Says Interreligious Dialogue Can Deepen Faith
The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is affirming that Catholics should not fear Islam, but rather welcome the chance for deepening their faith through interchange with Muslims.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran affirmed this in Granada during his Feb. 10 opening address for a two-day congress sponsored by the Faculty of Theology of Granada. The congress was titled “Christianity, Islam and Modernity.”
“We must not fear Islam,” the prelate affirmed, “but I would say more: Christians and Muslims, when they profess their own faith with integrity and credibility, when they dialogue and make an effort to serve society, constitute a richness for the latter.”
He pointed out that “in these five years, the climate of dialogue with Muslims has improved, although contrasting elements still remain.” Islam is the religion with which the council maintains the most structured relations.
Among these differences, the cardinal mentioned discrimination of women and freedom of worship, which is absolutely denied in Saudi Arabia.
Cardinal Tauran said that each one of us must address a “triple challenge: that of identity — to have a clear idea of the content of our faith; that of difference — knowing that the other is not necessarily an enemy; and that of pluralism — acknowledging that God is working mysteriously in each one of his creatures.”
He affirmed that “for a Westerner, Islam is difficult to understand.”
“It is at the same time a religion, a society and a state,” the prelate explained, “which brings together 1.2 billion people in one great worldwide entity, the ‘ummah’.”
“The members of this community practice the same rites, have the same vision of the world and adopt the same conduct,” he noted. “Moreover, they do not distinguish between the private and public sphere.”
“This religious visibility disturbs secularized societies,” the cardinal added.
“However,” he said, “the new fact is that in the Western world, Muslims and non-Muslims are obliged to live together.”
“In Europe, for example, we live with third-generation Muslims,” Cardinal Tauran pointed out.
He observed that “we find Muslims in everyday life,” which “does not impede Christians and Muslims many times being victims of prejudice, consequence of ignorance.”
“It often happens that a Christian has never spoken with a Muslim, and vice versa,” he added.
The council president affirmed that “dialogue alone allows us to overcome fear, because it allows each one to experience the discovery of the other and to bring about a meeting, and this meeting is precisely what the interreligious dialogue is about in reality.”
This happens “because it is not two religions that meet, but rather men and women that the vicissitudes of life, the circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, have made companions in humanity,” he added.
The cardinal stressed the need to “make an effort, on both sides, to know the religious traditions of the other, to acknowledge what separates us and what brings us close and to collaborate for the common good,” which “is no easy task.”
It calls for “interior liberty that gives place to an attitude full of respect for the other: to be able to be silent so as to listen to the other, to give him the opportunity to express himself with all freedom, and not hide or sweeten one’s own spiritual identity,” he said.
The prelate continued, “Once trust is established, both sides will be able to examine freely what separates us and what unites us.”
In regard to the differences between Christians and Muslims, the cardinal explained that we are separated by “our relation with the sacred books, the concept of revelation — Christianity is not a ‘religion of the book’ — the identity of Jesus and of Mohammed, the Trinity, the use of reason, the conception of prayer.”
On the other hand, he affirmed that the two religions hold several things in common: “the oneness of God, the sacredness of life, the conviction that we must transmit moral values to young people, the value of the family for the emotional and moral growth of children and the importance of religion in education.”
Cardinal Tauran affirmed that “we, Catholics, are guided and animated by the luminous teaching of Benedict XVI, who has made interreligious dialogue one of the priorities of his pontificate.” He referred, for example, to the Holy Father’s interventions in Cologne, Germany, the United States, France and the Holy Land.
The council president affirmed that his dicastery has been building relations with Islam, and since 1976 meetings have been held every two years with the World Islamic Call Society of Libya.
Moreover, in 1995, the Comite de Liaison Islamo-Catholique was created and, since 1998, there has been a mixed committee for dialogue between the dicastery and Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, which meets every year.
The council also collaborates with the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies of Amman, Jordan, the Islamic Culture and Relations Organization of Tehran, Iran and the Catholic-Muslim Forum, created in 2008.
“Thanks to these human and spiritual contacts,” Cardinal Tauran pointed out that there have been several achievements such as an interreligious conference held in July, 2008 in Madrid. It took place at the invitation of the king of Saudi Arabia, and participants made unanimous affirmations on common values.
The prelate also recalled the first seminar of the Catholic-Muslim Forum, held in the Vatican in November 2008. Representatives of the 138 Muslim leaders who signed an open letter to their Christian counterparts participated in this seminar.
He listed among the recent advances the interreligious meeting organized last May by the Royal Institute for Inter-faith Studies in Jordan on the theme “Religion and Civil Society.”
This meeting “enabled Christian and Muslim participants to state that religious liberty can be adequately exercised only in a democratic society,” the cardinal noted.
He added that all this represents progress, although “the great problem for me is to know how to effect it so that this change will reach the base.”
Cardinal Tauran pointed out that pastors of the Catholic Church and professors of Catholic schools and universities still rarely take into account this new context of religious pluralism.
He also lamented that “European Catholics have a very weak knowledge of their faith.”
“Genuine interreligious dialogue cannot be established in ambiguity or when the interlocutors do not have a defined spiritual profile,” the prelate asserted. “Thus relativism and syncretism are born.”
He noted that “thanks to Islam, or better said, to Muslims who live with us, we are called to deepen our faith and to renew our catechesis.”
The cardinal explained that “to engage in interreligious dialogue is not to put our own faith in brackets but, on the contrary, to proclaim it with words and behavior.”
“We proclaim that Jesus is the Light that illumines all men who live in this world,” he continued. “Hence, all the positive aspects that exist in religions are not darkness, but participate in this great Light which shines above all lights.”
In the Church, Cardinal Tauran stated, “we do not say that all religions have the same value, but that all those that seek God have the same dignity.”
He quoted John Paul II, recalling that the formed Pontiff affirmed that “other religions constitute a positive challenge for the Church of today.”
“In fact, they lead her to discover and recognize the signs of the presence of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit, and also to deepen her identity and to witness the integrity of revelation, of which she is trustee for the good of all,” the prelate affirmed.
He said that “‘Dominus Iesus’ reminds us that we must keep two truths together: the possibility, for all men, to be saved by Christ, and the necessity of the Church for salvation.”
“For those who do not belong to the Church, Christ is accessible in virtue of a grace that illumines them mysteriously and that comes from Christ,” the cardinal said.
He pointed out that “Lumen Gentium” affirms that “those who without fault are ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and his Church but yet seek God sincerely and, with the help of grace, make an effort with their works to fulfill his will, known through the dictate of conscience, can obtain eternal salvation.”
The cardinal affirmed that truth is proposed and not imposed, and “interreligious dialogue and the proclamation of Christ are not interchangeable.”
Other participants in the congress included Archbishop Javier Martínez of Granada and Bishop Adolfo González Montes of Almeria, Spain, who delivered a lecture entitled “Christianity, Enlightenment, Laicism: Reason and Faith Before Transcendent Revelation.”