Acceptance Speech at Conferral of Honorary Doctor of Law Degree on

His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

Notre Dame University Rome Centre
27 January 2014

I am grateful to the Provost of Notre Dame University for conferring upon me the Degree of Law Doctor honoris causa. This recognition transcends my person: it has to be shared by the entire Pontifical Council for Interreligious Council Dialogue (which celebrates its 50th  anniversary this year).

Dialogue has inspired my life and my ministry. As a boy, I discovered the richness of Anglican religious music in England. As a priest, in my diocese of origin, Bordeaux, I was in charge of dialogue with the Jews and the Anglicans. As a Vatican diplomat I have been involved in many international talks (in particular in the frame work of the CSCE). Since 2007, I have been President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. For me, dialogue has been my ministry: when you meet somebody who does not live like you, who does not think like you, or who belongs to another religion, you have a choice: you close the door, you try to impose your way of life or you decide to consider the “other” like a brother who is, like you, a pilgrim towards the Truth.

The contemporary process of globalisation and the accelerating process of international communications make interreligious dialogue a critical issue. In other ages religions lived in separate territories. Their divisions resulted from their existing in different spaces. Today religious offers cannot be made from a monopolistic perspective and this fact explains the importance of interactions between religions.

In Europe from the eighteenth century onwards a conviction began to appear that faith is incompatible with reason. Although he was a believer, Descartes was to apply his methodical doubt to matters of faith. This current of thought was to give birth to the philosophy of the Enlightenment: reason has access to truth on its own. Natural moral standards, tolerance, deism or even, for some, atheism led to the belief that man is self-sufficient. After the considerable progress of the sciences (Newton died in 1727), the development of travel (and missions) and unresolved social crises, it seemed to many that Christianity, with its dogmas and moral teaching, did not serve progress. All people were thus considered to belong to a common humanity and, endowed with reason, easily discovered that a natural religion exists, without dogma and without fanaticism. The individual sufficed unto himself. There was no need to look to religion to explain man’s origin, nor to await a happiness beyond this earth. Thus man is placed at the centre of the world and the supernatural is eliminated. At the level of ideas, this vision of things was to lead to Scientism (all that human reason does not justify does not exist), and at the level of achievements, to the French Revolution (to organize society without God), culminating in the twentieth century with the two forms of totalitarianism (Marxism-Leninism and the Nazi ideologies).

Obviously the Church contested this vision of things and maintained that to exclude religion from the horizon of human life is to amputate man, created in the image of God, from his spiritual dimension.  Pope Jean-Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio expresses it well: “In God there lies the origin of all things, in him is found the fullness of the mystery, and in this his glory consists; to men and women there falls the task of exploring truth with their reason, and in this their nobility consists” (no. 17).

But this God whom we dismissed in the past is reappearing in public discourse today. Newsstands are full of books and magazines on religious subjects, esotericism and the new religions. Today, one cannot understand the world without religions. And this – for here indeed is the great paradox of the current situation – is because they are seen as a danger: fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism have been or still are associated with a perverted form of Islam. It is not, of course, a question of Islam practised by the majority of this religion’s followers. Still today it is a fact that people kill for religious reasons. The reason is that religions are capable of the best as well as of the worst: they can serve holiness or alienation. They can preach peace or war. Yet it is always necessary to explain that it is not the religions themselves that wage war but rather their followers! Hence the need, once again, to conjugate faith with reason. For to act against reason is in fact to act against God, as Pope Benedict XVI said at the University of Regensburg on 12 September 2006:

“In the beginning was the Logos means both reason and word — a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. […] A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.”

Thus we are in a world in which, because of material and human precariousness, the dangers of war and the hazards of the environment, in the face of the failure of the great political systems of the past century, men and women of this generation are once again asking themselves the essential questions on the meaning of life and death, on the meaning of history and of the consequences that amazing scientific discoveries might bring in their wake. It had been forgotten that the human being is the only creature who asks questions and questions himself. It is remarkable that Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council, should underline this aspect of things in its introduction:

“Men look to their different religions for an answer to the unsolved riddles of human existence. The problems that weigh heavily on the hearts of men are the same today as in past ages. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is upright behaviour, and what is sinful? Where does suffering originate, and what end does it serve? How can genuine happiness be found?” (n. 1).

Thus we are all condemned to dialogue. But, what is dialogue? It is the search for an inter-understanding between two individuals with a view to a common interpretation of their agreement or their disagreement. It implies a common language, honesty in the presentation of one’s position and the desire to do one’s utmost to understand the other’s point of view.

Applied to interreligious dialogue, these presuppositions make it easier to understand that in the context of religion it is not a question of being “kind” to others to please them! Nor is it a matter of negotiation: in interreligious dialogue it is a question of taking a risk, not of accepting to give up my own convictions but of letting myself be called into question by the convictions of another, accepting to take into consideration arguments different than my own or those of my community. All religions, each one in its own way, strive to respond to the enigmas of the human condition. Each religion has its own identity but this identity enables me to take the religion of the other into consideration. Identity, otherness and dialogue go together.

Interreligious dialogue is not relativism. We must see what we have in common and put our convergences at the service of society. But we do not put our faith into brackets. On the contrary, the beginning of an authentic religious dialogue is the proclamation of the religious convictions of the partners: we cannot build a true dialogue on ambiguity. We accept being called into question by the convictions of another, in order to enrich my own faith with the convictions of the others. Identity, otherness and dialogue go together.

As we are in a Catholic University, I would like to underline that Professors, personnel and students are on the front line for interreligious dialogue among the youth of tomorrow.

We know that good Christians try sincerely to listen to persons or to read literature in order to know, to understand and to share our common convictions with other religious persons or groups. Many dioceses have a commission for interreligious dialogue. But the specific contribution of a university to interreligious dialogue is realized through research, taking into consideration the statistical, historical, social, cultural and theological point of view. What is essential is the right attitude towards the truth: impartiality, objectivity, promotion of a culture of encounter.

I do hope that Notre Dame University will continue to propose an education which teaches how to think, a scientific knowledge enlightened by spiritual values and a culture opened to a universally oriented culture. The word “university” comes from the Latin word “universum”.

So let us continue to teach the pedagogy of peace. Let us follow the advice of the Roman philosopher: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult”. Let us dare!