WHAT WOULD THE WORLD BE WITHOUT RELIGION?
Milena Kindziuk talks with cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, the metropolitan of Warsaw
MILENA KINDZIUK: - Does Priest Cardinal have friends among non-believers?
CARDINAL KAZIMIERZ NYCZ: - Yes, even from the times of the secondary schools. Later I had an occasion to meet non-believers. Maybe for this reason I am familiar with a dialogue with them.
– Don’t they say today that their unbelief is caused by the evil or scandals in the Church? Many people use this argumentation. They are even doing apostasy. How does Cardinal perceive it?
– There are two issues here. One of them is the existence of the evil in general, that is, suffering, harm, illness, death. This issue raises serious existential problems and questions. But you are asking me about scandals which may result from the existing evil of people doing evil in the Church. I think that in both these cases, the evil or a scandal may be only an additional argument. Because real faith, I think, should be resistant to outer circumstances. If somebody really believes, he will not go away from what he has considered as valuable so far.
– Despite the evil in the Church?
– The very notion of the Church is important here. It is holy because of God who is in it, and because of holy sacraments it gives grace, but it is also human because it is a community of believers. So, if I belong to the Church, I do not have to go away from it, but I can change it. And I can change it morally if I change myself.
– It means that the reform of the Church should be started from oneself?
– Yes, because the inner reform of the Church, the moral, spiritual reform, is the most important. Here I will refer to a book of Fr. prof. Zdzisław Kijas OFMConv about Pope’s reforms. The publications is opened by two chapters: about Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola. The author emphasizes that an effective reform can take place only when it starts inside every man. And it was the path which pope Francis chose.
– And is it recommended to us?
– Yes, because also inside us there is good and evil, like in the Church. It is not that I am on the side of the light, and everything outside me is dark and bad.
– But in the public sphere, this kind of a dark picture of the Church seems to dominate recently…
– But also pope Francis reminded recently that the Church is not as it is presented in TV news or newspapers. In order to find out about it, we can only look at the Church from the perspective of works which it is running as an institution or in which it is participating. We can just look at the Church from the bottom perspective, that is, from a parish or a diocese. They are full of ordinary, basic life of the Church: people pray, go to confession, receive baptism, contract marriages, say farewell to their deceased relatives. And just those people do not imagine life without the Church. For the Church accompanies the man in the most important moments of his life. Also in critical situations. Finally – the Church runs charity works, hospices, advice centres, lounges for children, helps the poorest families. So, it would be wrong to agree on the picture of the Church which is being falsified, created on the basis of generalizations. We cannot spread a tendency of a marginalization onto the whole Church.
– Why don’t media show the good existing in the Church?
– It is not a question to me. I guess it is the nature of media: in to attract a viewer or a reader, they must surprise or shock him. A bad news is the best news, whereas good information is less interesting, does not attract attention. It is sad but it is so. It does not even mean, I think, that people of media perceive the Church unilaterally.
– However, we hear that priests are the first victims of the attack of media on the Church. Is it really so? Recently we have dealt with attacks on priests in one of a bigger parish in Warsaw where tires in priests’ cars were punctured, and people are insulting priests in the streets…
– Surely the attack of media on the Church has an influence on the social atmosphere and on what is happening, and as I have already said, the generalization of pathological phenomena. Let’s note: in Poland there are about 30 thousand priests and they cannot be judged on the basis of 10 negative cases. Intrusive suggestions that the Church and every priest are bad and pathological, have influence on motivation and anti-motivation of people who wreak their anger or energy. Whereas, the Church is really more positive than negative.
– It was cardinal Ratzinger who once wrote that one can be a Christian only in the Church. Never outside it.
– It is a very important thought, expressed in the declaration ‘Dominus Iesus’, that there is not any other meeting of the man with God, but only through the Church and in the Church and it is the most guaranteed path leading to redemption.
– So, why is it necessary to organize a ‘Courtyard of a dialogue’ and meet with non-believers if salvation is only in the Church and they clearly reject it.
– There are many reasons for it. On the one hand, the Church is like Noah’s ark, which gathers people on board, who want to arrive there. It means that the Church is open also to seeking people. On the other hand, it has also got a mission: ‘Go and teach the whole world…’. So, its nature is missionary: it is looking for the man who is coming towards it in order to proclaim the Good News to him.
But there is also a sphere of cooperation. I think that in Poland we have had the opinion too long that there are 98 per cent of us, the Catholics. It has never been so. Therefore, we must settle many issues on the level of science, social life, culture with non-believers. In order to do it together and serve to a purpose, we must have a meeting and start a dialogue at first.
Finally, it must be said that a dialogue with non-believers – which appeared in our last ‘Courtyard of a dialogue’ – is also enriching for people of the Church. And it is also very needed. For, both believers and non-believers ask the same existential questions, including the scientific questions. It was clearly seen, for example, in a dialogue of physicians: believers and non-believers. In their first discussion they reached the theory of the first explosion – and they had been unanimous. Whereas later there was a discussion how the explosion happened, whether it was accidental, determinism or maybe there is Somebody who started this all. And this is outside the sphere of the empirical science, it is a field of a worldview dialogue. The same problem concerns culture.
– But it is also necessary to maintain one’s identity in a dialogue…
– Here the example is John Paul II, so much meritorious in the sphere of a dialogue with non-believers. We know how much he cared about emphasizing his identity in this dialogue, because this is the only way we can present the attitude of the truth. The pope reminded that in a dialogue with non-believers we must show who we are as the Christians. Because it is an expression of respect towards another person.
– In today’s world we can mention two extreme tendencies: on the one hand, there is culture which departed from the truth, beauty and good, but on the other hand, there are attempts of placing it in a kind of a ghetto of the Christian culture.
– Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi defined it exactly in this way during the debate. He emphasized that there is no evangelization beside culture and in connection with it, the Church must be present in culture. Cardinal Ravasi said that a dialogue on the sphere of culture can be enriching for the Church, but he also reminded culture without spiritual values of the Gospel would be poor. The same concerns the social life. For it is not that only us, the Christians, are called for making the land our property. Non-believers also have their motivation for social actions. On the other hand, also the Church can bring its values into the contemporary world through believers present in the social or political life. Certainly, we can learn a lot from non-believers, but honest people acting for the sake of the common good.
And it was shown in the ‘Courtyard of a dialogue’: that there are many issues common for both parties, but also that we can talk about the most difficult issues without quarrels or emotions, that is, in a substantive way.
– Does Eminence agree with the thesis of Fr. prof. Tomas Halik that it is difficult to separate faith from disbelief?
– I have known Porf. Halik for 30 years, he is a prominent expert on the issue of a dialogue. However, he presents his thesis in reference to the reality in which he lives. In the Czech Republic believers are a small enclave, so, in order to reach to them, it is necessary to look for words-keys which would not be an obstacle to come closer to people. However, I agree with him that both believers and non-believers are endangered by the illness of indifference towards religious practices, an illness or neglecting religious duties, an illness of going away from spiritually higher life, and moving towards the outer world. So- once we used to experience sinister atheism, which was attacking and hostile towards the Church. Today there are also people who treat their atheism as a bludgeon against believers, but also indifference is dangerous as well as neglect and religious indifference.
– Let’s return to the issue of the Church. What kind of good does it give to the man?
– First of all, it gives salvation. But it also points to the sense of basic critical situations, which are difficult to accept and understand outside it, like: suffering, evil, illness, old age death. I remember that Fr. prof. Józef Tichner used to speak about it a lot. In fact he did not allow for defining suffering as holy but he called it the evil. Whereas he noted that the One who accepted suffering for us, because he loved us and redeemed us through his suffering, helps us give the sense to suffering. However, it does not diminish the tragedy of the evil.
– So, Fr. Tischner found it difficult to accept the rule that ‘suffering ennobles’?
– That’s true, but he pointed to the fact that a believer can find sense in suffering, passing life and death. It is essential what is preached by the Church, that suffering which inseparably accompanies the human life, can have a redeeming value.
– A Russian film entitled ‘Repentance’ finishes with a significant sentence: ‘what path is it which does not lead to the church?’ What would the world be without the Church?
– I would ask this question rather in this way: what would the world be without religion? Because it is religion which is this essential component of the life of the world. It allows for answering very important questions – in the Church which is the most guaranteed path of our salvation. Therefore, we must be grateful for the Church that it is, lives, acts and serves to people, that is, all of us.