Ask Alice about Catholicism
How does the Catholic Church view other religions?

If I had to identify one church question most vital to address in the 21st century, it would be this one. Today we inhabit a global community that is drawing ever-more closely together. It’s like the world got shrink-wrapped in a single generation and we’re all breathing the same remarkably limited and interdependent air now.

Theologians at the Second Vatican Council saw this new reality on the horizon and recognized that the church had to reexamine and clarify its interfaith stance. In the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate, 1965) it formally opened the issue to further exploration.

Note: A “declaration” isn’t the same thing as a “dogmatic constitution,” of which the same Council produced a few. Constitutions are fairly finished documents, not to be tampered with in their essence. Declarations blaze a trail, or at least mark the trailhead, but welcome refinement and progress.

Nostra Aetate, while not a perfect document, had some remarkable things to say. It asserts unequivocally that humanity is one community with a common destiny in God. People turn to different religions in search of the same answers to questions as fundamental as: What is the purpose of life? What is good and evil? Where does suffering come from and what is its meaning? What leads to happiness? What lies beyond death?

Then the document makes its boldest claim: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions” (no. 2). While Christians are bound to witness to “Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6),” we should also “acknowledge, preserve, and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians.”

It lists, for starters, that Hindus seek the divine mystery in myth and philosophy, and practice asceticism, meditation, and confidence in God’s love. Buddhists testify to the inadequacies of the material world and that wisdom must be sought through liberation from the trap of possessions. Muslims worship the one God, see in Abraham a spiritual father, and regard Jesus as a holy man and Mary as a source of intercession. Muslims adhere to familiar practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Our shared spiritual heritage with the Jewish community is so intimate that it has spawned many additional teachings since Vatican II. Pope John Paul II called Judaism “the elder brother” of Christianity. Stay tuned as the interfaith dialogue continues!

Isaiah 66:23; John 14:6; Acts 17:26; Romans 9:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Galatians 3:7-9; Revelation 21:24

Online resources
Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) (October 28, 1965)
What the Catholic Church Has Learnt from Interreligious Dialogue by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, M. Afr. (2006)

The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims by Joan Chittister, Saadi Shakur Chishti, and Arthur Waskow (Beacon Press, 2006)
One Earth, Many Religions by Paul F. Knitter (Orbis Books, 1995)

Ask Alice a question.
Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

Before sending Alice a question, please check below to see if she has already responded to it. Also, please send only questions of general interest. Not all questions can be used. Thank you!
Got a question for Alice?

   Ask her now!

More questions...and responses

Where did Lent come from?

What’s so important about the Council of Trent?

What are the “Precepts of the Church”?

Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?

Why can’t a woman be ordained?

Why does the liturgy change?

Is Purgatory still “on the books”?

Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?

Why pray the rosary?

Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?

Did King David compose the psalms?

Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?

Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?

What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?

Is a long or short discernment process better for someone interested in becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?

Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?

What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?

What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?

What is the Triduum?

Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?

"What should I believe about hell?"

Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

What was the Reformation?

What is “discernment of spirits”?

Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why are there parishes?

Do Catholics believe in ghosts?

Who was Saint Augustine?

What is "sanctuary"?

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

How does God “answer” prayers?

What does “salvation history” mean?

Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Why do priests wear vestments?

Do miracles still happen?

What do deacons do?

How is the Mass “prayer”?

What is Catholic decision-making?

Who wrote the gospels?

What is “original sin”?

The "Five C's" of Confession

What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?

Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?

What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Can I come back to the church?

Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?

What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?

Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?

Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?

Why pray for the dead?

Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?

How were the books of the Bible chosen?

What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?

What do Catholics have to believe?

Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?

What is the lectionary?

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Did Jesus establish a church? How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to this big institution?

What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?

Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?

What do people in religious life do for fun?

Why is celibacy important to religious life?

Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?

What is contemplation?

Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Should I read the Bible?

How can I be happy?

How can I live a holy life?