"Cardinal Koenig: Why a Dialogue with the Other Religions is Necessary"
Le Figaro, June 17, 1994
The former Archbishop of Vienna (Austria) explains to Le Figaro why Judaism, Christianity, and Islam must "act together".
A cardinal of the Catholic Church, a chief rabbi of Judaism, an eminent shaykh of Islam hold out their hands to each other to proclaim together: "The children of Abraham should never again be separated!" This event took place Monday in Paris in the Louis Liard hall where Sorbonne theses are presented. At the invitation of the Association for International Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Interreligious Conferences (ADIC), the only thesis presented was that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam must respect each other and engage in a common action for world peace.
"The twenty-first century will be saved from the fatal dangers which threaten it by the dialogue among the religions": words of wisdom from the Chief Rabbi René Samuel Sirat. But "the interreligious dialogue is not a fast consumption product", also wisely remarked Dr. Ali El Samman, co-president of the ADIC. It is better not to start the dialogue too late. Then, religions will not become that which is feared; instigators of war, sources of division, breeding grounds for fanatics.
The former Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Franz Koenig participated in this ADIC conference on "the finality of the dialogue among the three monotheistic religions and the dangers which threaten it". He strove to remove the ambiguities and the misunderstandings which cause fear of interreligious dialogue. He explained this to Le Figaro.
Le Figaro - Is interreligious dialogue sufficient to stay the rise of fanaticism?
Cardinal Franz Koenig - No, but it is a priori a mark of respect towards others, whether individuals, groups, or nations. As to fanaticism, it is not founded on religion. Instead, it uses religion to justify personal or political interests. Thus, the resurgent nationalistic ideologies look for support in the religious doctrines, such as is the case today in the former Yugoslavia. War may degenerate into religious conflict.
Have you engaged in interreligious dialogue with the concern of theological rapprochement?
I engaged in it first of all through my interest in the history of religions. I have thus determined that all men have religious aspirations. Each one wonders where he comes from, what is the mystery of his life, and where he is going. Never a culture has existed without religion; religion never disappears completely from a social group. It can become a means of fighting against an adversary or of finding a basis for dialogue. The three monotheistic religions share many common points. However, in the past, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have lost sight of this and have fought against each other. It is a pity. Now I hope that they rediscover their common points.
Does the very word "dialogue" seem ambiguous to you?
I admit this is ambiguity. According to the primary meaning of this word, it is defined as speaking together with consideration and interest for the situation of another, his ideas, his religion. If it is sincere, dialogue brings men together, with mutual respect.
How is it possible not to lose one's identity in it?
An authentic dialogue serves first of all to find one's own identity and then to know the identity of the party with whom the dialogue has been engaged. It is not a matter of alignment or of deconstructing one's faith.
The Jews refer to the Torah, the Christians to Jesus Christ, the Muslims to the Qur'an and to the Prophet. Is a theological dialogue truly possible with such different references?
A common base should first be found, and the desire not to want secretly to convert the other.
It seems to be easier for the religions to talk rather than to act together. How is possible not to stop at talks?
Despite the religious divergences, it is nevertheless possible to act together for human rights in the social and economic domain. Religion provides a stimulus to work for the good of others and not to stop at the level of good intentions.
For myself, a Christian, my attachment to Jesus Christ is essential. It cannot be the subject of debate. However, I may be led to explain my faith through the questions of a Jew or a Muslim with whom I am already working for the good of man.
Is the need for the interreligious dialogue in conflict with the Christian duty of being a missionary?
Certainly, the missionary history of the Catholic Church has its bright and shadowy points. For me, it is not a matter of convincing by force, but to deliver to others my convictions, if I am asked.
A Christian must remain open and tolerant, while still being a missionary. He must respect the natural rights of any man. Peace is one of these rights. Today, the religions have a duty to cooperate for worldwide peace. It is in this spirit that the three monotheistic religions met in Assisi in 1992 to responding to a call from John Paul II to pray together in respect for each other's faith. Each one of these religions starts with prayer. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have in fact one and the same God to Whom they can pray together.
What do you wish to promote through the interreligious dialogue?
As an Austrian, I wish first for exchanges with the countries of Europe and of the East. To this effect, it is no longer enough to learn French or English, but also a Slav language. It is a way to go beyond the past and to improve mutual knowledge.
For Universal Peace
My other aim is to overcome the opposition between science and religion. At the present time, science is again wondering about the origins of matter, without being able to provide a definitive answer. As to religion, its goal is not to convert science. However, the design of our times is for some rapprochement, even though science and religion cannot be confused.
Lastly, I insist on a dialogue among the people of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is an essential condition for universal peace. The religious are called upon to live in peace with each other and thus give a good example to the world. Tomorrow's Europe can no longer be built without interreligious dialogue.
Interview by Elie Marechal