Cardinal Poupard Outlines Mission of Catholic Cultural Centers

Postmodern “Tolerance” Carries a Keen Intuition, He Says

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VALPARAISO, Chile, SEPT. 19, 2003 ( A serious and opportune proposal of the Gospel can only be made today after discerning the forces that motivate contemporary cultural changes, says Cardinal Paul Poupard.

The head of the Pontifical Council for Culture made that observation while describing the mission of Catholic Cultural Centers. This week he presided over the “Meeting of Directors of Cultural Centers of the Southern Cone,” which he convoked at the Pontifical University of Valparaiso. The three-day meeting ended today.

Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, archbishop of Santiago, and Cardinal Claudio Hummes, archbishop of Sao Paulo, also attending the meeting, along with the presidents of the bishops’ Cultural Commissions of Argentina, Chile and Paraguay. More than 30 Catholic Cultural Centers of this area of Latin America were represented at the event.

In his opening address, Cardinal Poupard pointed toward four phenomena “which emerge with a certain constancy in Latin American society”: the phenomenon of sects, growing agnosticism and religious indifference, resistance to and mistrust of institutions, and “acute social imbalance.”

He said that with the cultural change, “emotion” is the new name for “evidence.”

“The more intense the emotion, the stronger the certainty of the ‘truth’ felt,” Cardinal Poupard explained. Moreover, “all human spheres are judged” from the perspective of earnings or profit, he added.

In this context, “money, as the measure and criterion of personal, regional and national development is regarded in an absolute and undebatable way,” he said. This profoundly affects culture, which is “no longer lived as a natural expression of human groups, but as a factor of economic production.”

The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture also warned about the use of the word “tolerance,” which he said implies “unabashed indifference to the other” and leads to the “dissolution of the dimension of communion in relations.”

Because of this, communication and openness of one’s being to the other disappear and “obedience and authority, which support all healthy human development at the personal and social level, are deprived of their strength,” the cardinal said.

However, “postmodern tolerance possesses, without knowing it, the precious intuition of man’s heart: that non-resistance of the other generates peace. Tolerance has a correlative in Christian language: dialogue,” Cardinal Poupard said.

Indifferent modern society rejects “any form of institutionalization of the religious sphere which attempts to propose the absolute truth of its creed” and this has led to “a rupture between professed beliefs and moral rule,” he added.

Unbelief appears today as “an evolving current, a mixture of apathy, relativism and tolerance with respect to transcendent reality,” he continued. Consequently, “to speak or not to speak of God is really inconsequent, unproductive” and “faith is supplanted by religious sentiment, an emotional expression of immanence.”

The cardinal contended that “the real mission of the Catholic Cultural Centers … [is] to discern in cultural and anti-cultural expressions of one’s own society, the movement of fullness sowed by God in man, without allowing oneself to be confused by the aberrations that in their blindness generate human folly, which sees itself as alone, abandoned and destined to death.”

“This desire tragically hidden in man can only be filled by the One who knows the heart of man because He himself is man,” Cardinal Poupard added. “The Incarnation, then, constitutes the way, the method to evangelize, to become one with the other. Offering the depth of the human heart the incommensurable wealth of the Gospel which in turn we received freely.

“In this process of becoming one with the other, something takes place that transforms the created universe — communion. […] It is the proof that among unique and unrepeatable persons love is possible; it is possible to receive a common life, which does not dissolve the existing differences but makes possible mutual donation in acceptance of the other.”

Therefore, the Catholic Cultural Centers need “together with discernment and support of contemporary man, a language and a praxis that foster interpersonal encounters, and the reinforcement of the small ecclesial, parochial, diocesan, religious and university communities,” the cardinal explained.

“We are called to discover in ‘tolerance’ the urgency of dialogue and recognition of the uniqueness of the human person; in ’emotion’ the urgency of a Love that is near, faithful and sure; in ‘profit’ the urgency of a balanced social order; in ‘religious indifference’ the urgency of the historical certainty of Eternal Life,” he added.

In short, “we are called to discover and reflect in the world through communion the image of the holy and vivifying Trinity,” the cardinal concluded. “Today more than ever the message of Jesus Christ is unknowingly longed for by the men and women of this generation. Their language cries for it, their actions denounce it, and their sufferings implore it.”

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