Keynote Remarks by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See,
At the Luncheon for Member States hosted by the
Organization of Islamic Cooperation on
“Strengthening Ties with the Muslim Community:
Promoting Dialogue, Understanding, Tolerance and Acceptance”
United Nations Headquarters, New York, 2 May 2019
When the Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates invited me to be with you at this luncheon, I responded very quickly, because, in addition to the crucial importance of the theme of promoting dialogue, understanding, tolerance and acceptance, I am well aware that Ambassador Nusseibeh belongs to the famous Muslim family of Nusseibehs in Jerusalem who from medieval times has been entrusted with the responsibility to open and close the doors of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher! For centuries, the keys have been entrusted to the Muslim Joudeh Al-Goudia family and the door keeping responsibilities to the Muslim Nusseibeh family! Here we have 850 years of history of trust in these two families!
Trust: it is fundamental to dialogue, understanding, tolerance and acceptance, yet it is a rare virtue in our days. I would like therefore to thank you for the choice of today’s theme for our reflection: “Strengthening Ties with the Muslim Community: Promoting Dialogue, Understanding, Tolerance, and Acceptance”. I am certain that His Holiness Pope Francis would be very pleased as well! And that Saint Francis of Assisi would have been more than pleased that his visit to Egypt and his dialogue with Sultan Malik Al-Kamil eight centuries ago continues to bear fruit, in spite of the vicissitudes of the centuries in between.
In order to strengthen ties with the Muslim World and promote dialogue, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance, Pope Francis travelled to Egypt on 28-29 April 2017. He began his visit at Al-Azhar where, together with Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, he addressed an International Peace Conference. In his speech, Pope Francis reflected on the golden thread of his vision, namely, encounter and dialogue, which, in his native Spanish, he describes as caminar juntos, walking together. I believe there is no better image of encounter than two people walking together in dialogue. “Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, — he affirmed in Al-Azhar — we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures.”
This dialogue can only be possible if three basic elements are present and interlinked, namely, “the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.” The Pope elaborated these elements with these words: “The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.”
Almost one year after the Apostolic Journey to Egypt, on 18 March 2018, the Secretary General of the OIC, Dr. Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. They both emphasized the importance of promoting interreligious dialogue, as well as tolerance and acceptance within all religious communities.
Then, on 3-5 February 2019, the United Arab Emirates opened its doors to Pope Francis, the first Pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula, and just a month ago, on 30-31 March 2019, His Holiness travelled to Morocco to further strengthen the already cordial relations with the Kingdom.
This afternoon, I would like to focus my reflection on the joint declaration entitled Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, that Pope Francis and the Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayyeb signed in Abu Dhabi on February 4th. I believe this document is a testament to the common principles that we, Catholics and Muslims, and indeed all believers, share. Permit me briefly to summarize four main points:
First, faith in God the Creator must lead believers to see others as brothers and sisters to be supported, loved, and protected. From this flows the awareness that life is a gift that no one has the right to take away, and that the intentional killing of others must be unconditionally condemned. Religions must never incite war, hatred, hostility, extremism or the shedding of blood. Such evils, the joint declaration affirms, are deviations from religious teachings by those who manipulate the power of religious sentiment to act contrary to the truth of religion. The name of God must never be invoked to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism or oppression. Terrorism, the Pope and the Grand Imam affirm, must be condemned in all its forms and expressions. This means that Christian leaders must unequivocally condemn all terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Christianity, Muslim authorities must unambiguously condemn all acts of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam, and, indeed, all religious leaders must condemn any and all acts of terrorism carried out in the name of the God they worship.
Second, religious, political, civil, educational and cultural leaders are called to promote a culture of dialogue, mutual cooperation, reciprocal understanding, tolerance, acceptance of others and peaceful living together. Such a commitment can contribute greatly to reducing many of the economic, social, political and environmental problems that plague a large part of humanity that leaves many vulnerable to extremist exploitation.
Third, the Pope and the Grand Imam address the cultural and political prerequisites for a culture of acceptance. This involves, first, freedom of religion and of belief, thought, expression and action. They reject outright the coercion of people to adhere to a certain religion or culture. Second, it involves full citizenship between the majority of the population and minorities, based on equality of all civil and religious rights and duties under which all enjoy justice.
And, fourth, the Pope and the Grand Imam appeal to religions, and interreligious dialogue, to catalyze the path to dialogue, understanding, tolerance and acceptance. Religions, they affirm, help everyone to discover the beauty and value of wisdom, peace, justice, goodness, understanding, human fraternity, coexistence, mercy and mutual love. Religions expose desensitized consciences and the prevailing spirit of individualism, materialism, greed, and selfishness that promote indifference to others and their suffering. The recognition of God’s judgment, they say, should move people to take up religious and moral responsibility to end fratricidal conflicts and poor care of the earth and of each other and spread the culture of tolerance, acceptance and harmonious coexistence.
The Grand Imam and the Pope hope that their joint declaration would constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among Christians, Muslims, and all believers, among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will, including policymakers and people in authority.
In his address after signing the joint document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, Pope Francis used the biblical image of Noah’s Ark that rescued humanity from destruction in a primordial flood to underline that to “safeguard peace, [we] need to enter together as one family into an ark [of fraternity] that can sail the stormy seas of the world,” implying that without such fraternity we might very well drown separately.
On February 4th, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Alzar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, entered that ark together, beckoning us and the world to follow them through that open door. This afternoon’s event is an opportunity for us to do so and to be inspired to convince others to do likewise.
Once again, I thank the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the UAE Presidency of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC, for the privilege to participate in this luncheon and I thank you for your kind attention.