Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Catholic Church's department for interfaith contacts, said religion was now talked and written about more than ever before in today's Europe.
"It's thanks to the Muslims," he said in a speech printed in Friday's L'Osservatore Romano, the official daily of the Vatican. "Muslims, having become a significant minority in Europe, were the ones who demanded space for God in society."
Vatican officials have long bemoaned the secularisation of Europe, where church attendance has dwindled dramatically in recent decades, and urged a return to its historically Christian roots. But Tauran said no society had only one faith.
"We live in multicultural and multireligious societies, that's obvious," he told a meeting of Catholic theologians in Naples. "There is no civilisation that is religiously pure."
Tauran's positive speech on interfaith dialogue came after a remark by Pope Benedict prompted media speculation that the Vatican was losing interest in it. Some Jewish leaders reacted with expressions of concern and the Vatican denied any change.
The "return of God" is clearly seen in Tauran's native France, where Europe's largest Muslim minority has brought faith questions such as women's headscarves into the political debate after decades when they were considered strictly private issues.
"GOD IS AT WORK IN ALL"
Tauran said religions were "condemned to dialogue," a practice he called "the search for understanding between two subjects, with the help of reason, in view of a common interpretation of their agreement and disagreement."
That seemed to clarify Benedict's statement on Sunday that interfaith dialogue was "not possible in the strict sense of the word". Church officials said a strict definition would include the option that one side is ultimately convinced by the other.
Dialogue participants could not give up their religious convictions, Tauran said, but should be open to learning about the positive aspects of each others' faith.
"Every religion has its own identity, but I agree to consider that God is at work in all, in the souls of those who search for him sincerely," he said. "Interreligious dialogue rallies all who are on the path to God or to the Absolute."
The uncertainty about the Vatican view coincided with increasing contacts among world religions.
Early this month, the Vatican held a pioneering conference with a delegation from the "Common Word" group of Muslim scholars who invited Christian churches to a new dialogue.
A week later, Saudi King Abdullah gathered world leaders at the United Nations as part of a dialogue he launched with a conference of faith leaders in Madrid last July.
Christianity and Islam are the world's two largest faiths, with two billion and 1.3 billion followers respectively. The latest interfaith efforts are meant to counter growing tensions between these two after the Sept. 11 attacks.
An Indian prelate, speaking after the Mumbai attacks began, said in Rome that a lack of courage to meet across faith lines was often behind religious violence in his country.
Archbishop Felix Machado of Nashik diocese, just east of Mumbai, told Italian priests the violence was caused by "inequality, a lack of justice and understanding and, above all, a lack of courage to dialogue," the Vatican daily reported.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Clerical Whispers’ for any or all of the articles placed here.
The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.