of inter-religious dialogue, it both draws on and tries to clarify some of the complex questions arising from the contemporary Catholic position about relationships with other faiths. It sets out simply what the Catholic Church means by dialogue, “a way of living in positive relations with others”, and evangelisation, when Christians “enable the reign or Kingdom of God to permeate the minds and hearts, the cultures and activities of the world of their time”, as well as clearly distinguishing them from “relativism” and “proselytism”.
The basic theological underpinning is also carefully teased out. The root proposition is the universality of God’s love, the corresponding unity - in diversity - of the human race and the irreducible primacy of human dignity. This means that Catholics are called to dialogue not as an optional extra. Dialogue is “intrinsic to our understanding of Church” as the “sacrament of humanity” whether it is dialogue of life, action, theological discussion or spirituality. Catholics must therefore strive to be “open to all that is true and holy” in other faiths, and moreover, to “acknowledge, preserve and encourage” their “spiritual and moral truths... together with their social life and culture”.
Catholics “come together to pray” with other faiths – as Pope John Paul II did on occasions at Assisi – with each faith praying in its own way; they do not “pray together” with them. This is a subtle distinction yet one of understandable importance to religious leaders. The bishops are also refreshingly open about the problem posed to genuine dialogue by the harassment and sometimes persecution of Christians in some countries.
The Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, says about Muslims, “and together with us they adore the one merciful God”. But does it mean that when Muslims attend their Friday or daily worship, they are incidentally praying on behalf of Jews and Christians who share their adoration - but not necessarily their regular prayer life? This would be a comforting thought for those with a prayer deficit. If, as Christian theology holds, the “fullness of truth” will only be realised with the second coming of Christ, how, from a Christian perspective, can anyone be sure that non-Christian faiths are adequately described as containing only “glimpses of that one truth” or reflecting a single “ray of that truth” ? This would be a humbling thought for those disabled by certainty.