Italy: Three Days of Interreligious Irenicism in Naples

Source: FSSPX News


In October 1986, the first meeting of all the world religions, initiated by John Paul II, had taken place in Assisi. A few days prior to the meeting in Naples, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, granted an interview to La Croix. On the occasion, he evoked the second Assisi Meeting in 2002: “ At that time, I remember feeling all the potential for peace contained in religions. If believers were consistent with their faith, maybe the world would be a different place. For it is not religions who wage war against each other, but men. Eventually, the religious domain comes under accusation because of those who use religions for terrorist activities. Religion frightens because it has been perverted by terrorism.” According to the French prelate, men confront each other, but their religions are not contradictory. It is true that he was only considering faith in the abstract, and apart from its contents.

Further on, he praises dialogue: “We (the Catholics, ever since Vatican II, Ed.) recognize the values to be found in other religions as stepping stones to the reception of the Gospel of Christ. For instance, this summer, Benedict XVI explained that we share a common treasure, the Ten Commandments, with the Muslims and the Jews.” Yet he acknowledges that a theological dialogue is not possible with Islam: “Muslims do not accept that we discuss the Koran, because they say it was written under God’s dictation. With so absolute an interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the contents of the faith…” However, this does not prevent him from affirming: “When we dialogue between believers, it is fundamental to say that what is good for us is also good for the others. For instance, we must explain to Muslims that if they are given the possibility of having mosques in Europe, it is normal that churches may be built in their countries.” This irenicism gives the tone of the meeting in Naples.

Over 200 religious representatives were present, among them many cardinals in addition to Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran already mentioned, Cardinal Edgar Mc Carrick, Emeritus Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and president of the French Bishops. Among the Orthodox could be seen Metropolite Kirill, head of the Department for Foreign Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Bartholomew 1st, Patriarch of Constantinople, and Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Cyprus. Pastor Jean-Arnold de Clermont, president of the European Churches Conference represented the Protestant. The great Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, and the great Rabbi of Rome, Riccordo Di Segni, among others were representatives of the Jewish community. Muslims officials as well as several heads of State and ministers from all sort of nationalities were also taking part in the meeting.


The Pope’s Address

On Sunday, October 21, Benedict XVI, on a pastoral visit to Naples, received some 50 representatives and addressed them thus: “Today’s meeting takes us back in spirit to 1986, when my venerable Predecessor John Paul II invited important Religious Representatives to the hills of St Francis to pray for peace, stressing on that occasion the intrinsic ties that combine an authentic religious attitude with keen sensitivity to this fundamental good of humanity. In 2002, after the dramatic events of 11 September the previous year, John Paul II himself once again summoned Religious Leaders to Assisi to ask God to halt the serious threats that were looming over humanity, due especially to terrorism.

While respecting the differences of the various religions, we are all called to work for peace and to be effectively committed to furthering reconciliation among peoples. This is the true "spirit of Assisi" which opposes every form of violence and the abuse of religion as a pretext for violence. In the face of a world torn apart by conflicts, where violence in God’s Name is at times justified, it is important to reaffirm that religions can never become vehicles of hatred; it is never possible, invoking God’s Name, to succeed in justifying evil and violence. On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity because they speak of peace to the human heart.  The Catholic Church intends to continue on the path of dialogue in order to encourage understanding between the different cultures, traditions and forms of religious wisdom. I warmly hope that this spirit will be spread increasingly, especially where tensions are strongest, where freedom and respect for others are denied and where men and women suffer the consequences of intolerance and misunderstanding.”

After this address, the Pope posed for a photo together with some of the religious representatives. Then, he went to a luncheon with a more important delegation. During the meal, the discussion became animated. Leaving aside the consensual tone which is the rule in such occasions, some participants evoked very concrete situations and broached the subject again in the evening, during the official opening at the San Carlo Theater in Naples. Thus, the great Rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, deplored that “most of the conflicts” were “being fueled by religious,” and he openly criticized “those who bear the standard of religion, and yet spread terror around them” like “Iran.” Upon this, Ezzeddin Ibrahim, Presidential Councillor for the United Arab Emirates, denounced “the behavior of some powerful countries which continue to act aggressively towards other countries by military occupations under false pretexts.”


The Official Opening at the San Carlo Theater

The violence of this return to reality was downplayed by all the participants during the evening of the official opening. They were requested to retain only the interventions which fitted in perfectly with “the spirit of Assisi.” Sant’Egidio’s founder, Andrea Riccardi, thus stated that “dialogue is not a fashion, but is born in the very intimate heart of religions because prayer is first and foremost a dialogue. In his opinion, “this is the reason why disinterested and bold new initiatives for peace are necessary.” He told them of his  “love for dialogue” between religions and said he had been “moved” by the words pronounced a few hours earlier by Benedict XVI who wished that “the spirit of Assisi be circulated in the world, and oppose the spirit of violence and the abuse of religion as a pretext for violence.”

Next, the President of the Italian Council, Romano Prodi, expressed his conviction that “only meeting and dialogue between various religions and cultures make it possible to alleviate the burden of violence which is oppressing mankind.” “In the face of new and more intense forms of violence,” the head of the Italian government also underlined “the great responsibility” of religions which “must openly condemn evil.”

Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of Tanzania, and a Muslim, esteemed that they were all “in the same boat” -- religious leaders, heads of States and citizens -- to “eradicate violence and ensure the reign of peace, security and stability in the world.” On his part, the Buddhist monk Uttara, from Mynmar (ex-Birmania), stated that he had come to “pray for peace and liberty” in his country, “for the victims (monks and lay people) of the horrible and violent oppression” recently set up “by the military junta which made use of weapons against peaceful demonstrators.”

In his turn, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew 1st, affirmed that “war in the name of religion” was “a war against religion.” He did not hide the present “difficulties,” including the fact that “religions are characterized by an ever stricter closing up,” and he opposed the instrumentalization of religions by politicians. In both these cases, said the Patriarch, we have a “falsification of the real religious spirit.” Finally, he stressed the responsibilities of religions in “calming down human passions.”

During his address, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, declared that in a world where “violence disfigures the face of man, offends against liberty, and sacrifices truth on the altar of selfishness (…) only prayer, meekness, and non-violence will be able to heal the contestations and divisions, and to create the conditions necessary for a more just and pacified world.”


Rabbis, Buddhists, Popes, and Cardinals

The next day, October 22, in the morning, there were round table discussions on interreligious dialogue. “In the hallways of the conference rooms, rabbis with black hats walked past Buddhists or Shintoists in colorful garb, and Orthodox popes in full dress mixed with cardinals in plain clergyman attire,” Cipa observed. On this occasion, Cardinal Tauran spoke up to give what he called “a chart” for interreligious dialogue: “We have our chart to observe: to make religious synonymous with peace.” He was very careful not to set up the precise stages to be followed, and continued with general considerations: “Dialogue is for everyone a pilgrimage and a risk. Because with dialogue, I accept to get going and to listen to different situations; I commit my own person and I run a risk when confronted with the questions of others.”

During this day, Mgr Agostino Marchetto, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, also spoke on the theme Europe, Immigration, and Future Prospects. The following sentences were heard: “If some Islamic countries, thanks to their resources, are actually supporting fundamentalist movements which join forms of terrorism motivated by fanatic considerations, we should not make the mistake of considering fundamentalism as the univocal expression of Islam.” “The fact that many immigrants are Muslims gives rise to the fear of “an invasion by Islam and its culture.” This is characteristic not merely of the migratory movement, but of the very history of the contemporary world and is a source of concern and fear for many people.” “Today, it is most necessary to find a serene, lucid and calm rapprochement between Christians and Muslims; without any superficiality and with a demand for reciprocity.”

Alluding to the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in New York, in 2001: “September 11 was certainly a climax, a ‘revelation’ which set into relief the great contradictions in the role of religions towards the establishment of peace.” “In an interreligious meeting, we are all invited to listen and to commit ourselves mutually.” We must “present migrants in Europe as a factor of peace between persons, peoples, and nations; as a factor fostering integral development.” “It would be unreasonable for Europeans to close their doors. This would drive even more people to enter through ‘the back door.’ The management of immigration requires that every country do more to integrate the newcomers. Immigrants are not part of the problem, but part of the solution.” A closed Europe would be “a more mediocre, a poorer, weaker, and older Europe. An open Europe would be a more equitable, richer, stronger, and younger Europe.”


The Appeal for Peace

At the end of the three days, they proclaimed the Appeal for peace with which all the interreligious meetings organized by Sant’Egidio are concluded. The appeal ended with the following declaration: “To those who still kill, to those who still sow terrorism and wage war in the name of God, we say: ‘Stop! Do not kill! Violence is always a defeat.’

We commit ourselves to learn the art of living together and to offer it to our fellow believers. There is no alternative to the unity of the human family. We need brave builders, in all cultures, and in all religious traditions. We need the globalization of the spirit, which reveals to us what we no longer see: the beauty of life and of the other, in all circumstances, even the hardest.

Our religious traditions teach us that prayer is an active power in history, and it moves peoples and nations. Humbly, we offer this ancient wisdom to the service of all peoples, of every man and every woman, to open a new era of freedom from fear and contempt for the other. It is the spirit of Assisi, and here, from Naples, full of courage and strength, it challenges violence and any abuse of religion as a pretext for violence.

Following in this path, confident that peace can be a gift to the whole world, we commit ourselves to the Most High.”

The Appeal for Peace was handed to children after being read. These latter were responsible for transmitting it to ambassadors to be widely distributed throughout the world. Next, the various religious representatives present signed the text in turn, and symbolically lighted a candle. (Sources: Zenit/Cipa/I.Media)