France: Bishops instruct one another in religious dialogue

Source: FSSPX News

Following the sessions at Nantes, Strasbourg, and Albi, the Doctrinal Commission of the Episcopal Conference of France (CEF) has organized its annual doctrinal session to take place in Lyon, from February 14th to 16th, 2011, on the theme of: “Christian Faith in God and interreligious dialogue: What is the theology pertaining to dialogue?” “Although the subject is a sensitive one, the questions asked must not impede dialogue; on the contrary, they must allow us to consider it from a distance in order to intensify it,” declared the official communiqué of the CEF.

“We will be happy to have no text to vote on, no decision to make,” declared Bishop Pierre-Marie Carré, auxiliary bishop of Montpellier and president of the Doctrinal Commission of the Episcopal Conference. The bishops wished to address the subject, “as a result of the great changes of the context” in which dialogue is to be practiced. Indeed, confided the prelate to the KTO, “the period of naivety has passed and now a situation characterized by tension and unrest has not only made this dialogue still more necessary, but has also shown that we are really different. Dialogue consists not only in recognizing what we have in common, but also in telling one another what we experience in particular. The theme of the session was also chosen to insist on the Christian Faith and on how we can better perceive the specificity of our Christian Faith by dialoguing with others.”

About fifty or more bishops, that is half of the French episcopate, participated in the session during which conferences were given by: Bishop Michel Santier, bishop of Créteil and president of the Council for Interreligious Relations and New Religious Tendencies, on the work done by the council and the interreligious relations of the Catholic Church in France; Father Michel Quesnel, Oratorian, biblical analyst, and rector of the Catholic University of Lyon, on the question “How does Saint Paul speak of God when confronted with the pagan gods?”; Father Michel Fédou, Jesuit, professor of patristics and of dogmatic theology at the Sèvres Center in Paris, on “Christian faith in God in the ancient world and in the context of its relations with other believers”; Father François Bousquet, theologian and specialist in the history of religions, vice-rector of research and director of the doctorate school of the Catholic Institute of Paris, on the questions “Which God, which man? Christian faith in God and religious pluralism?”; Father Jean-Marc Aveline, theologian, vicar general of the diocese of Marseille, and director of the Catholic Institute of the Mediterranean, on the theology of interreligious dialogue today.

Many bishops share the confusion of numerous Catholics on this question, according to Father Jean-Marc Aveline’s analysis. They want to “understand what the Church’s involvement in interreligious dialogue is founded upon.” In fact, “bishops are being consulted more and more frequently by civil authorities on issues concerning peace in society. And at the same time, they sense a deeply-rooted uncertainty within the Christian people which they cannot overlook.”

After a discussion period with the bishops, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, introduced the Muslim imam Azzedine Gaci, president of the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council of Muslim Worship, who expressed the motives for this dialogue: “We do it for ourselves, as Muslims and Christians, but we also do it for France.”

Bishop Georges Pontier, Archbishop of Marseille, spoke on how to preach the Gospel, what attitude to have towards the Muslim feast-days, and what we can allow for given the large number of pupils professing the Muslim religion in Catholic schools. “Up to 80% of the children in certain schools in highly populated districts are Muslim,” he specified.

Relations with the Muslim community sometimes end up in conflict, notably “in the suburbs, with the growing influence of the Salafist branch of Islam,” emphasized Bishop Michel Santier. In consequence, the Muslim authorities involved in dialogue start pulling back.

Elsewhere, interreligious dialogue has progressed “as far as the mine basin,” explained Bishop Benoît Rivière of Autun. “Some would almost ask me to resist islam. All that finds no echo in me,” since the Bishop prefers “a deeper Christian formation.” For the Bishop of Autun, interreligious dialogue is a spiritual experience, requiring “a deepening of our own relationship with Christ.” “People are asking me more and more often for instruction, conferences, and meeting places for Christians and Muslims,” he admitted. Bishop Michel Santier reminded his listeners that “if we want interreligious dialogue to bear fruit, the parties involved must be deeply rooted in their faith.”

During the plenary assembly of French bishops in Lourdes, in November 2008, Bishop Santier had submitted a nine-page long note entitled “Why is the Catholic Church still practicing interreligious dialogue?” Divided into three parts – the foundations of dialogue, the goals and fruits of dialogue, and the conditions necessary for it to be successful – this document, after recalling the fundamental texts of Vatican II, stressed the fact that “the purpose of ecumenism is to restore unity among Christians”, while interreligious dialogue is meant to “promote understanding and collaboration between communities of different religions to enable them to live together and in peace.” It further explains that interreligious dialogue could “have positive effects on ecumenical dialogue” thus making it possible to “bring Christians to put some of their divisions into perspective” and also “to a new deepening of the faith that is common to them all.”

However, many Christians still do not understand the importance of this dialogue, the authors of this note complained, and they express real fears, and not only in traditionalist circles. “Some fear that the Catholic Church’s commitment to interreligious dialogue may contribute in creating a general confusion in men’s minds and finally support the idea that all religions are equal.” In answer to these fears, the text specifies that dialogue does not necessarily mean “agreement”, but simply implies that each one may express what he believes – provided it be done with respect for the others – and that “although the purpose is not to convert the others, it does not exempt us from proclaiming the Gospel ” (sic). (Sources: apic/cef/La Croix/KTO –DICI, issue number 231, March 5th, 2011)

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