The cross : Can interreligious dialogue, and particularly with Muslims, have a bearing on the tensions running through society, particularly today with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Brother Jean-François Bour: I have been working with Christophe Le Sourt, responsible for relations with Judaism, for months, but even more so since October 7. Both of us are indeed gripped by the emotion, the anger, the suffering, the tears of our partners and our friends. Since October 7, we want to show that we are not letting go of Jews or Muslims, and we are doing our best to take into account the words, the suffering and the reality of all.
This is all the more important as the situation is extremely serious. Too many voices today seek to spread the idea that the key to understanding the crisis in the Middle East is the clash between Judeo-Christian civilization and Arab-Muslim civilization. This ideology is very dangerous because it claims that there would be an alliance between Jews and Christians against Muslims.
But I believe it is important to emphasize that this has no basis even if our differences do exist: historically, if there is indeed a Judeo-Christian civilization, it must recognize what it owes to the Arab-Christian civilization. Muslim, and the opposite is also true. It makes no sense to directly oppose these two spheres, which are always leaning against each other, especially in the Mediterranean area. Pope Francis understands this well.
What are the pastoral issues of Muslim-Christian dialogue?
J.-FB: For a Church that wants to regain its missionary dynamic, the challenge is precisely to remain in dialogue, which is the style of Christian witness. This is the style that God adopts: he revealed himself in a dialogue with humanity, wrote Pope Paul VI in 1964. Through dialogue, we aim for a quality of relationship which is based on a gratuitous interest in others, and on the absolute respect of one’s freedom of conscience… We must pay careful attention to this articulation between dialogue and proclamation of the faith, because the dynamism of a missionary Church has nothing to do with a conquest.
But it is about taking good care of the faith of young Catholics and their desire for a strong, more affirmed Christian identity. Faced with young Muslims who are sometimes very comfortable in their faith, even proselytes, we must help them to be proud of their Christian identity while remaining in dialogue, to live an identity which is therefore enriched by differences.
The Catholic Church today, in France, is more responsible for welcoming catechumens from Islam?
J.-FB: Yes, in almost all dioceses we see people arriving from Islam or simply from “Muslim culture”. The challenge is to support them well, and to be able to explain transparently to our Muslim interlocutors how we welcome them, how we discern the seriousness of their approach, so as not to make people believe in a conversion strategy, because there is no doesn’t have one.
Our concern is rather to welcome and seriously accompany any authentic search of those who have encountered Christ. And if, in the parishes, there is no serious proposal to support them, others will take on the mission of doing so.
That’s to say ?
J.-FB: For several years, Catholics have felt invested with the mission of accompanying believers from Islam towards baptism, even of evangelizing Muslims in an uninhibited manner, with a vision of Islam that is often incomplete, sometimes unfair or contemptuous. . There is the risk of “old-fashioned” apologetics which seeks to destabilize other believers by accusing them of being in error. This apologetics wants to demonstrate the truth of our faith but without esteem for the lights that the Holy Spirit has already placed in the hearts of Muslims, through their religion. This is the proselytism that Popes Benedict XVI and Francis have firmly rejected.
How can we respond to the feeling of fear, even rejection, of Islam among certain Catholics?
J.-FB: I understand that there is fear. I even think that many Muslims living in France are afraid too. The terrorism that has developed under the influence of ideologues who have resurrected medieval visions of Islam or used this religion for political purposes is frightening.
I note that despite the conservatism of many Muslim scholars, an awareness has begun to counter this conquering and archaic vision of Islam, even among the Wahhabis. Just listen today to Sheikh Mohammed Al Issa (general secretary of the World Islamic League), one of the most influential men in the global Islamic sphere, close to Wahhabism: he advocates the adaptability of Islamic norms and he came to say it in Paris, at the Grand Mosque, on September 28, 2023. In 2020, he took a Muslim delegation to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial in the company of the president of the American Jewish Committee. It’s unprecedented and almost miraculous!
Many things worry me but I notice how these dignitaries, although conservative, seek to promote a new path. We must pray that the atrocities and violence which continue in various places do not ruin this progress.