Interreligious Dialogue Seen as Risk and Grace

And It's Definitely a Necessity, Says Cardinal Tauran

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NAPLES, Italy, NOV. 28, 2008 (Zenit.org).- There can be risks with interreligious dialogue, but this interchange also helps believers to grow and give witness to their faith, says the Vatican official who oversees dialogue between religions.

Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke of the benefits and the necessity of dialogue at the opening of the academic year of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Southern Italy, reported L'Osservatore Romano today.

"Falling into syncretism" is the risk the cardinal warned against, though he said this danger is relative if believers use their reason to go deeper in their faith and can thus defend it. In that case, the risk becomes a grace, because "it puts believers in a permanent state of spiritual vigilance and obliges them to be consistent and to witness."

The Vatican official acknowledged that interreligious dialogue can be particularly challenging for Christians because "it presents the problem of how to reconcile our faith in Christ as sole mediator with appreciation for the positive values we find in other religions."

In this regard, the cardinal referred to "Nostra Aetate" from the Second Vatican Council, and explained that in every human being "the light of Christ exists and, consequently, all that exists that is positive in religions is not darkness" but "participates in the great light that shines above all lights."

Cardinal Tauran went on to consider four aspects in interreligious dialogue, which he described as not a dialogue between religions, but "between religious persons."

He noted the dialogue of life, by which believers share joys and trials; the dialogue of works, by which they collaborate in the wellbeing of all; theological dialogue, when an exchange is possible between religious heritages; and spiritual dialogue, which puts at the other's disposition one's own life of prayer.

In sum, the cardinal explained that dialogue "is the quest for understanding between two individuals, with the help of reason, in face of a common interpretation of their agreement or disagreement."

"It is not a question of being agreeable to please the other, or of a diplomatic negotiation, but, without giving up one's own faith, of allowing oneself to be questioned by the other's convictions. Obviously, it is not about pursuing a universal religion, or a lowest common denominator between all religions," he stressed. "It is about recognizing that God is present and operates in the soul of those who earnestly seek him."

Modern demand

Cardinal Tauran contended that the need for dialogue stems from the "multi-religious and multi-ethnic present-day reality," rather than from the famous theory of historian Samuel Huntington about a clash of civilizations.

"There is no religiously pure civilization, but complex civilizations that are transformed through a permanent process of interaction," he explained. Moreover, "God has returned to our societies. There has never been as much talk about religion as now."

In this connection, the cardinal made his own the affirmation of French president Nicolas Sarkozy -- that 21st-century society is marked by two preoccupations: the environment and religion.

And Cardinal Tauran acknowledged that the need for interreligious dialogue has been forwarded by Islam.

"Muslims in Europe, where they have become a significant minority, have requested space for God in society," he explained.

Dialogue is also necessary today, the Vatican official continued, because religions are now sometimes "perceived as a danger."

"Religions are capable of the best and the worst," he acknowledged. "They can be at the service of a plan of holiness or alienation. They can preach peace or war. Hence the need to reconcile faith and reason, since to go against reason, in fact, is to go against God."

Moreover, dialogue can be of "great service to society" as "believers are also called to contribute to the common good, to genuine solidarity, to the overcoming of crises and to intercultural dialogue," he affirmed.

Authorities, Cardinal Tauran concluded, should "favor dialogue between religions," and take from them the values "useful for contributing to the common good of citizens," so that people "are not slaves of fashions, consumerism and profit."