Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has said that Christian-Muslim dialogue must continue and is vital for peace in an interview today with L’Osservatore Romano.
The French cardinal said the Pontifical Council was concerned about Christians-Muslim dialogue after the freezing of ties by Al Azhar university in Cairo because, he said, “we want to understand what are the reasons” for their decision.
The Islamic Research Academy of Al Azhar voted January 20 to suspend dialogue with the Vatican because it claimed Benedict XVI was interfering in Egyptian affairs after he called for greater protection and religious freedom for all religious believers in the country.
But Al Azhar appeared to misinterpret the Pope’s words as implying that he was calling on Western governments to intervene to protect Christians in the Middle East. Some Western media outlets have been blamed for spreading the misinterpretation.
“I think a careful reading of the words of Benedict XVI’s message for World Day of Peace 2011, and his speech to the Diplomatic Corps on January 10, would help dispel the misunderstandings,” Cardinal Tauran said. “From these two texts, you can well understand that the Pope refers to universal values and therefore, in speaking of the effective enforcement of rights and freedoms of the human person, he commits no interference in matters which are not within his competence.”
He added that the Pope remained faithful to the line of Nostra Aetate, “which urges us all to “forget the past and work sincerely for mutual understanding and to defend and promote together social justice, moral values, peace and freedom for the benefit of all mankind.”
Asked about the rector of Al Azhar accusing the Pope of not liking Islam, Cardinal Tauran said “far from it, just read the words addressed to representatives of non-Christian religions at the very beginning of his Pontificate, April 25, 2005, in which Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for “the growth of dialogue with Islam” and hoped to “continue to establish bridges of friendship with all religions, in search of the authentic good of every person and of society as a whole. “”
He also highlighted the Holy Father’s visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul in 2007, his address to diplomats in Turkey in which he stressed his respect for Muslims and all believers, and other examples. “I never found in the words of Benedict XVI the least contempt for Islam,” the cardinal said. “Let us remember that dialogue is not between the religions, but believers, who are a mixture of good and evil. Religions are not violent, but rather their followers.”
Cardinal Tauran stressed that dialogue between religions presents an opportunity. “Despite the shortcomings of the followers of religions, we must all have the courage to be vigilant and be witnesses in promoting love, respect, peace,” he said. “In a dangerous world so full of walls of separation, physical or moral, I think it is more than ever necessary that religions, despite their differences, together promote love and peace. Those who pray remind everyone that man does not live by bread alone. Dialogue between religions is always a call from God to rediscover their spiritual roots and to be consistent believers.”
The interviewer told the cardinal he seemed very optimistic. “I would say that I am a realist,” the cardinal answered. “If we want progress in dialogue, we must first find the time to sit down and talk person to person and not go through the newspapers,” he said. “I hope that whoever reads the speeches of Pope Benedict XVI is helped to understand how communities of believers are called to become schools of prayer and fellowship.” Cardinal Tauran reiterated that dialogue remains a “priority instrument” for promoting peace.
“The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue will anyway continue to accept the friendship of those who want to enter into conversation with the Catholic Church and we say to our friends that we appreciate what they have done and do with courage and perseverance to keep the ancient customs of good neighborly relations with the followers of other religions.”
He said that “for now all our appointments are still valid, including that [scheduled] for February with our partners in Cairo.”
“More than ever,” he said, “it is an incumbent duty upon us believers to rediscover for our contemporaries that there exists is a Love which greater than themselves, and this love can only lead us to bring to all, in our unarmed hands, the light of friendship that nothing can discourage.”