|New President of Council for Interreligious Dialogue
VATICAN CITY, 17 MARCH 2006 (ZENIT)
Cardinal Paul Poupard, who has
been president of the Pontifical Council for Culture since 1982, now
wears a second hat.
Benedict XVI recently named the 75-year-old cardinal him president of
the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
That additional appointment, according to the note of the Vatican press
office, is in response to the desire "to foster more intense dialogue
between the men of culture and distinguished members of different
religions." Cardinal Poupard shared with perspective on the change with
Q: Your Eminence, could you explain the relationship between
interreligious dialogue and intercultural dialogue?
Cardinal Poupard: "Interreligious and intercultural dialogue is a vital
necessity for today's world," the Pope said in Cologne, when receiving
representatives of the Muslim community, in the framework of WYD [World
Youth Day]. For those who are very familiar with Benedict XVI's thought,
this choice is logical.
In fact, when one speaks of interreligious dialogue, one often thinks of
a reflection of a doctrinal nature on common religious topics, such as
the idea of God, sin, salvation, etc.
However, this doctrinal dialogue calls for a common foundation, and this
is not always the case with other religions. For a Buddhist, for
example, God is not a person; for others, salvation consists in the
dissolution of the "I," while for a Christian it is always the salvation
of his own person. Thus dialogue is very difficult.
Doctrinal dialogue is meaningful among Christians of various confessions
with whom we share faith in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, with believers of other religions dialogue is always
possible on the basis of culture.
This is the intuition that is the foundation of the Pontifical Council
for Culture: Culture is a common terrain in which believers and
nonbelievers or believers of diverse religions can dialogue. The common
topic that unites us, John Paul II said in UNESCO, is man; about whom we
certainly can dialogue.
Pope Benedict XVI therefore wishes to lead the dialogue with believers
of other religions to the terrain of culture and of relations between
The culture of the People of God, which exceeds national, linguistic,
regional, etc., limits, enters into dialogue with other cultures,
vitally permeated by other religions. In this dialogue there is mutual
enrichment, and the Gospel, incarnated in a concrete culture, can heal
and fertilize new cultural expressions.
Q: In keeping with what was explained earlier, what are the answers
Christianity can give on this topic?
Cardinal Poupard: Jesus Christ is the answer, the definitive answer, to
man's important questions. The [Second Vatican] Council said it with
very beautiful words: "Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does
the mystery of man take on light."
However, this message does not fall directly from heaven. It comes
through very specific men and women, with a concrete history and
culture, who engage in communication with other religions. In the
Christian way of living, there are essential and accessory elements. The
former are immutable, while the latter are contingent.
Among these essential elements, which have found their philosophical and
theological expression, is the concept of the person, in the image of
the Trinity, the idea of communion, of subject, the principle of freedom
and responsibility, the survival of the "I" after death, solidarity
among men, common dignity, etc.
These are the values that can be, that must be shared with believers of
other religions in the measure that is possible.
We can also receive much from believers of other religions
— not in regard to the content of
the faith, of course, as the fullness of revelation is found in Jesus
Christ, but in the way of living it.
Q: The work you wrote in 1983, "Dictionary of Religions," is an
obligatory study text in the history of religions. Do you think it will
be helpful to you in your new post?
Cardinal Poupard: Indeed! To direct the elaboration of this dictionary
was a great intellectual venture and publishing enterprise.
As coordinator, I had to read all the articles being sent by authors who
had a say on the matter, among whom were the best specialists.
All that gave me a general picture on religions in the world and, in
addition, a more profound understanding of the religious event in man.
Something of this I have written in another little book, "Les
Religions," published in the well-known collection "Que sais-je?",
translated into more than 10 languages, among which are Russian,
Turkish, Vietnamese and recently Chinese, published by a publishing
house in Beijing.
In the heart of every culture is found an approach to the mystery of God
and man. There is no culture that is not essentially religious. The sole
exception to this universal rule seems to be the present Western
culture, as Pope Benedict XVI frequently points out and, already before,
as Cardinal Ratzinger did.
Q: In 1992 you went through a similar process to the present one when
Pope John Paul II fused the Pontifical Council for Culture and the
Secretariat for Nonbelievers. What is the difference on this occasion?
Cardinal Poupard: In fact, there are similarities, but also differences.
As you know, it was John Paul II who called me to preside over the
Secretariat for Nonbelievers in June 1980, with the intention of
studying the creation of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which took
place in 1982, and of which he also appointed me president.
From 1982 to 1993, I was president of the two dicasteries, which,
however, kept their respective autonomy, exactly as is now the case.
In 1992, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of
Communist regimes in Europe, it did not seem to make sense to maintain
the Secretariat for Nonbelievers —
which in the meantime had been transformed into the Pontifical Council
for Dialogue with Nonbelievers — and
thus, on March 25, 1993, the Pope decided to forge the two dicasteries
into one, retaining the competencies of both.
Q: Do you think that with this step the Pope hopes to reduce two Vatican
dicasteries to one?
Cardinal Poupard: We don't know that. What is important, in any case, is
not the structures but the spirit that animates them. The structures of
the Roman Curia are only means to help the Pope carry out his mission as
What is clear is that there will have to be a greater collaboration
between the two dicasteries which the Pope has requested me to preside
over "for the time being." ZE06031721