VATICAN CITY - A theology that does not invite conversion to Christ -- or that considers all religions as equal -- empties Christianity of its meaning, warns John Paul II.
"To bear witness to Jesus Christ is the supreme service which the Church offers to the peoples of Asia," the Pope said today to a group of bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam. They were ending their five-yearly visit to the Holy See.
Any "theology of mission that omits the call to a radical conversion to Christ and denies the cultural transformation which such conversion will entail necessarily misrepresents the reality of our faith," he said.
Our faith, the Pope said, "is always a new beginning in the life of him who alone is the Way, and the Truth and the Life."
"In this regard, we reaffirm that interreligious dialogue does not replace the 'missio ad gentes' but rather forms a part of it," he said.
"It must be noted that relativist explanations of religious pluralism, which state that the Christian faith is of no different value than any other belief, in fact empty Christianity of its defining Christological heart: faith alienated from our Lord Jesus, as the only Savior, is no longer Christian, no longer theological faith," he said.
"An even greater misrepresentation of our faith occurs when relativism leads to syncretism: an artificial 'spiritual construct' that manipulates and consequently distorts the essential, objective, revelatory nature of Christianity," John Paul II added.
"That which renders the Church missionary by her very nature is precisely the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. This is the foundation of our faith. It is this which makes Christian witness credible," he explained.
A consequence of this fundamental truth of Christianity is a "correct understanding of the relationship between culture and Christian faith," John Paul II stressed.
"On your own Indian subcontinent you are faced with cultures rich in religious and philosophical traditions. Within this context, we see how absolutely essential is the proclamation of Jesus Christ as the Incarnate Son of God," he said. "It is in this understanding of Christ's uniqueness as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, fully God and fully man, that our faith must be preached and embraced.
"Living with many people who do not know Christ convinces us ever more of the need for the missionary apostolate."
"The radical newness of life brought by Christ and lived by his followers awakens in us the urgency of missionary activity," he added. "This demands an explicit proclamation of Jesus as Lord: a bold testimony founded on his command -- 'go and make disciples of all nations' -- and sustained by his promise -- 'I am with you always.'"