On July 6, 2023, Bishop Américo Aguiar gave an interview to the secular public Portuguese channel, RTP Notícias. The full interview (in Portuguese) can be seen here.
Catholic news sites have picked up on a particular section of that interview, which we translated and reproduced below.
The source of the controversy starts at the 17:35 mark:
Interviewer: Don Américo, there are some topics that are very dear to Pope Francis, and he brings them to this World Youth Day (WYD). There’s Fratelli tutti. This [papal] visit is grounded on Fratelli tutti. “We are all brothers.” Finding others, finding Christ in others. Is that what he brings here?
Aguiar: WYD Lisbon is also a call for this universal fraternity. Some time ago we saw world leaders defending that differences are meant to push away and to divide. The solution for what is different would be the wall, growing apart. WYD must be a school, it must be pedagogical, so that I may learn to know and like what is different. Differences must be enriching; they must be understood as something that enriches us…
Interviewer: And the invitations to other religions must be seen through that angle.
Aguiar: Exactly, to other religions. The invitation for WYD is never for Catholics. Please note, never have the popes made an invitation for Catholic youth, it was always an invitation for the youth all around the world.
And it’s very important that the young people that come to Lisbon—or even Portugal—meet other young people, from Africa, Asia, America, rich, poor, from the West, Catholics, non-Catholics, with religion, without religion, with faith, without faith. They must first understand that this diversity is enriching. Whatever it is, it’s enriching.
Then they must meet each other and allow themselves to be met. From thence, they must take care of each other, love each other, to like each other’s presence. At the end, we hold hands, and we say: “I think differently, I feel differently, I organize my life in a different way, but we are brothers and we are going to build the future together.”
This is the main message of this encounter with the living Christ that the Pope wants to bring to young people: we don’t want to convert young people to Christ, or the Catholic Church, or whatever; what we want is that it’s normal for a Catholic young person to say and witness that he is so; that the young Muslim or Jewish person will also have no problems in saying that he is so, and witnessing to it; that the young person that does not profess any religion feels at ease and not out of place because he is like that; and that we all understand that differences enrich us.
The world will be objectively better if we are able to instill in the hearts of all young people this certainty from Fratelli tutti, that we are all brothers. The pope has made an immense effort to echo this in all hearts. Our hearts and every heart.
As President of the World Youth Day Lisbon 2023 Foundation, Bishop Aguiar oversees the working group for interreligious dialogue that invites people of all religions to the WYD Lisbon 2023. In the July 6th interview, he was referring to how WYD should receive young people who are non-Christians.
Though these words of Bishop Aguiar raised objections in Catholic media and social media, Bishop Aguiar’s intervention was in continuity with Benedict XVI’s views on interreligious dialogue.
In his 2012 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, Benedict XVI said (emphasis added):
Two rules are generally regarded nowadays as fundamental for interreligious dialogue:
1. Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect it differs from evangelization, from mission;
2. Accordingly, both parties to the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does not place in question either for themselves or for the other.
These rules are correct, but in the way they are formulated here I still find them too superficial. True, dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual understanding – that is correct. But all the same, the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. Both sides in this piece-by-piece approach to truth are therefore on the path that leads forward and towards greater commonality, brought about by the oneness of the truth.
Elsewhere in the same address, Benedict XVI explained:
… the search for an answer to a specific question becomes a process in which, through listening to the other, both sides can obtain purification and enrichment. Thus this search can also mean taking common steps towards the one truth, even if the fundamental choices remain unaltered.
Bishop Aguiar’s interview rose to prominence when Pope Francis announced last Sunday that he would raise him to the cardinalate.
Update (7/12/23): Bishop Aguiar has clarified the meaning of his words in a Portuguese interview. You can access the original interview in Portuguese here. We now quote part of an English translation from The Pillar:
“Since the first edition of WYD, the popes have been inviting all young people to meet each other, to meet with the pope and to experience the living Christ. That is what we want to happen, and that is what I was trying to get across…
And the goal is that each person, after going home, might feel called to conversion, to be better, to make decisions for their lives in terms of vocation, family, work, and different projects, but marked by the experience of having met these young people who want to bear witness to the living Christ.
But I don’t see WYD as an opportunity for active proselytism, as an event to try and convert everyone who happens to come along.
I understand that, taken in isolation, that sentence could have caused some perplexity, and it could be read the wrong way.
But over the past four years we have had one common refrain: to bear witness to the living Christ, that this is an encounter with the living Christ. If people only hear what they want to hear, then what can I do?”