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Distance From God Rooted in Heart (Part 1)

Interview With Cardinal Paul Poupard

BUDAPEST, Hungary, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit) - The causes of secularization can be found in the depth of the human heart, says the president of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue.

Cardinal Paul Poupard affirmed this in an interview with us, while attending an international congress in Budapest from Dec. 14-16, on the theme "Europe in a World of Transformation."

(Part 2 of this interview will appear on Saturday)

Q: The fall of the great civil religions of the 20th century and the great progress of technology have demolished many of the values on which the West's spiritual solidity was built. Do you think that the secularization now present throughout Europe will end by weakening the fabric of the society?

Cardinal Poupard: When you speak of the fall of the great religions of the 20th century, I suppose you are referring to the concept of the totalitarian regime. First of all, I would like to make a small observation. The great risk exists of using a specific terminology inadequately and of confusing essential concepts, for example, by equating ideologies and religions.

By religion is understood a relationship between God and man. It is a real and existential, personal and inter-subjective, conscious and free, dynamic, necessary and perfecting relationship of the human being.

Ideologies, instead, especially those of the 20th century, are the negation of this relationship with God and, as we have seen, do not perfect man, but tend to oppress him in a total manner, so much so that they are called, in fact, totalitarian.

I do not think that the values of the West's spiritual solidity have been demolished by the fall of the totalitarian systems or by the progress of technology. Rather, I would say that the changes produced objectively favor a flourishing of values. In many countries, bans on worship and freedom of expressions have been abolished; at the same time new possibilities have opened of personal and communal growth.

However, we must not forget that, after World War II, many European countries went through, for more than 50 years, a Marxist-Leninist indoctrination that marked their history profoundly, creating a crisis of values whose consequences are very visible. I speak of those processes that modified even the attitudes of human behavior, so much as to give origin to the category of "homo sovieticus."

The latter was not a Communist but a man of the masses, annihilated in his individual dimension, passive and mistrustful, fearful and often an informer, conditioned by the group to which he had to belong, as he could no longer be alone, though he was, in other things stripped of every interior impulse and profoundly humiliated. It is difficult to think that, after a long period of depression, one can easily regain and interiorize a new vision of one's life.

I'll give an example closer to the Hungarian people. Among several publications, in memory of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, tragically crushed by the Soviet regime, a book was published in Italy entitled: "1956 ... So That It Will Remain a Sign." It contains the photographs of Zsolt Bayer, a courageous man, who between October and November of 1956, went about the streets of Budapest taking photographs so that a sign would remain.

During long decades, more than 100 rolls of film were hidden, out of fear, in an attic, almost condemned to die just as the photographer did. The first pages of this book mention briefly that after the fall of the Soviet empire, the photographer's widow decided finally to hand the negatives over for publication, with only one condition, however: "that her name and that of her husband should not be mentioned, in case 'they were to return' ..."

This example not only reveals a person's momentary state of mind but the reality of life of many peoples marked by fear, the suffering experienced and a psychological impediment developed over more than 50 years of oppression and persecution. And this is one of the conditions that favors the spread of secularization and the fall of Europe's spiritual solidity.

Of course we mustn't forget that the material wealth owed to technological progress can disorient and even "blind" man's sensitivity, but scientific and technological development and "the death" of regimes do not constitute in themselves a threat to the solidity of society. Paraphrasing Cardinal Newman's thought, I would say that the causes of man's estrangement from God and, consequently, of secularization must be sought in the depth of the human heart, and not in humanity's achievements.

Q: Continuing with the topic of secularization, many commentators tend to see in the relationship between Western civilization and Islam a clash between a secularized civilization and a world still ...

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