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An interview with Cardinal Paul Poupard, who recently became Pope Benedict XVI’s point man in dealing with Islam and other non-Christian religions.
BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture
since 1988, has recently become Pope Benedict XVI’s
point man in dealing with Islam and other non-Christian religions.
Earlier this year, the Pope
assigned oversight for interreligious dialogue to
Cardinal Poupard. The cardinal spoke via e-mail with
Register correspondent Edward Pentin in early September.
What is the Pope’s preferred way to deal with Islamic extremism?
Addressing pilgrims in the Val d’Aosta earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI summed up the
Christian response to violence. It has its model in God’s work for us: “He
triumphed with a love that could endure until death. This is the new way in
which God triumphed: he did not oppose violence with a stronger violence. He
opposed violence with something quite the opposite: with love to the very end,
“This is God’s humble way to
overcome: with his love — and only in this way is it possible — he set a limit
to violence. This way of conquering seems very slow to us but it is the true
means of overcoming evil and violence, and we must entrust ourselves to this
divine means of conquering.”
The oft-repeated and magnified
role given to violence through television and Internet in our globalized world makes all the more urgent the Gospel
imperative of actuating the message of peace.
There exist across the world
countless centers of what Benedict XVI has called “oases of peace.” They are
the forces for peace and reconciliation in the world able to swamp violence
with love and able to create a dialogue of truth and understanding. Through
them, an awakening of awareness and responsibility can take place.
These centers range in nature and
task from the saintly individual to the ordinary parish community, from the
local association to international organizations, all of which witness to God’s
love. And to sustain themselves in that work and also
to appeal to a higher authority, they continuously pray for peace recalling
that it is a gift.
We also need to resolutely condemn
all violence and the situations that give rise to it. It is important too to
clearly distinguish the real cause of violence, that is, man.
And so we reiterate: It is not
religions that are in conflict, but men. And when these men are religious,
their violence is in total contradiction with the message of peace at the heart
It’s said that the Holy Father sees culture, rather than theology, as the
best basis for dialogue between religions.
When Pope Benedict XVI honored me
by appointing me as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue, he manifested his desire “to favor a more intense dialogue between
the men and women of culture and exponents of the various religions.” And the
Holy Father had already stated during the World Youth Day in Cologne that intercultural dialogue and interreligious dialogue are both “vital necessities” for the
So we are speaking of a “both/and”
situation. Theological dialogue and cultural dialogue are
both dear to the Holy Father.
Clearly as a basis for dialogue
between religions, the fields of culture and theology have strengths and
weaknesses. A theological dialogue limits itself to discussing together our
understanding of God, of what God has done and does for us, and all that makes
This helps us to grow in mutual
respect and understanding. However, here a high level of training and expertise
Meanwhile, for most people now in
our multicultural societies, contact with followers of other religions will
come through the field of culture, through their daily lives and the world of
ideas and ideals. And so the field of culture becomes a privileged forum for
We need to remember that culture
is always a means, not an end in itself. The aims and objectives
of dialogue based on culture must clearly be at the service of the human
You recently attended a conference aimed at bringing the Orthodox and Catholic Churches together, by working together
on common values. What was it like?
In November of 2004, I was in Russia and
Patriarch Alexei II honored me with an audience. We spoke of the challenges of
transmitting our Christian faith to future generations in a world marked by
globalization, loss of ethics, presence of sects, and seeming religious apathy
Consequently, some of the highest
Orthodox authorities and I set up the meeting, which took place in Vienna — halfway between Rome
and Moscow —
from May 3-5.
The sense of that meeting was that
of collaborating together to affirm the place of spiritual and moral values in
contemporary society as its title suggested: “Give a Soul to Europe: the Mission and
Responsibility of the Churches.” We set out to read the signs of the times and,
together in the love of Christ, to witness to the fundamental human values that
have been restored in Christ in order to give a message of hope to Europe and encourage a new Christian humanism that can
help create a society of justice and peace.
As Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad,
Chairman for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate and my
co-chairman at the Vienna conference noted, the
meeting opened a new chapter in terms of cooperation between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.
Some complain that interreligious dialogue
detracts from the mission of the Church, which is to convert others to the
faith. How do you respond to this view?
We have a moral imperative to
propose the faith, not to impose it. There are certainly some matters of
dialogue in which we need to be more robust: Dialogue should be reciprocal,
often it seems as if dialogue is just an exercise in the virtues of patience and
Dialogue requires self-examination
and encourages responsibility and awareness of one’s own religious identity.
This lets protagonists work for the integral development of each and every
person, with all the talents, hopes, anxieties and expectations that each
person has, and this includes the space and means to engage in the religious
quest in response to one’s own true vocation.
writes from Rome.