Having seen the Pope praying
That's what counts also in the dialogue with Islam.
Notes and reflections of the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran among the students of the Inter-Faith professional training center in Bokkos, Nigeria [© Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue]
Recently, a professor at the University of Tunis, addressed his students this way: “Be careful not to let your pens fall, because otherwise the knives will remain in your hands”. It is a wise warning. The more precarious the situation is, the more dialogue is necessary, because there is no alternative. Certainly we Christians – in the schools, universities and hospitals that we maintain in the Muslim-majority countries – take care to witness the love for all without distinction or conditions, and our Muslim friends sincerely appreciate this attitude. Day after day, working in this Pontifical Council, I rediscover a dimension sometimes set aside: our Muslim friends respect people who pray. A liturgy or a Eucharist well prepared and well celebrated constitute a good Christian witness. I will always remember when I was in the Secretariat of State, what an ambassador of the Islam religion told me, when he came to make the traditional farewell visit: “After three years of mission to the Holy See, what most impressed me is not your political position on the Middle East or the prestige of pontifical diplomacy, but to have seen the Pope praying”. I think this is an invitation for us to always be people of faith, not to be afraid to express it. Obviously there may be external obstacles (discrimination on religious grounds) or also internal (ignorance, sin) that make our witness be not always bright.
It is important that whoever enters into dialogue has a clear idea of the content of their faith and a well-defined spiritual profile: there can not be a dialogue based on ambiguity. Unfortunately, many young Christians have a superficial idea of the content of their faith; that is why it is a great blessing to have a Pope like Benedict XVI, who knows how to witness and teach that our faith is not a feeling or emotion – maybe it is also, in some moments – and certainly not a myth. Jesus Christ existed, was a man among men, he lived at a time and in a place historically determined by history, he died and rose again. Pope Benedict also tells us about the balance between reason and faith. In a homily in Germany, he said: “Faith is simple. We believe in God – the beginning and end of human life. In that God who enters into relationship with us human beings”. But he wondered: “Is it something reasonable?”, and specified: “We believe that at the beginning is the eternal Word, Reason and not Unreason” (Holy Mass in Regensburg, 12 September 2006).
Alongside faith and reason, friendship is also important. Interreligious dialogue is not a dialogue between religions, but between believers called to testify in the world today that man does not live by bread alone. It all begins with respect to finish with a respectful friendship. When we are faced with someone who believes and prays differently from us, it is first of all necessary to take the time to look at him, to understand his spiritual aspirations; then afterwards we will review what distinguishes us and what instead unites us. And if there is a common heritage, then it is up to all of us to offer it to the surrounding society, because religious dialogue is not meant for my community, but for the other, for that of my interlocutor. Dialogue is an opening that calls us to approach the religion and culture of others with delicacy.
What helps me most in my work? The admirable witness of the Christians who I have had the grace to meet in countries in the Middle and Far East and recently in Africa. Their convinced adherence to the faith, their loyalty to the Church, the filial affection they have for the Pope, all this is a great help for everyone. Jesus is there in these small communities. It is the faith of simple people, ready to welcome the bishop who visits them, to ask for a blessing, because they know through an intuitive faith that the Church is a family.
Of course, after my ordination I did not imagine having to live out my priesthood practicing dialogue, at first ‘diplomatic’, today ‘interreligious’, even if, on the pictures of my priestly ordination, I had printed the words of Paul to the Corinthians: “In the name of Christ... we are ambassadors, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2Cor 5, 20).
Interreligious dialogue has allowed me, I must confess, to deepen my faith, because when I ask another how he lives his faith, I know that tomorrow I will be asked the same question. In today’s pluralistic world, we are increasingly called to account for the “hope that is in us ... but always with respect and kindness”, as recommended by Peter (1 Pt 3, 15-16).
Benedict XVI during the recitation of the rosary [© Associated Press/LaPresse]
I am convinced that it is possible to live together in societies ravaged by so much violence and to be, as believers, ferments of forgiveness, reconciliation and of peace.
Finally, more than once I have been asked if ‘Don Tauran’ can bear witness within his institutional commitments.
I do not know if my life has been a credible witness, but after my ordination I have always been inhabited by a conviction: I must always be first a priest, whatever the circumstances. The important thing for a priest but also for the faithful is that, through our daily lives, those who do not know Jesus, can ‘guess’ His presence in our midst. Hence the importance of a united and missionary Church.
In a few days in Rouen I will deliver the panegyric of Joan of Arc, and meditate on some phrases that she uttered before she died. I would like to mention one that I learned from the very years of the seminary: “Dieu fait ma route / God traces my path”. The important thing in the life of every Christian, and even more so for a priest or a bishop, is to cultivate the inner freedom to allow God to realize, despite our limitations, His plan to gather all mankind together in one family.
(Text assembled by Giovanni Cubeddu)