National Catholic Register


Cardinal Poupard: Build ‘Oases of Peace’

An interview with Cardinal Paul Poupard, who recently became Pope Benedict XVI’s point man in dealing with Islam and other non-Christian religions.


Register Correspondent

October 1-7, 2006 Issue | Posted 9/27/06 at 10:00 AM


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, his Cross.

“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 of religions.

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 world today.

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 up theology.

This helps us to grow in mutual respect and understanding. However, here a high level of training and expertise is required.

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 dialogue.

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 person.

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 and indifference.

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 tolerance.

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.

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.