Once we were total strangers. Our differences drove us further and further apart. At times we were enemies. We killed each other: all in the name of religion. The one God in whom we all professed faith was shattered into the pieces of our various traditions. There was no hope. We were infidels to each other. It was almost inevitable that Jews, Christians and Muslims would never be reconciled with each other. We would be enemies eternally. We were unfaithful but God was faithful. The long history of hate, animosity and condemnation began to be reversed when Pope John XXIII, now Saint John XXIII, called the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). It was to be a pastoral council concerned about our relationship with God, the world, each other, and all of humanity.

In the very first paragraph of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope, it reads: The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. … This community realizes that it is truly linked with human mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.

Then in the document Nostra Aetate - Our Time, we are reminded of the Catholic Church’s relationships with Jews, Muslims and other religions: Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues… Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

The document then reaches out to humanity’s common search for meaning: People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

Brian D. McLaren, a British theologian, surprised me by the title of his recent book, Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the Road? His words are also startling: Becoming like little children is not such a bad thing. If we are humbled to the point of beginning anew and seeing afresh, maybe, just maybe, our identities will be transformed by grace so that we will reflect more fully the One in whose image we are created, Perhaps, this encounter with the other is the crossroads to which God has been leading us all along, Perhaps this choice, now – to move forward or to hold back, to open arms or to clench fists, to identify ourselves by opposition and hostility or to identify ourselves by hospitality and solidarity –perhaps this is our defining moment.

It takes courage for all religions to seek new identities in a multi-faith world. The importance of inter-faith is that truth is sought in dialogue with each other. The only other alternative is to defend the absolute truth of one religion over another and be dead wrong.