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Saturday, May 9, 2009


VATICAN CITY, 8 MAY 2009 (VIS) - This morning, during his flight from Rome to the Jordanian capital city of Amman, Benedict XVI granted a brief interview to journalists accompanying him on the papal plane. A transcription of the questions and answers is given below.

"This trip takes place at very delicate moment for the Middle East: There are strong tensions - during the Gaza crisis it was speculated that you would not make this visit. At the same time, a few days after your trip, the political leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will meet with U.S. President Obama. Do you think that you can contribute to the peace process that currently seems to be running aground?"

Benedict XVI: "Certainly I intend to contribute to peace, not as an individual, but in the name of the Catholic Church, of the Holy See. We are not a political power, but rather a spiritual force, and this spiritual force is a reality that can contribute to the progress of the peace process. I see [a contribution to be made on] three levels: As believers, we are convinced that prayer is a real power. It opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and that He can act in history. I think that if millions of people - of believers - pray, this really is an influential power that can contribute to the advancement of peace. Secondly, we try to help in the formation of consciences. The conscience is the capacity of mankind to perceive the truth, but particular interests often block this capacity, and it is difficult to free ourselves from these interests, to open up to truth and to real values. One of the Church's duties is to help us recognise true criteria, true values, and free ourselves from particular interests. As for the third point, let us draw reason in as well: ... precisely because we are not a political institution it is perhaps easier for us, also in the light of faith, to see the true criteria, to help people understand what contributes to peace, to speak to reason, to support truly reasonable positions. This we have already done, and we want to do so now and in the future".

"As a theologian, you have reflected in particular on the shared roots that unite Christians and Jews. How is it possible that, despite the efforts of dialogue, misunderstandings often occur? How do you see the future of dialogue between the two communities?"

Benedict XVI: "The important thing is that in reality we have the same roots, the same Books of the Old Testament which is - for the Jews as for us - the Book of the Revelation. But naturally, after 2,000 years of different, even separate, history, it is not surprising that misunderstandings should arise. Highly diverse traditions of interpretation, language, and thinking have been formed - what we could call very different "semantic universes" - so that the same words have different meanings for each tradition. With the use of these words, which over the course of history have taken on different meanings, misunderstandings are obviously born. We must do everything to learn one another's language, and it seems to me that we are making great progress. Today it is possible for young people, the future professors of theology, to study in Jerusalem, in the Hebrew University; and the Jews have academic contact with us. Thus these "semantic universes" meet. We learn from one another and we progress along the path of true dialogue. We learn from each other and I am convinced we are making progress. This will also help peace, and what is more, reciprocal love".

"Your Holiness, this journey has too principal dimensions of inter-religious dialogue, with Islam and with Jews. Are they completely separate from one another or will there be a shared message that concerns all three Abrahamic religions?"

Benedict XVI: "Certainly there exists a shared message, and there will be a chance to highlight this. Despite the difference of origins, we have shared roots, because, as I have said, Christianity is born of the Old Testament, and the writings of the New Testament would not exist without the Old. ... Islam too was born in an environment where Judaism and various branches of Christianity, Judeo Christianity, Antiochean Christianity, Byzantine Christianity co-existed, and all these circumstances are reflected in the tradition of the Koran. Thus we have much in common from our origins, in the faith in the one God. Hence it is important to maintain dialogue with the two sides - with the Jews and with Islam - as well as a trilateral dialogue. I myself co-founded a foundation for dialogue between the three religions which included such figures as Metropolitan Damaskinos and Rene-Samuel Sirat, chief rabbi of France. This foundation also published an edition of the books of the three religions: the Koran, the New Testament and the Old Testament. For this reason the trilateral dialogue should go forward, it is very important for peace, and as well for living one's own religion well".

"A last question. Your Holiness, you have often mentioned the problem of the decline of the Christians in the Middle East, and also in particular in the Holy Land. It is a phenomenon that has various political, economic and social reasons. What can be done to help Christians in the region? What contribution do you hope to make with your trip? Is there hope for these Christians in the future? Do you have a particular message for the Christians of Gaza who will come to see you in Bethlehem?"

Benedict XVI: "Certainly there is hope, because, as you have said, this is a difficult moment, but also a moment of hope, of a new start, of a new impulse in the path toward peace, and we want to encourage Christians in the Holy Land, and in all of the Middle East, to stay, to make their contribution to their countries of origin. They are important components of life in these regions. In concrete terms the Church, beyond her words of encouragement, has schools and hospitals. In this sense we have a very concrete presence. Our schools form a generation that will have the possibility to be present in public life. We are creating the Catholic University in Jordan, and I feel this offers great prospects for young people - both Muslims and Christians - to meet and learn together, for forming a Christian elite specifically prepared to work for peace. ... Furthermore, there are many Christian associations that help Christians in various ways, and with specific help they encourage them to stay. In this way I hope that Christians are able to find the value, the humility, the patience to stay in these countries, to offer their contribution to the future of these countries".

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