Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has been in the capital of Saudi Arabia since April 13, and will stay there until April 20, thereby repaying the visitmade to the Vatican on September 20, 2017, by the secretary general of the Muslim World League, the sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa.
Welcomed by Prince Muhammad bin Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz, vice-governor of Riyadh, Cardinal Tauran gave at the headquarters of the Muslim League, during his meeting with the sheikh Al-Issa, an address without precedent in the history of relations between Christianity and Islam, not because of the things that were said but because of the place where they were pronounced.
It was in fact the first time that in Saudi Arabia, the homeland of Wahhabism, one of the most radical currents of Islam, a leading representative of the Catholic Church has spoken out in public and with clarity on capital questions like freedom of religion and equal rights for believers of all faiths.
Here is a brief anthology of the things that Cardinal Tauran said in Riyadh, printed in “L’Osservatore Romano” of April 17.
ON THE CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
“What is threatening all of us is not the clash of civilizations, but rather the clash of forms of ignorance and radicalism. What is threatening coexistence is first of all ignorance; therefore, to meet together, speak, build something together, are an invitation to encounter the other, and also means discovering ourselves.”
ON OPENING THE HOLY PLACES TO ALL
The cardinal recalled how the Christian sacred places, “in the Holy Land, in Rome or elsewhere, together with the numerous shrines in many parts of the world,” are “always open to you, our Muslim brothers and sisters, to believers of other religions, and also to every person of good will who does not profess a religion.” Besides, he added, “in many countries the mosques are also open to visitors,” and this, he said, “is the kind of spiritual hospitality that helps us to promote mutual understanding and friendship, contrasting prejudice.”
ON THE TRUE MEANING OF MARTYRDOM
“Religion is the dearest thing a person has. This is why some, when they are called to choose between keeping the faith and remaining alive, prefer to accept paying a high price: they are the martyrs of all religions and of every time.”
“In all religions there are forms of radicalism. Fundamentalists and extremists may be zealous person, but unfortunately they have deviated from a solid and wise understanding of religion. Moreover, they consider those who do not share their vision as unbelievers who must convert or be eliminated, so as to maintain purity. They are misled persons who can easily go on to violence in the name of religion, including terrorism. They become convinced, through brainwashing, that they are serving God. The truth is that they are only hurting themselves, ruining the image of their religion and their coreligionists. This is why they need our prayer and our help.”
ON EQUAL TREATMENT AMONG ALL THE RELIGIONS
After clarifying that “religion can be proposed, never imposed, and then accepted or rejected,” Cardinal Tauran identified as one of the fields in which Christians and Muslims must be in agreement, seeing that “in the past there has been a great deal of competition between the two communities,” that “of common rules for the construction of places of worship.” In fact, all the religions must be treated in the same way, without discrimination, because their followers, together with the citizens who do not profess any religion, must be treated equally,” he remarked in referring to the always relevant theme of “full citizenship” for all. In part because “if we do not eliminate the double standards of our behavior as believers, religious institutions and organizations, we will foster Islamophobia and Christianophobia.”
ON THE CONDEMNATION OF TERRORISM BY RELIGIOUS LEADERS
“Spiritual leaders have a duty: to keep the religions from being at the service of an ideology, and to be able to recognize that some of our coreligionists, like the terrorists, are not behaving correctly. Terrorism is a constant threat, and because of this we must be clear and never justify it. The forms of terrorism want to demonstrate the impossibility of coexistence. We believe the exact opposite. We must avoid aggression and denigration.”
ON INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
“All authentic interreligious dialogue begins with the proclamation of one’s own faith. We do not say that all religions are equal, but that all believers, those who seek God and all persons of good will devoid of religious affiliation, have equal dignity. Everyone must be left free to embrace the religion that he wishes.” After this came the concluding appeal to join forces “so that God, who created us, may not be a motive of division, but rather of unity.”
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)