On September 14 and 15, 2022, the Congress of Spiritual Leaders of World and Traditional Religions was held for the seventh time in Nour Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan, in which Pope Francis, who had insisted on making the trip, took part.
This Congress was being held for the seventh time. But what is it?
Origin and Goals
This meeting was launched by the first President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Abishevich Nazarbayev, who held this position from 1991 to 2015, during five successive terms. Representatives of the Catholic Church were among the first to support the idea of the congress during the president's visit to the Vatican.
The Congress has as objectives the “search for common human references in the world and traditional forms of religions,” as well as to establish a “permanent international interfaith institution for the dialogue of religions and the adoption of concerted decisions.”
The means include in particular the “strengthening of interreligious and interfaith dialogue in the form of interreligious Congresses,” as well as the “creation of a permanent organ of the Congress” in the form of a secretariat.
Added to this are “cooperation with all international organizations aimed at promoting dialogue between religions, cultures, and civilizations,” “the deepening and strengthening of mutual respect between religious communities,” and “the development of a culture of tolerance as a counterweight to the ideology of hatred and extremism.”
Congresses bringing together leaders of world and traditional religions in Astana – which in 2019 became Nour Sultan – have been held every three years since 2003, with the Congress scheduled for 2021 having been postponed for a year. They brought together leaders and representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, and other traditional religions.
Joint final documents were adopted at the end of these summits: Declarations or Appeals addressed to the citizens, peoples, and governments of the countries of the world.
An N. Nazarbayev Center for the Development of Interfaith and Intercivilizational Dialogue, proposed by the participants of the VI Congress held in 2018, was established by the Kazakh government in 2019.
Parliament of Religions
The idea of a Parliament of Religions dates back to 1893. On the occasion of the Chicago World's Fair, a meeting of representatives of various religions was held from September 11 to 27. Catholics took part. There were also many protests among Catholics.
In 1896, the idea of renewing this experience in Paris, on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition, was considered. An intervention by Pope Leo XIII cut it short: having been informed of what had happened in Chicago, he wrote to Cardinal Francesco Satolli, apostolic delegate to the United States, on September 2, 1896, to ask that Catholics not participate to this kind of event.
The Pope's letter was published in the newspaper La Croix and in La Vérité, a newspaper founded by Auguste Roussel and Arthur Loth. Leo XIII demanded that Catholics hold their own Congress, even if it meant inviting members of other religions as auditors, so that they could benefit from the presentations. Today, it is the Pope himself who participates in this kind of event.
The Declaration of the Participants
As before, a text was adopted “by the majority of the delegates of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions,” as a manifestation of a common position.
This Declaration containing 35 points is of an appalling indigence. Admittedly, some themes may be worthy of interest, but the topics covered remain in generalities that forget the deep differences that cannot be erased.
For example, point 22 expresses “special attention to the importance of strengthening the institution of the family.” But a question arises: do all these leaders have the same notion of what family is? And ways to strengthen it? Are they all opposed to divorce, contraception, or abortion? Or to assisted reproductive technology and euthanasia?
Without an agreement on these means, this point 22 is null and void. Especially since the United Nations (UN) is often put forward as the privileged interlocutor of the Congress. However, what the UN thinks of these questions is well known and is frequently opposed to Catholic doctrine. The points that speak of “social justice” could be similarly questioned.
On the other hand, the Declaration tends to propose a kind of religious agreement in which God is the conspicuous absentee. The only mention of Him speaks of “the immutable fact that the Almighty created all human beings equal,” which is pretty thin.
And finally, if we consider the question from the Catholic point of view, it is impossible to ignore Jesus Christ in all these questions. Peace? It is Christ who is our peace, and it exists in no other. It is the same with justice: it is Christ who accomplishes “all justice,” and without Him, it cannot really be achieved.
This explains why the presence of Catholics is impossible in this kind of Congress, except to put aside the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.