Interreligious Dialogue Can Help with Peace, Says Vatican Official

Statements of Archbishop Fitzgerald, New President of Pontifical Council

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2002 ( Interreligious dialogue can help foster world peace, transmit values and promote mutual encouragement on the way to God. So says Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, 65, since Oct. 1 the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The council was instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1964, to promote dialogue with believers of other religions, in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, particularly the declaration «Nostra Aetate

In an interview on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Fitzgerald, who was previously secretary of the pontifical council, talked about the state of interreligious dialogue the Holy See engages in.

Q: First of all, what is the field of this dialogue?

Archbishop Fitzgerald: It is a very large field, as we are concerned with all the religions of the world, except Judaism — because there is a special commission for relations between Catholics and Jews in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

We take care of the dialogue with all the other religions, from the Aztecs to the Zoroastrians. There are the great religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Sikhism is also included, as are the traditional religions of Africa, Asia, and North America and Latin America.

We think of the spirituality of American Indians and of the Indians of South America. Likewise, there are the new religions. For example, I recently took part in a congress with Tenrikyo, a Japanese religion founded at the end of the 19th century.

Our pontifical council, together with the other Vatican dicasteries, is also concerned with new religious movements, known as sects. So the field is really very large.

Q: Of what significance is the dialogue in the turbulent relations of peoples in today’s world?

Archbishop Fitzgerald: The object of this dialogue is multifaceted. The first is to help people of various religious traditions to live together in peace and harmony, and we see how in our world this is not easy.

We see the tensions, conflicts; almost daily we see attacks on television that at times are not really inspired by religious motives, but have a religious tinge. Therefore, if we can, through dialogue, mutual understanding and respect, help people to live together peacefully, this is already something notable.

A second objective of this dialogue is to take a step forward and help people of various religions to cooperate together, that is, to cooperate to help humanity, to address the problems of our world together: It could be development, or the difference between rich and poor; or the problem of ecology or bioethics. There are many problems on which we can consult and help one another to see the real values. It is a transmission of values.

There is a third level to this dialogue, perhaps a more spiritual level. All of us are on the way to God and we can help one another to respond more generously to him.

An example: the Muslims’ month of Ramadan. I remember that a few years ago, when Ramadan coincided with our Lent, the Holy Father addressed the parish priests of Rome, as he does every year at the beginning of Lent, and said: «See how the Muslims fast. I think they are more serious than we are. Don’t we have something to learn from them on this?» He was asking a question. I think the possibility exists of stimulating one another reciprocally to walk together toward God.

Q: In the heterogeneous world of religions that you have mentioned, you have also referred to Islam; it is precisely this world, so composed, that today is the scene of world attention. What is your opinion?

Archbishop Fitzgerald: Yes, it’s true. I think one could say that the Muslim world itself is agitated by different tensions. We cannot think that all Muslims are fundamentalists and terrorists. It’s not true.

We meet Muslims who are moderate, who want peace, and we seek to work with them. So, in the dialogue, we must make these distinctions; we must try to understand well, but also to understand the fundamental causes that are at the base of the different conflicts of our world, which, as I mentioned, are not always religious.

Q: Have you already thought of some fundamental lines that will guide your task now, as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue?

Archbishop Fitzgerald: Given that I have worked for 15 years with Cardinal Arinze, I think the sign of this presidency will be continuity, because otherwise it would mean to reject everything we did before together.

There are some things I have in mind. I would like to develop further our relations with the Sikhs, because the Sikhs are monotheists. They have a great spirit of charity, they are — although they have suffered and engaged in a war — peaceful people and I think we can study different subjects together in greater depth.

I am also thinking of the ecumenical aspect of our work. In fact, this week a session is being held for Anglicans — organized by the Anglican Center of Rome — on interreligious dialogue, and I have been asked to participate in this congress.

I do so with pleasure because I think interreligious dialogue is also a place of ecumenism. In relating to people of other religions, we discover the meaning, the depth of our Christian faith. I am absolutely convinced of this and I would like to develop further this ecumenical aspect of our work.

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