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Cardinal Cassidy on Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue

"We Have Made Quite Remarkable Progress"

SYDNEY, Australia, NOV. 11, 2005 (Zenit) - Among the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration "Nostra Aetate" was the launch of a book by the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

"Rediscovering Vatican II: Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue," written by Cardinal Edward Cassidy, was launched recently in the Great Synagogue of Sydney.

"It is a story of 40 years of our dialogue with other Christian churches or ecumenism, in the first section," he said. "The second section also deals with dialogue but with the other great religions of the world."

The 81-year-old cardinal spoke with us about the book.

Q: How does your book report on the positive steps that have been made since "Nostra Aetate's" promulgation?

Cardinal Cassidy: I think in each case we have made quite remarkable progress considering the period we are discussing is only 40 years.

If I just turn to Catholic-Jewish dialogue to start with, I think that there I'm greatly encouraged by something that has been happening in these last few years -- namely, the first time that we have been able to, as two faith communities, Catholics and Jews, speak to each other about questions of faith.

For a long time in the past, we were dealing with practical questions, questions that had been inherited from former times, and it wasn't possible until very recently for us to sit down in a real dialogue as Catholics and religious Jews to speak about some of the questions we use the same words and terms for.

Q: What do you mean by this?

Cardinal Cassidy: We have so much in common, coming from our Scriptures, in terms like "repentance," "reconciliation" or "justice"; and what we mean about the covenants that have never been renounced -- how they relate to one another.

These have all been coming up now in our dialogues and there is a great deal of interest, whereas before it was a subject that we couldn't even approach.

So that gives me great courage because I think, rather than just solve the problems with the past, if we can build that kind of relationship then we are able to look forward with great confidence that there wouldn't be another Holocaust.

In my time at the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, I have been encouraged by the fact that our dialogue with the Orthodox churches is getting back onto the road after being suspended since 1993. Now, it is returning to the dialogue that we had before all that happened in 1990 -- that's great!

I am so encouraged by that because I believe there are no great reasons that are insurmountable in overcoming our problems with the Orthodox.

We continue with the other Christian churches too. Just the fact that we are tackling certain questions together is encouraging.

Q: But, both you and your successor, Cardinal Walter Kasper, recognized that all this work is "just a beginning of the beginning." What have been some of the major setbacks that you reflect on in your new book?

Cardinal Cassidy: Well, each one is a bit different there. In ecumenism there have been setbacks, for instance, in our relationship with the Anglican Communion, which shared such great promise at the beginning of our dialogue. Though continuing to make progress in some ways, it's also run into serious obstacles with differences about great moral questions, values and ethics, ordination of women to the priesthood -- where we differ very often. ... That has been very disappointing.

In our dialogue with the Orthodox, we have run into a problem which has delayed our dialogue, in recent years, of the "rebirth" of those Eastern Churches who are in communion with Rome but not in communion with their Mother Church, insofar as the law was concerned in Russia and Romania and the communist countries. So these have been difficulties that have come up in the latter part of our dialogues.

With Islam, I think difficulties have come up from some of the unfortunate acts that have taken place, not due to the religion but the impression so many have of Islam being a religion that backs terrorism and supports those who carry out terrorist acts. This is not at all fair, but it has made a problem in their relationship among our communities.

With the Jewish people, we had our disappointments along the way, like with the convent at Auschwitz or the questions surrounding Pope Pius XII during World War II, which have delayed us. But we must understand that in all these dialogues, we still have a lot of work to do in bringing the fruits of them into the life of our two communities.

Q: While examining the past and present, your book also moves into the future. What do you think we might be looking forward ...

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