Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An Interview with Cardinal Sarah

His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah
(Photo: M. Migliorato/CPP/CIRIC)

On the Crisis of European Culture

Q. Your Eminence, the book you have published, consisting of interviews with Nicholas Diat, is called God or Nothing [Original: Dieu ou rien]. Seeing as Europe has largely lost the sense of God, would you say that Europe has thus become Nothing?

A. I can only answer in the affirmative. Without God is Nothingness. Without God, there is Nothing. Without God, what am I? What keeps me alive? And after this life, what is there? If God does not exist, there is no eternal life.

Q. Europe, after having experienced the horrible wars of the 20th century, desired to focus on peace, assuming that everything arising from its identity - and therefore, potentially, its Christian heritage - could be deadly. In the book, it seems that you think Europeans should understand that their history and their spiritual and cultural heritage are not necessarily the cause of such troubles, and that we could maintain peace without having to sacrifice them. But how does one convince Europeans of this?

A. The process is not realistic; it is our interests which cause wars, not our religion. What causes war? What manufactures weapons? It is not religion, it is not God. And who sells them? War is a result of our greed and our thirst for gain. However, some fanatics use religion to provoke war. But I do not think you can accuse religion without accusing oneself. 

Observe the current conflicts. Fundamentalism was not born out of nothing. We attacked Iraq, and total chaos between Shiites and Sunnis was the result. We attacked Libya, and it is now a country in a volatile situation.

On Islamic Fundamentalism

Q. Is Islamic fundamentalism, then, a reaction to European actions? Or does it fuel itself?

A. The subject is complex. However, that fundamentalism is a cultural reaction should not be overlooked. Standing opposite of the Islamic religion is a religion of morals, but without God. Indeed, there is the appearance of progress, but this is a façade.

Q. Is this what John Paul II called the "Culture of Death"?

A. Precisely. They mock those who believe; they caricature. It causes a reaction, perhaps excessive, but I think that we cannot deny that this is a reaction to an atheist society, one without God, which does not shrink from ridiculing its own martyrs. They did it with Jesus Christ. There have been abominable films. Such things don't provoke the same reaction as they would among Muslims. But do not believe that all who are civilized accept having things which are essential to them being mocked.

Q. You come from Guinea, a country with a Muslim majority, where we can observe two currents familiar from elsewhere in the world: conventional, local Islam, and the Islam funded by Gulf countries, which poses a problem. In your book, you speak of a European ideological neo-colonialism which tries to impose upon the world its own ideas, in particular its theory of "gender".  However, does not Islam also evidence a desire to advance a policy of expansion?

A. Conventional African Islam, from the South, is very religious and very tolerant. For my part, I've never experienced difficulties between Christians and Muslims. When I celebrated the Feast of the Nativity in the cathedral, there were many Muslims who attended and who came to hear the message. We have always lived in fraternal peace. Indeed, since the 1970's, many Muslims have received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere and have returned as fanatics. These, then, not only attack Christians, but especially their fellow Muslims.

Q. How do we escape from the notion which has arisen in the European mind that conflict with Islam is inevitable? Where is the way out?

A. What I am saying in this book is that it is necessary to help Europe return to God, to help it find its own identity. It is absurd to deny Europe's Christian roots. It is like closing our eyes and claiming there is no sun! But today's Europe refuses life: it does not bring forth life; it is growing old; it is saying that a man has no sex but can instead choose. This Europe has brought itself into a position of feebleness.

Q. What do you say to those who fear a war of religions? To affirm one faith is to necessarily enter into confrontation with another.

A. We, the Christians, we cannot raise an army on the pretense of defending our faith. Should a Christian army defend the Christians? No, this is against the Gospel. When Jesus was taken and bound, St. Peter drew his sword to defend him. Jesus said to him: "Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

Q. How does one for whom life has lost its meaning, as in Europe, rediscover it? We see this with the convert jihadis. Perhaps this is a reaction to the spiritual emptiness of Europe?

A. They leave because they find nothing here. No more values, no more religion, nothing. They seek there something to defend, something which gives them life. Today, I was at Saint-Germain-des-Prés where, I was told, many young people come to learn the Faith. It is a hope. But, personally, I think we should not minimize the growth of the Islamic presence in your country.

On the Great European Apostasy

Q. In the book, you talk about the "genius of Christianity," citing, among other things, La Manif Pour Tous as an expression of this genius. The very notion of a "genius of Christianity" has become almost scandalous today - in Europe and especially in France - where God and faith are often seen as forms of alienation. How are we to take this message of the "genius of Christianity" when it seems so provocative?

A. I want to remind the French that they are Christians, even if they do want want to recognize it. They have their history, their culture, their music, their art.... To call them to prayer, to protest against an unrealistic interpretation of human nature - that is to say, the theory of "gender".... To explain this in a firm but respectful manner, that is charity. If you let your friend destroy himself, you cannot say your love is genuine. Even if they do no want to hear it, they are Christians.

What's worse, even among those that do, they do not dare to declare themselves Christian. I have an adoptive family - I have three adoptive sisters in France - and when I arrived in my priest's habit, I was told, "Remove that." But this is my uniform! When a doctor goes to the hospital, he is not dressed however he likes. But it is true, and it was John Paul II who said it: such Christians are apostates. They do not say it. They claim to be Christian still. But in their manner of living, in their ideas, they act as if they were not Christians.

Q. Is it because we have given up the discipline which must accompany faith?

A. Not just discipline, but also the doctrine. We gave up the teaching which forms a man. This teaching, of course, engenders discipline. But before discipline, it is the teaching which has been discarded. And worst is that even some bishops - though a minority - say abominable things.

Q. To what extent is the Church in France not responsible for this situation? One has the impression that catechism has become a coloring workshop....

A. We gave up teaching catechism. Something was put in its place which is not a catechism, for it fails to incorporate, for example, certain points of doctrine. There was a refusal to teach catechism, and to learn it by heart, so that when children have finished, they know nothing at all, neither their prayers nor the Gospels. I think it is our responsibility because we have not done our job.

This is especially true when bishops interpret the word of God in their own way. I just re-read the statement of the Bishop of Oran on marriage. In the Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 10, Jesus says, "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her." The woman, too. It is very clear. But some bishops say, "No, one may marry again."

Q. Benedict XVI gave the impression of being very aware of these issues. Is Pope Francis, of whom you are a close associate, also?

A. Benedict was, first and foremost, a European - someone who has studies the profound crisis of the West. That is why his doctrine, the clarity of his teaching, was incontestable. When someone is drowning, you have to draw water. In the dark, you have to turn on the light. And Benedict XVI had the light. For Francis, who comes from elsewhere, measuring the depth of the European crisis is a challenge.

On the Scandal of the 2014 Synod

Q. Do you feel that the debate within the Church, which, in France, is often portrayed as a debate between progressives and conservatives, is organized around that issue, that is, around the crisis of the West and the crisis of faith in the West?

A. I think the debates, as evidenced by the last Synod, led everyone to focus upon the many crises instead of on the beauty of the Church and of marriage. But the Church is not only European; it is also African, Asian, Middle Eastern. The Gospels, and the martyrs, tell us that faith means to give of one's life unto death. The faith is not there to provide easy solutions to those in difficult situations. But the Europeans have closed their eyes; they think that the martyrs only require political or material support. But what the Oriental and Africans need is your faith, to see that they die for the same reason that you live here: faith in Jesus Christ.

Q. Do you think that Europe adds to the misery of persecuted Christians around the world precisely because of having lost its faith?

A. Of course. For to not support someone profoundly, to not share his faith, to not accept to suffer with him, is to affect his faith. This is especially true of African Christians who hear Europeans - Christians before them - say that faith is pointless, while it is a gift, a grace. It is a pity that there is not a more continuity of belief.

On Righting the Course

Q. Faith is a gift, a grace.... How would you explain the faith to Europeans, who have not merely lost their faith, but who have even forgotten the very idea?

A. I believe in someone who made me, who loves me, who is a Father upon whom I depend. If the existence of God is no longer perceptible, faith no longer exists. This is why the Fathers, the Popes have insisted that God can be proven. But for many Europeans, God is dead.

Q. Do you think the Church in France should confront more policy issues such as gender theory, homosexual marriage, euthanasia, abortion? In the book, you explain how all of these are fundamentally carriers of the "Culture of Death," to use the expression of John Paul II. What is the right strategy, apart from prayer?

A. There are certainly more weapons. But the main weapon is personal testimony, of strong marriages, strong families.... We need testimonials.

Q. Can you understand why some European Catholics were shocked by what the Pope recently said regarding Catholic families who reproduce "like rabbits"?

A. Do not get carried away by these little airplane quips. This conversation with the Holy Father was with journalists during a long flight. Suppose I am a priest, and I conduct myself poorly. Should those who see me, in turn, do the same? Moreover, in this case, the Pope subsequently made up for it.

Q. So, even the Pope can err?

A. Not when he makes statements of a dogmatic nature. But on questions of a philosophical  or economical nature, yes.

Q. Let us return to the testimony of exemplary Christians.

A. This is the first thing to be done. "You are my witness." That is to say, you live as a Christian should live. That does not mean that a Christian may not also engage himself politically to defend his values. I think that this is possible, because if Christians are removed from the process of decision-making, it is the enemies of the Church who will decide in favor of what they think is good. We need to encourage young adults to engage themselves politically.

Q. In your book, you talk about the "contagion of holiness." Do you think Christians in Europe have lost that sense, living in a profoundly relativist society? Should Christians in Europe and France regain their pride?

A. We should all be proud to be Christians. We should all be happy to be, because that's life. If I am without God, I die. To be with God is to be holy. Faith in God is not merely to think that He exists; it is to love as He loves, to forgive as He forgives. It is to imitate God. That is why the primacy of God is essential. I fight for a Being who is alive, who made me and who loves me.

Q. How do you respond to those who say that the Church has lost followers because it is not in line with the concerns of modern society, that it needs to adapt itself more to European society on issues such as contraception and divorce?

A. A doctor who has a patient, what does he do? Does he 'adapt' to the patient or does he try to fight the disease? The Church cannot say, "You are sick, and that's fine. I'll accompany you as you are." Instead, she should say, "I give you an ideal, a course of action." The Church does not invent anything; she says that which God told her to say. The Church would harm humanity if she were to abandon the Christian message by 'adapting'. The Church seems severe, but if I need an operation, I need to endure the pain in order to cure the sickness.

Q. In your book, you give an account of prayer - that one must know how to pray in silence. What about European Christians who have lost the sense of prayer?

A. It is through prayer that man is great. For the more he is on his knees, the more he is at the feet of God, the greater he is. I think that prayer is an attitude of both humility and greatness at the same time. If we do not pray, all of the troubles we have spoken about become a weight that we cannot carry. The Commandments are not laws; they are a path to the greater good. I think it is in prayer that we understand that all the circumstances of our lives are for the good.


Original: atlantico.fr (French)


  1. Well, he is wrong about one thing, namely, that Christians cannot or should not fight back against Islam. Previous generations of Christians did gather up armies to fight back, and its not because they were ignorant of the Gospel. The example of Peter and the sword cannot be made into a template for pacifism in all circumstances. To use his own words, reality is more "complex" than what he presents it as.

  2. Agreed. A regrettable flaw in an otherwise laudable interview.

  3. It makes me sad to see "Christians" used exclusively these days. There are many followers of Christ who are in grave error. Are we not Catholics? Do we not have Truth, and should we not share it? Cardinal Sarah has part of Catholic truth, but he sways back and forth into small m modernism at times. Dangerous to his flock in Africa. He also falls into politics to the exclusion of the Catholic Faith, which knows no political system. Supernatural not natural!
    And again, I protest the use of the word "gender." It has no place outside grammar. The correct word is sex. Male and Female are two sexes - and only two.


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