In March, Pope Benedict XVI named
the French cardinal president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue. Since then the cardinal, who is also the president of the Pontifical
Council of Culture, has been a key Vatican player in dealing with the hostile
Muslim reaction to the Pope’s
spoke Dec. 2 with Register correspondent Edward Pentin about Benedict’s recent
What in your opinion were the highlights and main achievements of the
Pope’s pilgrimage to
The apostolic voyage of the Holy
These three objectives were amply achieved, beyond all our hopes and expectations. Even the famous secular Turkish press gave the headline on the day of Pope Benedict XVI’s departure:
“He came as Pope
He returns as Father.”
The Turkish press coverage of the visit was outstanding and gave a rare chance to millions of Turks to follow closely through live broadcasts the different stages of the voyage and so come to know the face, words and gestures of that good man who is so full of love for all men and women.
His love came through to all: in
the important meetings with the civil authorities, the Muslim leaders, Orthodox
brothers of different confessions and the Catholic Church in
To what extent did the visit herald a new era in Catholic-Muslim relations?
After the media-orchestrated
First of all, there was the previously unheard of fact that the Pope would dare to visit the Presidency for Religious Affairs. There he cordially explained to its president why he had entrusted to me both the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It was a decision taken not with a view to weakening such dialogue, but on the contrary, of reinforcing it.
Then there was the most emblematic
moment of the voyage: the Pope’s visit to the Blue Mosque, with that long
moment of reflection alongside the grand mufti of
These two men of faith, vested in white, and who had notably exchanged gifts — a blue ceramic tile with a dove and the words “God Almighty and Merciful” from the mufti and a mosaic of a white dove from the Pope — in a stupendous sign of concord. This was made more explicit in the words written by Benedict XVI in the golden book of Hagia Sofia: “In our diversity, we stand together in faith in the One God. May God enlighten us and lead us to the way of love and peace!”
Some critics have suggested that during the visit, the Holy Father
compromised the stronger line he seemed to take with regard to Muslims during
Let us not exaggerate the value of
these inevitable criticisms. The Pope’s line is very clear for anyone who
wishes to understand it. As he said on taking his leave of
Pope Benedict XVI, by his words and gestures, treads the path of dialogue, as he has often repeated, not as an optional path, but as a necessary path for the Church. It is a real dialogue, profound, sincere and demanding, and at the same time a dialogue of faith and reason; in love, in truth and in charity.
How hopeful are you that the Holy Father’s appeals for greater religious freedom in Muslim-majority nations will be heeded?
There is great hope and expectation. As regards Turkey, a first result has already come during the colloquium with the vice prime minister at which I was a participant: the concrete proposal to establish a “joint commission” of the Turkish government and the Turkish Catholic bishops’ conference to examine together the local problems that do exist and that are in need of appropriate solutions.
Do you think the success of this pilgrimage opens the way for another one
Without a shadow of a doubt the success of this pilgrimage is a key stage on that difficult path. We all know that the Holy See works tirelessly for a peaceful solution to the dramatic situation in the Holy Land, calling on every side to seek the way of reasonable accord, meeting the legitimate needs of all those involved under the guarantee of the United Nations.
How would you like to see Catholic-Muslim dialogue develop in the future, following this visit?
In the future, following this visit, the most important thing is that Catholic-Muslim dialogue can develop in a climate of trust and reciprocal respect, with a deeper awareness of the faith of Christians and Muslims, their sources — the Bible and the Quran — and their respective traditions. Already a good positive sign is the publication of a single volume of the Bible and of the Quran in the original languages.
Then, with the joyful rediscovery of our sharing faith in the One God, the God of Abraham, shall we together restore God to the heart of cultures, through a lively and efficacious witness in a common commitment to that peace desired by all people of good will, a peace which is implored as a gift of God.