The Pilgrimage of Interreligious Dialogue

Interview With Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2008 ( Interreligious dialogue isn't a business deal or a political negation, but rather something more similar to a pilgrimage of going out of yourself to meet persons of other faiths, said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.

The cardinal was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue last June. In this interview with ZENIT he comments on the challenges and goals of this dicastery, and particularly, advances in dialogue with Islam.

Q: 2008 has been declared the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Could you comment on this initiative and the role of the Church in the event?

Cardinal Tauran: A month has passed and we have not yet perceived the amplitude of the initiative, but the important thing, what the European leaders have emphasized, is that more than a third of Frenchmen are in daily contact with people who belong to another race, another religion or another culture, and they are therefore "doomed," so to speak, to dialogue, in order to know each other and live together.

Therefore, I think that there are many efforts to be made in order to progress in this dialogue, and personally what I am going to propose is perhaps a joint initiative between the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue to see how we can help our contemporaries to progress in this mutual knowledge that is a question of respecting the other, as well as respecting the identities of one another.

Q: Regarding interreligious dialogue, as president of the pontifical council, what are your expectations and hopes for this year?

Cardinal Tauran: I have been in this post since the month of September, and I consider myself still in a period of novitiate. Therefore, for me this year is going to be a year of discovery. What appears very interesting to me, above all, is that interreligious dialogue is not something new. Since the [Second Vatican] Council much has been done, much of the path has been traveled.

For example, something I discovered and which appears splendid to me is the interreligious dialogue between monasteries, between contemplatives. Catholic monks and nuns are meeting with Buddhist monks and sisters, for example, or even with representatives of Sufism. This is something that appears important to me; it is what I call the "dialogue of spiritualities."

There is talk of the dialogue of life, of theological dialogue, but the dialogue of spiritualities is the dialogue among people for whom prayer is the reason of their life, who make the monastic profession of a radical life, either in the Christian world, or in the Asian tradition or in Islam. I think a deepening in this dialogue between spiritualities is needed. In fact, when man prays he is greater. Therefore, we try to go out to meet him, here where he is at the height of his dignity.

Q: Dialogue with Muslims appears to be advancing with the coming of Muslim delegates to the Vatican to prepare for a later meeting of larger dimensions. But there are continuing differences of opinion about what needs to be discussed. What are, in your point of view, the priorities and the most fruitful points of discussion?

Cardinal Tauran: It is clear that I cannot know beforehand what our Muslim friends have in mind when they come here to dialogue with us, but I think that we can share common convictions: for example, adoration of the only God, the sacred character of human life, the dignity of the family, concern for education and youth. Obviously other problems will have to be discussed, for example, the interpretation of human rights just as they are defined by the international conventions, or the principle of reciprocity, which is very important in the context of religious liberty. I think that these are problems among those that we could speak about.

Q: You have developed a good part of your ministry at the service of Vatican diplomacy. How has that experience helped you?

Cardinal Tauran: It is a help for me in the measure in which diplomacy is based on dialogue, in listening to the other: knowing how to listen, knowing how to perceive the details, and then to put forward the point of view in all its truth. Contrary to what is thought, diplomacy is not at all lying or ambiguity. On the contrary, it is to seek the truth in a way that negotiation can be reached without ulterior motives lurking behind.

Now then, I think that one has to distinguish between interreligious dialogue and diplomatic dialogue, since interreligious dialogue is not just a conversation between friends, who want to please each other. Neither is it a negotiation, since negotiation seeks to resolve a problem, to find a solution, and it's done. Interreligious dialogue is like a pilgrimage and a personal rethinking. A pilgrimage in the sense that it invites us to go out of ourselves in order to go to meet the other, to walk together along the path with him to know him better. And moreover, it is a risk, since when you ask the other, "Who is your God? How do you live the faith?" I place myself in a position where the person I have in front of me can ask me the same questions. And therefore, I also am obliged to answer him. It is, therefore, at the same time a pilgrimage and a risk.

Q: Interreligious dialogue is very close to the politics or the positions of some states. Is it possible to remain on a religious level without being manipulated by these latter factors, regardless of who they are?

Cardinal Tauran: Manipulation is always possible. But I think that one has to be careful both with sealing off religion from politics and with confusing the two areas. I think that one has to reflect on the concept of separation. The Church can be separated from the states, without a doubt, but the Church cannot be separated from society -- that is impossible, we experience it so. Therefore, the important thing is that there be separation and collaboration since, ultimately, the government and the religious leader deal with the same person, who is both citizen and believer. Therefore, cooperation, distinction of competencies, but a cooperation for the common good and for the good of this person necessarily occurs.

Q: You have spent practically your entire ministry outside of France, your native country. How do you see the Church in France today?

Cardinal Tauran: There is no doubt the Church in France has experienced a crisis, to say that is banal. But I think now there are signs of rebirth. In particular, when I visit the seminaries, it always impresses me to see the young priests. I think that there is a new generation much more concerned with transmitting a spiritual experience. I think in the France of today the important thing is to see Christians who pray, Christians who celebrate, Christians who are on the frontiers of charity, who practice what I call the "power of the heart." In a society that in the depths is very hardened, occasionally distracted, we have this "power of the heart," meaning, sowing mercy, witnessing to the love of God for us that is transmitted through brotherly love. In the end, the best way to show that God is a Father is to live as brothers.

Q: One final question. I return to the question of dialogue with Muslims: Do you not think there is risk in promoting a friendly dialogue, but leaving aside problems and divisions?

Cardinal Tauran: Undoubtedly it is a risk, but I think that the interest in this meeting we are going to have with the representatives of the 138 [Muslim leaders], who in fact now are 241, consists in creating a structure of dialogue, a kind of channel that will always be open and in which we can meet. This is what I would like to propose, such that this dialogue can be something continual, structured, so as to avoid a certain superficiality. Leaving very clear that with this, we are not saying, "All religions are equal." We are saying, "All the seekers of God have the same dignity." This is interreligious dialogue; it is not at all syncretism. That is, "All people who are in search of God have the same dignity, therefore, they should share the same freedom, the same respect."

[Parts of this interview can be heard at H2ONews.]