A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Christ and Religions, According to Cardinal Poupard

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 ZENIT.

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 cultures.

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 universal Shepherd.

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
 

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