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British Cardinal's View on Islam

"We in the West Have to Impose a Kind of Reciprocity"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 29, 2006 (Zenit) - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's only answer to what he calls "aggressive Islam" is "very deep Christianity."

The 73-year-old archbishop of Westminster made that and other observations in an interview today with Vatican Radio.

Among other topics, the papal broadcasting station asked the British prelate about the pre-consistory discussion by cardinals last Thursday, especially on the question of Catholic traditionalists, or Lefebvrists.

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The feeling is cautious depending on the attitude of the group and how willing they are to come into a real reconciliation with the Church -- it's not just a question of liturgy, but the bishops and the authority of the Pope.

So there are quite a number of issues that refer back to the Vatican Council abut also the Church as it is, and there's still a ways to go. But certainly, I'm sure the Holy Father, and indeed all of us, want to do what we can to effect a reconciliation.

Q: Can you tell us more about another topic discussed, the question of Islam, of great concern to so many church leaders in so many parts of the world today?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: The situation is very complex. In mostly Muslim countries there's very little space for Christianity; in other countries, in parts of Africa, there's a conflict of cultures, between the culture of Islam and the culture of Christianity.

In Europe again, it's complex. We need to meet with Muslims and speak the truth honestly, not hold back on the truth we believe.

We must be careful to avoid the position whereby they are blaming war on religion -- terrorism, this is the scourge of religion -- whereas the cardinals would see that we have to meet Muslim leaders and concentrate on the things we hold together: many moral values, matters of family, even if we disagree on the essentials of our religion.

But you know, the only answer to what I would call aggressive Islam is very deep Christianity, deep Catholicism, a faith that is strong; I am sure the Holy Father is very preoccupied by Islam, and certainly its militant tendencies.

So I think particularly we in the West have to impose a kind of reciprocity: We are tolerant of having mosques or of people wearing particular clothing; we expect the same for minority Christians in Islamic countries, that there would be tolerance of us having crucifixes, freedom to worship in church and so on.

So I think there's a feeling to speak the truth in love and honesty with each other.

Q: The meeting that you've had with the Pope seems to be a definite move by Pope Benedict to listen more closely to what the cardinals are saying in the different countries ...

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: There was some gesture for the Synod of Bishops -- we had these free interventions, and certain other changes; and now he's asked and obtained this meeting, so who knows? There could be other ways in which he hopes to exercise collegiality and I think that would be very welcome.

Q: One of the ways in which the Catholic community is changing over in Britain is the huge number of migrant workers who are coming in, particularly to your own Diocese of Westminster. You're going to be focusing on that soon, aren't you?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: We do have a very significant number of people who come, especially to London, for work, and I'm concerned on a number of fronts.

One of them is justice, that they're not given wages that are below living wages, and that they should have rights to go with their status; and then there's the question for me of enabling them, through their membership of the Church -- because many of them are practicing Catholics -- for them to feel that the Diocese of Westminster is their diocese, their home, to feel that they're part within the universal Church of this local Church.

Q: Where are they mostly coming from?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: Increasingly from India and the Philippines and Central and Eastern Europe, especially those that have recently entered the European Union. They like coming to London; a lot of them know English quite well; and a lot are skilled workers, which we need.

From the non-European countries, many will have great difficulty in getting legal papers and becoming legal residents in Britain.

This is another challenge for us, but also for the government, to make sure that migrant workers are treated fairly.

There has to be a policy by the government in terms of how many of these you let in; there's no doubt the world is a global village now, and people come from all over the world; with mass communications it's just a different world.

And the big cities are the focus of it; a city like London, along with other capitals, bear the opportunities and the brunt of this mass migration of people.

Q: Yet people find it very hard to accept this changing face of Britain, perhaps the changing face of the Church as well. How do you think the Catholic community rates in terms of tolerance of people who are different from them?

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor: I would have thought very well. I told the prime minister, Tony Blair, the last time I had a conversation with him, that the Catholic Church in London is a microcosm of what the whole of London is -- here you have people, and often 20 or 30 languages spoken in some parishes, of all different ethnic communities, worshipping together, happy together, belonging together. This is what London is going to be and should be.

And here are people at the heart of it. So faith communities, and particularly I would say the Catholic Church, are extremely important and that's why the way we look after and have care for these ethnic communities, is very important.

And I was delighted, by the way, this year -- I've just been interviewing candidates for the priesthood; 10 of them or so have been accepted -- three of them were from ethnic communities, who have come here and settled here and now want to be priests of the diocese. And that's very good.


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