Vatican Aide Evaluates Visit to Iran

Archbishop Tauran Pleased With Dialogue

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VATICAN CITY, MAR. 12, 2001 ( From March 3-8, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran made the most important visit of a Vatican representative to Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The Vatican secretary for relations with states met with the highest officials of the country, including President Mohammad Jatami.

Tehran´s new ambassador to the Vatican, Mostafa Boroujerdi, told the international agency Fides that this visit constitutes a historic opportunity to promote the “dialogue between civilizations,” supported by President Jatami.

In opposition to Samuel Huntington´s thesis, which predicts a great confrontation between civilizations in the future, especially between the Islamic world and the West, the diplomat said: “The dialogue between religions is the highest expression of the dialogue between civilizations. If we take religion away from civilization, nothing remains. Religion has always played an important part in the edification of man. Therefore, I believe that its role is very important in the dialogue between civilizations.”

On his return to the Vatican, Archbishop Tauran was interviewed over Vatican Radio.

–Q: What was the atmosphere of this very special visit?

–Archbishop Tauran: My meetings were characterized by a climate of cordiality and mutual knowledge. We addressed the problems of the region, especially those of the Church in Iran, in a precise and peaceful manner, with Iranian President Jatami and the Foreign Affairs Minister.

–Q: It is the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution that a Vatican personality of such rank visits that country. What was the reason? What has the trip fostered?

–Archbishop Tauran: First of all, I want to clarify something. After the Gulf War, a humanitarian mission led by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray visited Iran. However, the visit was kept at a lower level than the present one, as Cardinal Etchegaray was not received by the state´s highest authorities.

Mine was undoubtedly a mission of a diplomatic character. It is the first time, since we began to have diplomatic relations with Iran in 1953, that someone from the State Secretariat goes to Tehran. Therefore, this is an important event, a positive sign.

–Q: What made this trip possible?

–Archbishop Tauran: Well, I would say that the opportunity arose with President Jatami´s 1999 visit to the Vatican, and that of the Iranian Foreign Minister, who invited me at the time to visit the country. This invitation was renewed several times. I waited for circumstances that would allow me to respond to the invitation.

–Q: You have said that you discussed the Middle East in your meetings. What role can relations between Iran and the Vatican have for peace in the region? Is there agreement between the two in this thorny field?

–Archbishop Tauran: We have seen that we are in agreement on the fundamental principle: The force of law must prevail over the law of force in the Middle East. As President Jatami and the Foreign Minister can explain, we have the great fortune of being able to make use of an arsenal of juridical dispositions that allow us to find solutions to virtually all the problems that are still in the air.

What is lacking is the political will to apply international law, to apply it always and everywhere. I believe that, in this respect — to make the moralization of international life be an ever more concrete reality — Iran and the Vatican are in perfect agreement.

–Q: This visit to Iran has also enabled you to meet the country´s small Christian community. What is its situation? Does it enjoy religious liberty and is there hope for it to obtain juridical status?

–Archbishop Tauran: A mission of the Vatican secretary for relations with states always has an ecclesial dimension. As I often repeat, pontifical diplomacy is at the service of the pastoral life of the local Churches. I have had numerous contacts with the bishops, who have invited me several times. On Sunday I celebrated Mass in St. Joan of Arc Church.

Of course, you are right. It is a very small community, made up of only 10,000 Catholics who feel Iranian and wish to stay in Iran. As regards religious liberty, I would say they have freedom of worship. This is precisely the point I addressed in my conversations with the Iranian personalities. There must be a move from freedom of worship to religious freedom: from the purely liturgical dimension to the social dimension of faith, because faith always has a social dimension.

In this connection, in my conversations I was also able to address the problem of the juridical status of the Catholic Church. Now, the two diplomatic [powers] must begin to work to find concrete solutions to everyday problems.

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