John Paul II, Benedict XVI

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

Wlodzimierz Redzioch: - Several weeks ago w celebrated the first anniversary of the death of the Servant of God John Paul II. What kind of Church do you think John Paul II left after his long pontificate?

Cardinal Paul Poupard: - I carry in my heart the words of hope and joy that Benedict XVI uttered in his homily during the inauguration of his Petrine mission: The Church is alive! We can see that nowadays. On the sorrowful days of the Pope's illness and death we saw, I would say, in a miraculous way, that Church was alive. Alive and young. The Church carries in herself the future of the world and therefore, she shows each person the way to the future. The Church is alive because Christ is alive, because he truly rose from the dead. We contemplated the suffering of Christ and touched his wounds when we saw the suffering face of the Holy Father at Easter. But at the same time we could 'touch' the Resurrected Lord during those days. We experienced joy, which he promised to give after a short period of darkness, joy that is fruit of his Resurrection. The Church is alive because this is the Church John Paul II left to us.

- Millions of people have already visited the tomb of John Paul II. Why do so many people from the whole world feel the need to honour the great Pope and visit the Caves of the Vatican?

- John Paul II could speak to people with open heart, convince them about the power of the Gospel, show courage in order to give a clear and credible witness. We kept repeating 'Do not be afraid!' People will never forget this cry of hope, which they carry in their hearts. And that's why today they express their gratitude to him. As the Pope travelled around the world to meet people so today the same people come to him.

- Together with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger you were the closest collaborators of John Paul II throughout his pontificate. What are your recollections concerning the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

- You asked about the closest collaborator of the Holy Father, who together with the Successor of Peter the Apostle was a 'humble worker of the Lord's Vineyard'. I would like to add a word that is very dear to Benedict XVI and which in a way synthesises my recollections concerning Cardinal Ratzinger: soavizzare (to soothe, to calm). To speak the Truth in love and out of love help people to do the Truth.

- Recently Cardinal Julian Herranz confessed to some journalist he knew well that the cardinals, gathered in the conclave, elected Cardinal Ratzinger because he was the most outstanding theologian of the Catholic Church, a man who is really pious and who is said to continue the works of his great Predecessor. Do you agree with this?

- I would like to add something to this statement: every conclave is preceded by the prayers of the cardinals and the whole Church and thus it is experienced in the spirit of faith, hope and love. The Spirit of the Resurrected Lord is working in the hearts that have been prepared by prayer, and the Spirit, in co-operation with people, leads the Church and inspires the faithful to make right choices in given historical moments.

- After the first year of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, Vaticanists noticed that the new Pope preserved 'the theological line ' of John Paul II but he changed 'the style' of the pontificate. How can we describe this new 'style' of Benedict XVI?

- Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI sow the Word of Life in the soil that was ploughed by Vatican Council II. I would not speak of a different 'style' but of two different people who were to direct the Church.
I would like to add one more detail: the best test of 'the style' of man is the youth. It is the young people that welcomed John Paul II enthusiastically and today they welcome Benedict XVI with joy and with the same enthusiasm. This is an evidence that 'style' is not fundamental. What counts is the content, i.e. proclamation of the Truth of the Gospel.

- During 12 months of his pontificate Benedict XVI met the cardinals many times and talked to them about the problems of the Church in order to define the most important tasks that the Church faced at that moment of history. What could you say about that?

- The Pope meets his collaborators, and this is an expression of collegiality in the Church, to find concrete answers to the challenges that contemporary cultures poses to the Church. Then the Holy Father helps believers propose means and initiatives so that they could face the phenomenon of atheism, religious indifference, relativism, various forms of fear or contempt for life. And we should do everything with joy to show how wonderful it is to be disciples of Christ. Christ who revealed that 'God is love'.

- Benedict XVI warns against the danger of relativism (the Pope speaks about 'regime of relativism' that threatens the world). How can one be involved in dialogue with people who think otherwise, i.e. claim that relativism of values is the basis for democracy?

- Since Vatican Council II dialogue with all people has been a regular duty of the universal Church and local churches. One should hold dialogue with people of culture, followers of other religions and non-believers; dialogue about existential questions: sense of life and death, inner freedom of man, human problems that have religious dimensions, and even faith itself. Dialogue should also concern serious problems of social life: upbringing of young people, poverty, solidarity, foundations of relationships in multicultural societies, values and human rights, religious and cultural pluralism, common good, ethics in economy and politics, beauty, ecology, biotechnology and bioethics, peace, etc. We must face relativism when we conduct intercultural dialogue and try to help those who live and suffer, and seek sense and beauty of life every day. I see this at every meeting, whether it is a private or an official one, an academic or a scientific one.

- The fall of ideology, the end of the myth of progress as well as awareness of limitation and imperfection of democratic systems have caused people to change their attitudes towards the so-called modernity. One can see an increasing significance of religion - not only Christianity - in the lives of societies. In spite of that some European 'elite' still treats the Church as an enemy of democracy, freedom, progress. They treat the Church as 'roots' from which we should be cut off. How can we oppose this new wave of anti-Catholicism and phobia about Christianity?

- Instead of fighting against something I prefer meeting people (not the 'elite') in order to propose topics for reflection in the atmosphere of dialogue: how to get to know God, what role God plays in my life, what God and what religion. In the world we have too many false images of God (for example God of violence) and one should seek God who revealed his face in Christ, loved us to the end and thus he suppressed violence. We must make people aware that God is not some 'stranger', he is not an 'invented' God, some God who exists only in our thoughts but he is God who revealed himself to us and revealed his face. Religion is a matter of life and not a matter of feeling well. Belonging to the Church, living according to the Gospel, giving witness to the community - these are not private issues since they concern our whole lives. Christians who seriously take the Gospel certainly meet hostility and opposition and thus they make others reflect and ask questions.

- The Catholic Church, which underwent secularisation, must face a new phenomenon today: globalisation. Among other things globalisation means demolishing cultural and religious barriers, technological revolution and spreading culture that rejects tradition, which we can call culture of 'present moment'. What challenges does globalisation pose to the Church?

- The first challenge is the matter of language. In order to understand more and more people, to be involved in intercultural and inter-religious dialogues, in a decisive way and without any inhibitions, one should know languages. Therefore, I think that every person should know at least one foreign language. The second challenge concerns knowledge and spread of new technologies as well as increasingly modern means of communications. The third challenge is experiencing culture as mission, being aware that cultural dialogue encourages encounter with various social and cultural environments and followers of various religions. The fourth challenge, connected with globalisation, is getting rid of fear and feeling of 'besieged fortress'. We must feel heroes of history of this wonderful but complicated world that longs for fullness of life. Easter - mystery of death and resurrection - which we celebrated not long ago, is a challenge to the heart and intelligence in the whole world and in various cultures; challenge to everyone's action and will. To die with Christ in order to be raised with him - this is the only way the Gospel creates a new culture, new humanism, new history and first of all it forms a new man.

"Niedziela" 22/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: