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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Cardinal-elect Zuppi: Peace Begins With One-on-One Encounter

In Conversation With ZENIT, Archbishop of Bologna Reminds A Cardinal Must Be an Example

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Peace begins with one-on-one encounter…

This is the conviction of Cardinal-elect Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, who expressed the “great responsibility” of his nomination to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis at tomorrow’s Oct. 5, 2019, Consistory in an exclusive interview with ZENIT in Madrid on the sidelines of the 33rd interreligious meeting organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, with the theme ‘Peace without borders.’

The Cardinal has been an integral part of these annual meetings in different European cities promoted by Sant’Egidio, from 1987 to today, commemorating the 1986 historic day of prayer for peace in Assisi, for peace, promoted by John Paul II with representatives of all world religions.

ZENIT’s  Senior Vatican Correspondent, Deborah Castellano Lubov, spoke with the Italian prelate with a reputation as a ‘street priest,’ demonstrating a great attention for the poor and marginalized, at the encounter which gathered more than 300 leaders and representatives of all world religions, coming from 60 countries.

Here is our exclusive interview:


ZENIT: Cardinal-elect Zuppi, on September 1st, Pope Francis announced that you will be “created” cardinal at the Oct. 5 Consistory. How did you react when you received the news? And what does it mean for you to have been chosen by the Pope as a cardinal?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: For me, this means, above all, a great responsibility. The reaction was initially one of being incredulous, because it is a very strange thing [smiling] for many reasons. Then my reaction transformed. I recognized the great responsibility, especially because a cardinal must be an example, must be a man who unites … “the hinge,” from which cardinal is derived. It consists of being precisely the instrument that holds other objects together. So, all the more reason I feel the importance of being a witness of unity and of believing so greatly in the communion that unites those who are different.

ZENIT: You have lived the whole journey of the annual meetings promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, from 1987 to today, commemorating the 1986 meeting in Assisi, for peace, promoted by John Paul II with representatives of all world religions. Years later, what is the value for today’s world of that event of 1986?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: It is an event years later, but still very “forward” as a vision, because it is an event that helps us to glimpse to what future awaits us. And this future will not be the ‘supermarket’ of religions. This future will be the believers of different religions who will finally be able to live together. The future will not be a “super religion”! Individual religions will indicate to their faithful, what in the future will become the reality of our entire planet, that is, living together and thinking of each other together. Already today, we all live together in this unique, extraordinary home that is earth. Each religion has the duty to teach its faithful how to live together with others.

ZENIT: The Pope has just been to Mozambique, where the commitment of the Community of Sant’Egidio – as the Pope himself recalled – was important, for the mediation that in 1992 led to peace agreements and ended the civil war. In situations of war and conflict, what can be the role of organizations of religious inspiration, such as the Community of Sant’Egidio, in helping politics find the solution?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: A great role, because believers are always and everywhere artisans of peace, in small or large ways. The Community of Sant’Egidio is a small reality, which has not set limits to its own action, but [it] is nevertheless a small reality. They are the humble who do great things. Peace is always a work of craftsmanship, it is always done starting from people Unfortunately today, there is a great need for peace, because there are so many conflicts and even so much inability to resolve them with encounter and dialogue.

ZENIT: A round-table scheduled during this year’s encounter in Madrid is entitled “Is Racism Rising Again?” What answer do you give to this question?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: Unfortunately, racism is coming back. Or rather, racism has never died. Racism is like evil; it has never been defeated forever. And it’s worse when racism exists and is less visible, like evil. We have grown in the awareness following the Shoah, the extermination of the Rom, and slavery. Yet, now racism is progressing in other forms. Racism has never died and it will die only with the victory over evil, and for this, we must fight it intelligently.

ZENIT: Here at “Peace Without Borders,” many speak of migration, a central theme among Pope Francis’ teachings. Europe and the United States are destinations of very massive migratory movements. The Church in Europe preaches welcome, but it is also true that many bishops from the countries of origin of these who are leaving, try to dissuade them from going. How can the contradiction be solved?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: The contradiction is certainly resolved by helping people not to leave. But in order for them not to leave anymore, it is not enough to say “do not leave!” You must also give them opportunities to stay in their own country. Otherwise, any of us, in their conditions, would leave, like them. If the reality of your everyday life is hunger, lack of prospects for the future, then you necessarily go to where you can find prospects for the future. This is what the Italians did, up until 50 years ago. Ultimately, the point is to help the children of those peoples stay in their lands and help them even to leave safely, without enriching those who exploit this suffering of theirs.

ZENIT: The Church preaches welcome but the Magisterium itself admits that countries set legitimate limits to reception. Pope Francis even said that if a country cannot integrate, it is better not to accept. Where and how, in practice, can one find a balance?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: There are no countries in a position to not accept any immigrants. Countries are in a position to integrate immigrants if they really choose to integrate them, if they choose the future, in other words. Because the problem of integration does not only concern foreigners, others, it concerns everyone! The country that does not integrate the others does not even integrate its own citizens. There are still many Italians who have to learn to be integrated and are not yet integrated into society! There are many Italians who still have to understand what it means to be a citizen. In many we have not yet learned it, perhaps explaining it to others would make us remember it too.

ZENIT: In other occasions, during these meetings, the idea of creating a permanent body for dialogue and confrontation between religions, as well as meetings like this, beautiful but occasional, appeared. Is it just an idea?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: It is difficult to say. However, this is not a casual encounter here in Madrid, it is the thirty-third in the series! It was a very artisan journey. I believe that any place where men talk to each other, talk to each other, that place is important! A kind of UN of religions could also scare someone, because it would mean that then there is also a “super-religion” above all others. And better the meeting between a friend who invites his friend, rather than a cold institution … Here in Madrid. there is a lot of friendship! Everyone knows who they are invited from, who else comes … everyone feels at home.

ZENIT: On February 4th, in Abu Dhabi, Francis signed an important document, about interreligious dialogue, with the Grand Imam of Al Ahzar Ahmad Al Tayeb. The Community of Sant’Egidio has been involved in these issues since its inception. Do you consider that the document is also the fruit of your contribution?

Cardinal-elect Zuppi: Everything contributes to everything, along the path of dialogue. The path of dialogue unites, as it does in friendships! What is mine, is yours, and what is yours, is mine! The Abu Dhabi Document [on Human Fraternity] is the result of a long journey of dialogue already undertaken. But it would be wrong if someone claimed responsibility for it rather than enjoying it, together with others, in fraternity!

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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