Cardinal Cassidy on Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue

“We Have Made Quite Remarkable Progress”

SYDNEY, Australia, NOV. 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Among the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s declaration “Nostra Aetate” was the launch of a book by the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“Rediscovering Vatican II: Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue,” written by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, was launched recently in the Great Synagogue of Sydney.

“It is a story of 40 years of our dialogue with other Christian churches or ecumenism, in the first section,” he said. “The second section also deals with dialogue but with the other great religions of the world.”

The 81-year-old cardinal spoke with ZENIT about the book.

Q: How does your book report on the positive steps that have been made since “Nostra Aetate’s” promulgation?

Cardinal Cassidy: I think in each case we have made quite remarkable progress considering the period we are discussing is only 40 years.

If I just turn to Catholic-Jewish dialogue to start with, I think that there I’m greatly encouraged by something that has been happening in these last few years — namely, the first time that we have been able to, as two faith communities, Catholics and Jews, speak to each other about questions of faith.

For a long time in the past, we were dealing with practical questions, questions that had been inherited from former times, and it wasn’t possible until very recently for us to sit down in a real dialogue as Catholics and religious Jews to speak about some of the questions we use the same words and terms for.

Q: What do you mean by this?

Cardinal Cassidy: We have so much in common, coming from our Scriptures, in terms like “repentance,” “reconciliation” or “justice”; and what we mean about the covenants that have never been renounced — how they relate to one another.

These have all been coming up now in our dialogues and there is a great deal of interest, whereas before it was a subject that we couldn’t even approach.

So that gives me great courage because I think, rather than just solve the problems with the past, if we can build that kind of relationship then we are able to look forward with great confidence that there wouldn’t be another Holocaust.

In my time at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, I have been encouraged by the fact that our dialogue with the Orthodox churches is getting back onto the road after being suspended since 1993. … Now, it is returning to the dialogue that we had before all that happened in 1990 — that’s great!

I am so encouraged by that because … I believe there are no great reasons that are insurmountable in overcoming our problems with the Orthodox.

We continue with the other Christian churches too. Just the fact that we are tackling certain questions together is encouraging.

Q: But, both you and your successor, Cardinal Walter Kasper, recognized that all this work is “just a beginning of the beginning.” What have been some of the major setbacks that you reflect on in your new book?

Cardinal Cassidy: Well, each one is a bit different there. In ecumenism there have been setbacks, for instance, in our relationship with the Anglican Communion, which shared such great promise at the beginning of our dialogue. Though continuing to make progress in some ways, it’s also run into serious obstacles with differences about great moral questions, values and ethics, ordination of women to the priesthood — where we differ very often. … That has been very disappointing.

In our dialogue with the Orthodox, we have run into a problem which has delayed our dialogue, in recent years, of the “rebirth” … of those Eastern Churches who are in communion with Rome but not in communion with their Mother Church, insofar as the law was concerned in Russia and Romania and the communist countries. So these have been difficulties that have come up in the latter part of our dialogues.

With Islam, I think difficulties have come up from some of the unfortunate acts that have taken place, not due to the religion but the impression so many have of Islam being a religion that backs terrorism and supports those who carry out terrorist acts. This is not at all fair, but it has made a problem in their relationship among our communities.

With the Jewish people, we had our disappointments along the way, like with the convent at Auschwitz or the questions surrounding Pope Pius XII during World War II, which have delayed us. But … we must understand that in all these dialogues, we still have a lot of work to do in bringing the fruits of them into the life of our two communities.

Q: While examining the past and present, your book also moves into the future. What do you think we might be looking forward to?

Cardinal Cassidy: I think we have to be clear about the distinction between ecumenism and dialogue in relation to other churches and, in turn, in relations with the Jewish people or other great religions, because our aims are different in each case.

With other Christian churches, our aim is to come into full communion as far as possible. This was again seen in the message the Synod of Bishops sent out, highlighted in the regret held by the bishops about the fact that still we are not able to share at the Eucharistic table with the other denominations, apart from the Orthodox, of course, but even there we aren’t able to do that fully yet.

The kind of relationship which would allow us to accept each other in full communion has still got a long way to go, but that is where we are heading and I am very confident that we will reach that goal at least with the Orthodox churches and the ancient Eastern Churches.

The great thing for me in ecumenism is that, though you know the goal may be difficult and a long way away, we can still rejoice in the fact that we have come from where we were before — i.e., either hostile to each other or indifferent — to what John Paul II said so beautifully that we have “rediscovered the fact that we are not enemies, we are not strangers, that we are brothers and sisters in the one Lord Jesus Christ.” I believe this has been a great accomplishment for all the churches.

As for our dialogues with other faiths — our aim there is not, of course, to come into any kind of communion or unity, but we do have to constantly improve those relationships and to work together not only with the Jewish people, but with the people from Islam and other world religions, to bring our spiritual values into a world which is so much dominated at the present time by secularism and non-religious values.

I think that is possible. There is no reason in the world why, through our dialogue, we cannot become much more closely associated in supporting the great causes.

Q: Your Eminence, you seem to particularly emphasize the finding of common ground. Is this the basis for the methodology of both ecumenical and interfaith dialogue?

Cardinal Cassidy: Yes, while they don’t have the same ultimate goal, the means are very similar.

That is why I was able to say at the launch of my book that it may seem strange that we deal with both ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in just one book, but to a large extent the methodology is exactly the same.

It is to overcome the misunderstandings, prejudices and, at times, very serious wounds that come from our history; then to move on gradually to a greater understanding of each other and appreciation of each others gifts.

The general goal of working together in great friendship, arm in arm, is to bring about common good.

Q: You worked closely in this way with Pope John Paul II, who was largely credited with encouraging interfaith dialogue. At the beginning of this papacy of Benedict XVI we are wondering what developments we may expect from him on this front.

Cardinal Cassidy: I think that the first thing that has been obvious in that regard is His Holiness’ attitude towards the other religions right from the very beginning and the way in which he receives those who come to Rome for the institution of the papacy and in his going out to embrace leaders of other churches as was seen in Germany.

I think that he has clearly shown his intention to carry on the work which John Paul II had done — a magnificent work in Christian unity and Catholic-Jewish relations, but also, his openness towards the great religions of the world as he showed in his “Assisi Days” and visiting the mosque in Damascus.

My hope is that Benedict XVI would be considerably involved in the work that our pontifical council will be doing in trying to take these dialogues forward to new achievements in the coming years.

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