Wednesday, April 19, 2023
Share your faith. Approach the other without fear. Look to the future with hope. The document on “Human Fraternity” signed in Abu Dhabi, a new road map for humanity. We spoke with Comboni Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso, prefect of the Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue. [Comboni Missionaries]
What is the meaning of interreligious dialogue?
It is mainly a sharing of one’s religious tradition, one’s faith. We look for common spaces based on diversity. We meet to look at the world together and see what we can do. There is a wounded humanity out there and we talk about how to join forces to create a better world. It’s about not standing in front of each other but next to each other. There are many elements that are necessary, such as religious freedom, social cohesion, human dignity… It is interesting to see that on the thorniest issues, between different religious traditions or even at a political level, there are usually shared points of view. For example, we see how the Holy See and Muslim countries feel very close in defence of life and the family.
Can religion be a useful tool for addressing political issues?
I think so. My predecessor, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, repeatedly stated that religion is not a problem but part of the solution to today’s problems. The world of politics and society should not look suspiciously at religion or at the various religious denominations but should see them as a source from which to obtain positive results. There has been some kind of meddling in recent years. Even if sometimes politics has entered the religious sphere and vice versa, and this creates conflict, division, and unpleasant reactions, we cannot ignore one another.
Do you detect a certain refusal to dialogue with those who are different, from the other?
I have seen fear exists, and fear is the greatest enemy of dialogue. I have always said that we must not be afraid of this foreign presence from a social, identity, intercultural, and interreligious point of view, but that we must experience the inclusion mentioned by Pope Francis. What we have to do is know how to welcome, accept and integrate them starting from their diversity.
Instead, what scares me as a Christian is the abandonment of the faith by the Christian world, I am afraid of aggressive secularization and of secularization that fights against Christian values. This is what causes our identity to disintegrate. If we in the West had a deep-rooted faith, we wouldn’t be afraid of this.
Is this fear more typical of adults or young people?
This fear and rejection reaction that we adults have vanishes when I meet young people. They don’t feel bad because they live integrated and accept that integration with respect, friendship and collaboration. Sometimes we are too concerned about this matter. We must recognize that there is a new generation that is growing up and that they must learn these values in order to live in diversity while respecting their own identity. Healthy diversity strengthens our identity. What we believe to be a problem, or what we fear, actually has enormous potential wealth as long as it leads us to a culture of acceptance and inclusion of the other. However, we know that this, unfortunately, very often coexists with an evident culture of exclusion.
You spoke of abandoning the faith. Are we dealing with an eminently Western phenomenon?
Yes. Even though among other religious confessions there is the feeling that this process of secularization, which promotes a model of society centred on well-being from a materialistic point of view and which cancels the religious dimension that human beings have, may cause the loss of their traditions.
How important is the document on “Human Fraternity” signed in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 in interreligious dialogue?
It is a document that has marked a milestone in history. It has had a great reception all over the world at all levels because it is not a religious document, it is not a document for Christians or Muslims only, but for humanity. It is addressed to political and economic leaders, to those responsible for society, and to religious communities, so that a sort of peaceful coexistence can be established. All the participants in the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions held in September last year in Kazakhstan, and which was attended by the Pope, adopted the document. Although the text, which is by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, does not have the signature of other people or institutions, it is important to see how the participants in the Kazakhstan Congress expressed their desire to follow the steps proposed in it. And furthermore, the President of East Timor, in his first appearance before the country’s parliament, proposed this document as a road map for the work of his government.
When the Pope went to Bangui, he asked for permission and prayed in the mosque. In interfaith relationships, how important are gestures?
They are fundamental. These are moments that have a great impact, like seeing Pope Francis in the Vatican Gardens with Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian leaders in an atmosphere of prayer. They are gestures of communion and not of division, confusion, or renunciation of one’s faith.
As Christians what are the challenges of interreligious dialogue we have to face?
We live in societies where different traditions, and ours in particular, need to bear witness to their faith. If we really want to identify with our faith, with our culture, and with our way of being, then we have to open ourselves up to others. When we go out of ourselves and discover other realities and cultures, we look at each other again and we rediscover ourselves and strengthen our identity. Instead of fearing the loss of part of who we are, we feel identified and, at the same time, different from others, but full of humanity in this world in which we live. As the Pope said during the pandemic, we are all in the same boat, with a view to welcoming each other to build a better society together.
[Javier Fariñas Martin. Illustration: Luis Henrique Alves Pinto]