What is difficult is knowing that we can only change this through long work, and yet we must live today, says former director of interreligious dialogue.
“Against all human hope, hope is theological.” These are words taken from St. Paul that Cardinal Paul Poupard, former president of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and for Interreligious Dialogue under Benedict XVI, invites us to meditate on after the terrible Islamist attack in Nice that killed at least three people. “While we are frozen with horror,” it is time for prayer, “stronger than ever,” he told I.Media on October 29.
What was your reaction upon learning of this tragic news?
Cardinal Poupard: What can I tell you except that I am saddened. Every day we retreat into horror. Only 15 days after the slaughter of a French teacher, this is a new horror that comes on top of the fact that it happened in a church, this Basilica of Our Lady of Nice where I went a few years ago to preside over a ceremony.
While we are frozen with horror, the time has come for prayer, stronger than ever. It’s also the hour of hope, that theological virtue that I call the virtue of tragic times. I repeat once more those words of St. Paul that I did not understand very well in the past: “Contra spem in spe.” We can translate them into these words: “Against all human hope, hope is theological.”
What can we say to Christians, in these dark times that can push us to withdrawal into ourselves?
Cardinal Poupard: What can we say to Christians if not that we must return to the essential: the prayer that Jesus, in the Our Father, taught us. I believe that in this prayer are contained all the feelings that we can express, up to the final “Deliver us from evil.”
As I said the other Sunday while celebrating the feast of St. Louis at St. Louis of the French (the French national church in Rome, Ed.), we have somewhat forgotten the existence of the Evil One, of evil. We see him at work in the world right now, and we must redouble our prayers so that we do not succumb to the temptations that may assail us.
I believe that we must fight with all our strength against the burden, against the feeling of despair, as if we had nothing else to do. I take refuge in Charles Peguy’s little Joan of Arc (Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc, Ed.). “Nothing to do” is not French; there’s always something we can do.
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How can we continue to believe in interreligious dialogue, to which the Church and Pope Francis invite us in these troubled times?
Cardinal Poupard: I engaged in every possible and imaginable dialogue at the request of Pope John Paul II. How can we dialogue with these people who want us to be persecuted? I was thinking about that at the moment. How can we do it? We must not give up, and dialogue with all those with whom we can dialogue, but it is a long-term task.
When I was charged by Pope Benedict XVI with interreligious dialogue and I was writing his letters of dialogue to the leaders of different religions, I drew their attention to the fact that we are all responsible. The problem comes from the fact that we are faced with mentalities that come and that we master, and that we cannot change in a day.
It’s a whole job of education that needs to be done, very slow. What is difficult is knowing that we can only change this through long work, and yet we must live today.
We quickly forget the affair of Fr. Hamel … but I must say that in the times when I was in charge of dialogue, the sacred was not attacked. There was a respect that remained. The present drama is that we are facing people for whom nothing is sacred anymore.
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