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Vatican thanks Muslims for returning God to Europe

PARIS (Reuters) – A senior Vatican cardinal has thanked Muslims for
bringing God back into the public sphere in Europe and said believers
of different faiths had no option but to engage in interreligious
dialogue.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic Church’s
department for interfaith contacts, said religion was now talked and
written about more than ever before in today’s Europe.

“It’s thanks to the Muslims,” he said in a speech printed in
Friday’s L’Osservatore Romano, the official daily of the Vatican.
“Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the ones
who demanded space for God in society.”

Vatican officials have long bemoaned the secularisation of Europe,
where church attendance has dwindled dramatically in recent decades,
and urged a return to its historically Christian roots. But Tauran said
no society had only one faith.

“We live in multicultural and multireligious societies, that’s
obvious,” he told a meeting of Catholic theologians in Naples. “There
is no civilisation that is religiously pure.”

Tauran’s positive speech on interfaith dialogue came after a remark
by Pope Benedict prompted media speculation that the Vatican was losing
interest in it. Some Jewish leaders reacted with expressions of concern
and the Vatican denied any change.

The “return of God” is clearly seen in Tauran’s native France,
where Europe’s largest Muslim minority has brought faith questions such
as women’s headscarves into the political debate after decades when
they were considered strictly private issues.

“GOD IS AT WORK IN ALL”

Tauran said religions were “condemned to dialogue,” a practice he
called “the search for understanding between two subjects, with the
help of reason, in view of a common interpretation of their agreement
and disagreement.”

That seemed to clarify Benedict’s statement on Sunday that
interfaith dialogue was “not possible in the strict sense of the word”.
Church officials said a strict definition would include the option that
one side is ultimately convinced by the other.

Dialogue participants could not give up their religious
convictions, Tauran said, but should be open to learning about the
positive aspects of each others’ faith.

“Every religion has its own identity, but I agree to consider that
God is at work in all, in the souls of those who search for him
sincerely,” he said. “Interreligious dialogue rallies all who are on
the path to God or to the Absolute.”

The uncertainty about the Vatican view coincided with increasing contacts among world religions.

Early this month, the Vatican held a pioneering conference with a
delegation from the “Common Word” group of Muslim scholars who invited
Christian churches to a new dialogue.

A week later, Saudi King Abdullah gathered world leaders at the
United Nations as part of a dialogue he launched with a conference of
faith leaders in Madrid last July.

Christianity and Islam are the world’s two largest faiths, with two
billion and 1.3 billion followers respectively. The latest interfaith
efforts are meant to counter growing tensions between these two after
the Sept. 11 attacks.

An Indian prelate, speaking after the Mumbai attacks began, said in
Rome that a lack of courage to meet across faith lines was often behind
religious violence in his country.

Archbishop Felix Machado of Nashik diocese, just east of Mumbai,
told Italian priests the violence was caused by “inequality, a lack of
justice and understanding and, above all, a lack of courage to
dialogue,” the Vatican daily reported.

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