Virtual Event to Mark
"World Interfaith Harmony Week," entitled,
"Faith and Spiritual Leadership to Combat Stigma and Conflict During Pandemic Recovery"
February 3, 2022
Your Excellencies, Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Permanent Missions of Sierra Leone, Canada and Morocco for their kind invitation to participate in today’s event in observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week, which the General Assembly in 2010 resolved (A/RES/65/5) to celebrate each year on the first week of February. The aim of the international community was to promote dialogue, understanding, harmony and cooperation among believers of different religions so as better to advance, according to the various religious traditions, the love of God, of the good, and of one’s neighbor.
In 2020, the General Assembly gave even greater impetus to these priorities by establishing the International Day of Human Fraternity, to be observed each year on February 4, in the heart of World Interfaith Harmony Week. This second annual observation was adopted to catalyze interreligious and intercultural dialogue in line with the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayeb, three years ago tomorrow.
That landmark declaration called on spiritual leaders to exercise their religious and moral responsibilities and work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and peaceful co-existence, to collaborate to bring an end to wars and conflicts, and to reverse the moral, cultural and environmental deterioration that the world is presently experiencing, through awakening authentic spiritual values and reviving religious awareness, especially among the young. The Pope and Grand Imam noted that so many conflicts flow from “materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law.” It’s not difficult to see that many of the challenges we face in pandemic recovery flow from the materialism, greed and indifference they identify.
That’s one of the reasons why World Interfaith Harmony Week and the International Day of Human Fraternity are so important. They attest, on the UN calendar and within the UN system, that religion is not a neutral force in the world, but an indispensable global good. That’s because religions — not just at their best but normally and routinely — bring people together, remind everyone of human dignity and transcendence, foster love of God, of neighbor and of the good, and improve the world through believers’ living out authentically religious virtues. It’s not a coincidence that Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a religious believer. Or Thich Nhat Hanh. Or Martin Luther King, Jr. Or Mahatma Ghandi. Or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Or so many other spiritual leaders and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Religious faith transforms individuals and communities and through them transforms the world for the better.
This is an important truth to recall and proclaim at a time in which some, including occasionally here at the UN, engage religious leaders mainly or only because they think they can help prevent violence among their co-religionists. They don't acknowledge the obvious reality of how much good religious believers do, not just in promoting peace and reconciliation, providing education and health care, serving the poor and needy, and so many other shared objectives, but also in reminding everyone of transcendent realities. Pope Francis underlined the importance of precisely this service of religions and believers toward peace in the world in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti:
“If there is no transcendent truth, in obedience to which man achieves his full identity, then there is no sure principle for guaranteeing just relations between people,” he said. “Their self-interest as a class, group or nation would inevitably set them in opposition to one another. If one does not acknowledge transcendent truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of other. The root of modern totalitarianism,” he continued, “is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights that no one may violate – no individual, group, class, nation or state” (273).
Therefore, we could say, some of the most important spiritual leadership provided by religious believers is in guiding people to this transcendent reality. And religious believers do this so much more effectively through a common, harmonious witness to God’s existence, to his care for each person and to our summons to imitate and implement that loving concern.
This is what we mark during this week, the role of religious leaders and believers in advancing a culture of dialogue, understanding, reconciliation and cooperation within society as a whole and in fostering a civilization of love: grateful love for God, humble love for others, and passionate love for the good. This is what we celebrate, not just during the time of the pandemic, but endemically in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in poverty and prosperity always.
Thank you for your kind attention.