The rise of religious fundamentalism around the world, including among Muslims, has made interreligious dialogue both more difficult and more important than ever, says a high-ranking cardinal in the Catholic Church. Francis A. Arinze, who is on most observers' short lists to become the next pope, recently told a British Columbia audience that the Vatican is going out of its way to open channels of communication with Muslims following the "barbarous" September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
With the United States leading the military assault on Afghanistan to root out terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, a Muslim extremist, Arinze said he does not naively believe that it's easy to enter into dialogue with Muslims or anyone else who takes a hard-line position.
"We are realistic. We are well informed," said Arinze, 69, when an audience member at Westminster Abbey, 50 miles east of Vancouver, asked if it was possible to dialogue with Muslims who hate Christians. "It makes religious dialogue much more difficult, but also much more important. Fundamentalists make problems for their own religion," the African-born cardinal said. "I recall talking to one Muslim leader--I won't say from what country--and asked him what he could do to make fundamentalists more moderate. And he said: `The fundamentalists have my name on their list of one of those to be wiped out.' That means he was in trouble."
Arinze is currently president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which makes him the Catholic Church's leading representative on how to relate to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, atheists and others. Arinze has refused to grant interviews to the media in the past few years in part because he does not like the relentless focus on his prospects for the papacy. Many consider Arinze a strong candidate because he would accelerate the pace of interreligious dialogue established by Pope John Paul II.
Arinze helped arrange John Paul's visit early this year to a mosque in Damascus, Syria. It was the first time ever that a pope had visited a mosque. And since September 11, Arinze has also organized numerous high-level meetings between Catholics, Jews and major Islamic organizations, including the World Muslim League, …