Challenges of Church and World, as Seen by Cardinals

A Book of Interviews Surprises Its Author

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ROME, JAN. 12, 2005 ( After interviewing 111 of the cardinals who could vote for a new pope in a conclave, the Vatican correspondent for Italian Radio and Television had words of praise.

“The cardinals are a monument to John Paul II’s greatness,” said RAI journalist Giuseppe De Carli.

“Country by country, continent by continent, we have realized that the cardinals are as great as the Pope,” he said. “This is the amazing discovery we have made.”

De Carli and his team still aim to interview nine more elector-cardinals. In an interview with ZENIT, De Carli says that he hopes to soon complete these interviews.

The Vatican-watcher has just published a selection of 23 interviews in a book entitled “Allow Me, Eminence” (“Eminenza, Mi Permette?,” published by Piemme, RAI-Eri), which begins with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and ends with Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, India.

Other cardinals interviewed in the book, subtitled “The Church and the World According to Pope Wojtyla’s Cardinals,” are Julián Herranz of Spain; Walter Kasper of Germany; Renato Martino, Angelo Scola and Dionigi Tettamanzi, of Italy; Philippe Barbarin of France; Kevin O’Brien of Scotland; Anthony Olubunmi Okogie of Nigeria; Claudio Hummes of Brazil; Justin Rigali of the United States; and Ivan Dias of India.

In order to explain what he discovered in these interviews, the book’s author says that the cardinals “not only have a most intense bond with the Successor of Peter, but are also similar to him.”

De Carli explains: “The Pope’s was an adult vocation; at least half of the cardinals had adult vocations: There are former trade unionists, economists, lawyers. Some are even converts, such as Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, who was a Jew, or Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja, archbishop of Jakarta, who was a Muslim.”

“They are people who love life, who engaged or engage in sports, as this Pope: in baseball, rugby, soccer, athletics. Some almost made it to the Olympics and one of them represented his country on the basketball team,” De Carli said.

“These elements should banish from us the image of the aloof cardinal, a man of power,” he added. “They are men who are completely rooted in our time.”

Asked about the difficulty of interviewing them, De Carli revealed his strategy: “I started with the one I thought was most difficult, Cardinal Ratzinger. I said to myself: ‘If he accepts, it is possible that all the others will accept.’ After a week, he said yes, though I had to insist a bit. He granted me 40 minutes, and it was a wonderful interview.

“When I showed my friends the recordings, one of them said: ‘Why don’t you transcribe them? They are such lofty, open, critical and self-critical reflections, that it would be opportune to gather them in a book.’ This is the idea: to go to the source. Not to write a book about the cardinals, or this Pope’s possible successor, which I could care less about.”

“I wanted to go to the source to try to understand how these cardinals live the Gospel,” De Carli said.

According to the interviewer, the cardinals have three concerns in common.

“The first topic is war and peace,” he said. “The line indicated by this Pope is the line embraced by 100% of the cardinals. The Church is the sacrament of peace for the world. The strength of this papacy is the strength of its prophecy for peace. Because of this, John Paul II is regarded as a ‘father’ by Muslims.

“Darmaatmadja, cardinal of Indonesia, the country with the largest number of Muslims in the world, told me that when the war broke out in Iraq, he was very worried because there were fundamentalists who said: ‘As it is a war of Christians against Muslims, we are going to do away with the Christians, who are a small minority.’

“The cardinal succeeded in gathering a delegation, together with Muslims, and explained to me: ‘We did not go to the World Council of Churches in Geneva. We went to Rome because the Pope is seen as a ‘father’ of all peoples.'”

De Carli continued: “The second great concern is that of relations with Islam. It is a rather complicated topic, of which cardinals such as Scola speak about, who says that attention must be paid to Europe’s Muslims, who are already some 18 million. France’s Lustiger and Barbarin also speak about this, as does Tettamanzi, who says that he is not afraid of Islam.”

“Another subject is the crisis of faith. However, rather than a crisis of faith, I would speak about a crisis of religious practice,” the journalist said. “There are Churches in Europe, such as the Church in the Netherlands, where one can speak of the ‘euthanasia’ of a Church. It is disappearing.

“While the Protestant world has become pagan, the risk of the Catholic Church is that it become ‘Protestant,’ that is, that it be divided. In listening to the great archbishops, one has the impression that the world lives as if the Church did not exist.”

“Meanwhile,” De Carli added, “in Africa and Asia, where it is often persecuted and a minority, the Church is expanding. Where the Church is a Church of martyrs, it is also seed for all of us.”

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