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from issue no. 09 - 2006


«Honor all, love your brothers» (1Pt 2,17)

The Secretary of State of His Holiness, presents to readers of 30Days the official release of the discourse given by Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg on 12 September last

by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB

I am pleased that the magazine 30Days, directed by Senator Giulio Andreotti, has taken the happy initiative of publishing the integral version, including the notes, of the discourse given by the Holy Father at the University of Regensburg on 12 September last on the occasion of the pastoral visit to his native Bavaria.
This is the official release of the pontifical discourse that contains some small changes with respect to that delivered orally and it is enriched with notes, as was anticipated from the moment it was given. Everyone will remember in fact that the Press Office of the Holy See had immediately placed the following note at the bottom of the text of the discourse in question: «The Holy Father intends to offer, at a later time, an edition of this text furnished with notes. The actual draft must therefore be considered provisional».
Benedict XVI with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

Benedict XVI with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

From a careful and judicious reading of what has been rightly called the “splendid” lesson of Regensburg, – which was not however and could not have been an ex cathedra pronouncement, –it will become clear that its basic theme was the relation between faith and reason, and not the in-depth analysis of the question of dialogue with other religions and with Islam in particular.
Unfortunately a cursory reading of the text, manipulated also by those who would like to involve the Pope and the Holy See in real or presumed clashes of civilization that are no part of the Catholic Church, led to unjustified reactions by some sectors of the Islamic world.
To avoid subsequent misunderstandings the Vatican Press Office, this Secretariat of State and then the Holy Father himself, have many times affirmed that no one wished to offend anybody whatsoever.
Already on September 14, in fact, Father Federico Lombardi clarified that «what matters most to the Holy Father is a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence», that it was not the intentions of the Holy Father to «offend the sensibility of Muslim believers», and that it is the “clear” wish of the Holy Father «to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward other religions and cultures».
On September 16 then, the first day in my new position, I relayed a declaration in which among other things I reiterated, should there be any need, that the Pope’s position on Islam is «unequivocably that expressed in the Conciliar document Nostra aetate»; that «the option of the Pope in favor of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue is likewise unambiguous»; that the Holy Father « absolutely did not intend and does not intend to make his own» the reprehensible judgment about Mohammed of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and that he used it only as the occasion for developing a reflection that ended «with a clear and radical refusal of the religious motivation of violence, from wherever it originates»; that the Holy Father «is therefore profoundly sorry that some passages of his discourse could have sounded offensive to the sensibility of Muslim believers and have been interpreted in a way entirely out of tune with his intentions».
On September 17, at the recitation of the Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father addressed the question in person, saying: «I am profoundly sorry about the reactions aroused by a brief passage of my discourse at the University of Regensburg, held to be offensive to the sensibility of Muslim believers, whereas it focused on a quotation from a medieval text, that doesn’t express my personal thought in any way». On the same occasion the Pope then reiterated that the discourse in question «was and is in its totality an invitation to frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect».
On September 20 finally the Holy Father again intervened on the question. And he again stated that the quotation of Manuel II «could unfortunately, have lent itself to being misunderstood». And he added: «For the attentive reader of my text, however, it clearly results that I didn’t want in any way to make my own the negative words pronounced by the medieval emperor in this speech and that their polemical content doesn’t express my personal conviction». The Pope then clarified: «The theme of my lecture – responding to the mission of the University – was therefore the relation between faith and reason: I wanted to issue an invitation to the dialogue of the Christian faith with the modern world and to the dialogue of all cultures and religions». «I trust then» – they are still the words of the Holy Father – «that, after the early reactions, my words at the University of Regensburg may constitute a drive and an encouragement towards a positive dialogue, even self-critical, both between religions as between modern reason and the faith of Christians».
As for this encouragement to positive dialogue «even self-critical», maybe it is well to remember that in the discourse of Regensburg the Pope did not speak only of the risks of irrationality present in other religious traditions, but made an inward “self-critical” allusion to the history of Catholic theology also. It should suffice to read the words devoted to Duns Scotus…
As an appendix to these events there was then the happy initiative of September 25, when the Pope received in audience the ambassadors of the countries with Islamic majorities accredited to the Holy See and some representatives of the Muslim communities present in Italy. There the Pontiff rejected all the manipulative attempts that appeared in some of the media also but not only there, aimed at contrasting his action with that of his venerated predecessor. Benedict XVI in fact recalled: «In continuity with the work undertaken by my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, I therefore warmly wish that the relations based on trust, that have been established for many years between Christians and Muslims, not only continue, but develop in a spirit of sincere and deferential dialogue, a dialogue founded on an ever more authentic mutual knowledge that, with joy, recognizes the common religious values and, in fairness, takes into consideration and respects the differences». And he added: «It is necessary therefore that, faithful to the teachings of their respective religious traditions, Christians and Muslims learn to work together, as already happens in different common experiences, so as to avoid every form of intolerance and to oppose every manifestation of violence».
How come, one may ask, so many interventions by the Holy See and by the Holy Father himself on such a specific question? Because of fear? Absolutely not. The Holy Father, the Successor of Peter, decided himself to follow an indication that the Prince of the Apostles gave to the first Christian communities: «Honor all, love your brothers» (1Pt 2,17). The Pope therefore only wanted to state in a way unambiguous and intelligible to all his desire to “honor” all, Muslims included, and his desire to “love” all the Christian communities, and in particular those spread throughout the regions in which the Islamic religion is in the majority.
Not by chance, then, did the Pope – after having received in audience, on Saturday 30 September, the pastor of the most numerous Catholic community in the Middle East, – wish to say at the Angelus prayer on Sunday 1 October: «I had the joy, yesterday, of meeting His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylonia of the Chaldees, who reported to me the tragic reality that has to be faced daily by the dear population of Iraq, where Christians and Muslims have been living together for 14 centuries as children of the same soil. I hope that these ties of fraternity do not slacken amongst them, while, with the feelings of my spiritual closeness, I invite all to unite with me in asking Almighty God for the gift of peace and of harmony for that tormented country».
At this point, in the hope that this not too easy moment may be considered definitively surpassed, I permit myself to add some considerations that perhaps will be of some use for more fruitful dialogue between the Holy See and the Islamic world. Dialogue that cannot be other than intelligent, obviously!, but that must also be, as the Holy Father has said, “frank and sincere” and marked by a «great mutual respect».
Christianity is certainly not limited to the West, nor identified with it, but only by consolidating a dynamic and creative relationship with its own Christian history will Western democracy and civilization be able to recover again thrust and impulse, the moral energies, that is, to face a strongly competitive international scene.
Benedict XVI during the audience granted to the ambassadors of the countries with Islamic majorities accredited to the Holy See and to some representatives of the Muslim communities present in Italy, September 25 at Castel Gandolfo

Benedict XVI during the audience granted to the ambassadors of the countries with Islamic majorities accredited to the Holy See and to some representatives of the Muslim communities present in Italy, September 25 at Castel Gandolfo

It is necessary to defuse the anti-Islamic grudge nettling in many hearts, despite the endangering of the life of many Christians. Furthermore the steadfast condemnation of forms of derision of religion – and here I am also referring to the episode of the irreverent satirical cartoons that inflamed the Islamic masses at the beginning of this year – is an essential precondition for condemning the exploitation of it. The basic discussion however is not even that of respect for religious symbols. It is simple and radical: it is necessary to safeguard the human dignity of the believing Muslim. In a discussion related to these subjects a young Muslim woman born in Italy simply stated: « For us the Prophet is not God, but we love him very much». It is necessary at least to respect such deep feeling!
Towards believing Muslims, but also towards terrorists, the indicator that must dictate behavior is not utility or damage, but human dignity. The focus of the relation between Church and Islam is therefore in the first place the promotion of the dignity of each person and education in the knowledge and the safeguarding of human rights. In the second place, and connected with that precondition, we must not refrain from proposing and proclaiming the Gospel, to Muslims also, in the manners and forms most respectful to the freedom of the act of faith.
To achieve these objective the Holy See proposes to give maximum promotion to the Apostolic Nunciatures to countries with Islamic majorities, in order to increase the knowledge and if possible also the sharing of the positions of the Holy See. I am also thinking of an eventual strengthening of relations with the Arab League, that has its headquarters in Egypt, taking into account the purposes of that international organization. The Holy See further proposes the setting up of cultural relations between the Catholic Universities and the Universities of the Arab countries and between men and women of culture. Dialogue is possible among them and I would also say fruitful. I recall some international congresses on interdisciplinary subjects that we held in the Pontifical Lateran University, for example on human rights, on the idea of the family, on justice and the economy.
It is necessary to continue and strengthen this path of dialogue with the thinking élite, in the hope of getting through afterwards to the masses, to change mentality and educate consciences. It is precisely to facilitate this dialogue that the Holy See has initiated, and will continue along this path, a more systematic use of the Arabic language in its system of communications.
All of this while bearing constantly in mind that the safeguarding of that poor and continually threatened icon, – but supremely loved by God – loved for itself, as Vatican Council II says – of the human person is the maximum witness that the religious biblical traditions can offer the world.

The discors of Benedict XVI at the Regensburg University

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