The following article appeared in the Aug. 12 edition of L’Osservatore Romano in Rome.
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran
President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
I was in France on the day Jacques Hamel was brutally assassinated during the Eucharistic celebration in his parish in Normandy. For two days, France collapsed into consternation: the means of social communication reported endlessly, and commentators recalled the need for dialogue between people of different faiths.
The funeral celebration was seen by the entire country, including political leaders, who shared in the sorrow of the family, the parish and diocese. I was under the impression that the French remembered that their culture is rooted in the Christian message. The comment on everyone’s lips was: On ne tue pas un curé! [You don’t kill a priest!]
Some did not hesitate to say that religions are factors of peace. All of this is significant for today and tomorrow. Obviously, these criminal acts undermine the credibility of interreligious dialogue, but we must continue to meet, to talk, to work together when it is possible, so that hatred does not prevail.
So often I realize that many problems are due to the ignorance on both sides. And ignorance generates fear. In order to live together it is essential to look at those who are different from us with esteem, benevolent curiosity and the desire to walk together.
Past and present difficulties, disappointments and tragedies must be reflected upon as providential lessons from which it is up to mankind to glean the wisdom necessary to open new, more reasonably and more courageous paths.
There is an urgent need to deepen the content of our religions with an articulated catechesis and we Catholics, in this regard, are privileged, because we can draw from the rich Magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI, who, more so than other Pontiffs, spoke of the need for Muslim-Christian dialogue.
It is often said that there is a risk of religious dialogue giving rise to syncretism. I am of the opposite opinion. On the contrary, I would say, interreligious dialogue is the most effective antidote to relativism. Indeed, the first thing we do, in this dialogue, is profess our own faith. Dialogue cannot be tacked together with ambiguity.
Thus, it seems to me that an event such as that of 26 July 2016 spurs us to deepen our spiritual life, and to nourish it with prayer and study. It always does us good to recall what John Paul II stated in Kaduna, Nigeria, on 14 February 1982: “All of us, Christians and Muslims, live under the sun of the one merciful God … and we defend man’s dignity as God’s servant. We adore God and profess total submission to him…. Christianity and Islam have many things in common: the privilege of prayer, the duty of justice accompanied by compassion and almsgiving, and above all a sacred respect for the dignity of man, which is at the foundation of the basic rights of every human being, including the right to life of the unborn child”.
Thus we can, indeed, we must work together, and promote religious instruction, much more than some elements of society seek to make us forget or even destroy the spiritual aspect of human life.
By murdering Fr Jacques, those who conceived of this ignoble act had a very precise purpose: to show that it is impossible for Muslims and Christians to live together. We have shown, and we believe, that we must instead join forces in the name of God in order to work together for peace and unity in a spirit of sincerity and mutual trust.
For his part, Pope Francis offers constant messages that fraternal coexistence is not only possible, but necessary and productive. On the occasion of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, for example, the Pope did not hesitate to affirm before the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem on 26 May 2014: “In our earthly pilgrimage we are not alone. We cross paths with other faithful; at times we share with them a stretch of the road and at other times we experience with them a moment of rest which refreshes us…. We are experiencing a fraternal dialogue and exchange which are able to restore us and offer us new strength to confront the common challenges before us”.