PARIS — A senior Vatican cardinal has thanked Muslims for bringing religion back into the public life in Europe, stressing the need for dialogue between followers of different faiths.
“It’s thanks to the Muslims,” Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic Church’s department for interfaith contacts, said in a speech printed in the Vatican’s official daily L’Osservatore Romano, reported Reuters on Friday, November 28.
“Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the ones who demanded space for God in society.”
Vatican officials have long bemoaned the absence of religion in secular Europe, where church attendance has dwindled dramatically in recent decades.
The return of religion in the public sphere is seen in Tauran’s native France, where religious issues have been a major taboo since the 1905 law separating the church and the state.
But French Muslims, estimated at six to seven million, Europe’s largest Muslim minority, have brought many religious issues to the forefront with raging debates about issues such as women’s right to wear hijab.
Tauran said no society should be dominated by only one faith, in contrast with the Vatican’s call for Europe to return to its “Christian roots”.
“We live in multicultural and multi-religious societies, that’s obvious,” he told a meeting of Catholic theologians in Naples.
“There is no civilization that is religiously pure.”
Tauran said that followers of different religions have no option but to engage in inter-faith dialogue.
He said the inter-faith dialogue aims for “the search for understanding between two subjects, with the help of reason, in view of a common interpretation of their agreement and disagreement.”
“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.”
Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday that inter-faith dialogue is impossible, renewing speculations about his commitment to dialogue with non-Christians.
“You explain with great clarity that an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the term is not possible,” the pontiff writes in a forward to an upcoming book by Italian right-wing lawmaker Marcello Pera.
Tauran said participants in the inter-faith dialogue could not give up their religious convictions, but should be open to learning about the positive aspects of each others’ faith.
The Vatican recently hosted the first Catholic-Muslim forum, attended by Muslim and Catholic scholars and officials.
Tauran said earlier this month that there were too many interfaith initiatives which risked “overlapping and creating confusion.”