May 6, 2016
Panel I: Interfaith harmony – promoting inter-religious dialogue and tolerance, as well as a culture of peace
As delivered in New York on May 6, 2016

Intervention of Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations

At the High Level Conversation of the UN General Assembly on Religions for Peace
Panel I: Interfaith harmony – promoting inter-religious dialogue and tolerance, as well as a culture of peace

Trusteeship Council Chamber, UNHQ, New York
6 May 2016

I would like to thank His Excellency Mr. Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly, for having invited me to speak on this Panel dedicated to “Interfaith harmony – promoting inter-religious dialogue and tolerance, as well as a culture of peace.”

The way religion-related events have been dominating even the most secular media in our days seems to suggest that the long announced death of God has been rather premature and the news about the disappearance of religion has been rather exaggerated. These news reports, however, have unfortunately not been the kind of news that truly religious people would have wanted to hear: all purportedly done “in the name of religion!” Examples are legion and we know them or have heard of them.

We must therefore collectively reaffirm our common resolve to fight the scourge of violent extremism, terrorism, intolerance and religious hatred. The admission of a shared problem is the beginning of a real dialogue. Pope Francis has ceaselessly underlined in words and actions certain principles with which interfaith harmony and a culture of peace could be achieved. I would like to highlight here six of these principles:

The first principle is a total and unconditional rejection of violence in the name of religion. No one can ever consider himself or herself a true believer while planning and carrying out acts of violence. In New York, Tirana, Sarajevo, Ankara or Bangui, Pope Francis rallied religious leaders and believers to condemn their co-religionists who seek to instrumentalize their religion as a justification for violence.  All believers must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a religion or of God himself.

The second principle is that violence and terrorism must not be identified with any specific religion, race, nationality or culture. No one religion or culture is violent by nature. Every religion and culture can be capable of violence. Here also, there would be much to say about the negative role of the media in projecting, even implicitly, certain stereotypes of association between violence and a specific religion or culture.

The third principle is education in respect for the inviolable dignity of every human person and his or her inalienable rights, in particular of those rights that violent extremists are mostly likely to contravene, like religious freedom including the freedom to change one’s religion or belief, the right to free speech and the respect for women and girls. Education is essential in quelling prejudices and stereotyping, unwarranted fears and discrimination, leaving room for mutual respect, a culture of peace and encounter, and the release of more positive energies for the good of all.

The fourth principle is the ceaseless pursuit of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, even more so in the midst of religious persecution, religious intolerance, interfaith tensions and societal strife. In his meeting the other day at the Vatican with the members of the Royal Institute of Interfaith Studies of Amman, Jordan, Pope Francis described dialogue in these very simple words: “Dialogue is going out of ourselves, with a word, to hear the word of the other. The two words meet, two thoughts meet. It is the first step of a journey. Following this meeting of the word, hearts meet and begin a dialogue of friendship, which ends with holding hands. Word, hearts, hands. It’s simple! A little child knows how to do it…”

No matter how grave the threats that terrorism poses to our collective security, military coercion alone will never be an effective and lasting response to it. We need a culture of encounter and dialogue that fosters mutual acceptance and promotes inclusive societies, contributing to lasting peace and security. Interreligious dialogue, for it to be truly consequential for peace and development, should not be limited merely to leaders of religious communities, but must also extend as far as possible to all believers, since it is above all a conversation about life, which can lead to the meeting of hearts and minds.

The fifth principle is the eradication of the causes of violent extremism. Young people are attracted to extremist ideologies because they feel socially alienated and excluded, or because of poverty or chronic unemployment. Those joining terror groups often come from poor immigrant families, disillusioned by what they feel as a situation of exclusion and by the lack of integration and values in certain societies. Governments should engage with civil society to address the problems of communities most at risk of radicalization and recruitment and to achieve their satisfactory social integration.

The sixth principle is that a harmonious society is never a result of a once-and-for-all effort, but rather is consolidated through thousands of daily actions that are the building blocks of just and peaceful societies. The constant pursuit of interreligious and intercultural dialogue can be tedious and repetitive, thus requiring greater resolve, persevering commitment and long-term vision.

Pope Francis, immediately after his Address to the UN General Assembly lastSeptember 25, went to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, where leaders of all faiths present in the New York area were gathered to reflect and pray together. In such a place so associated with hatred, violent extremism and terrorism, a place invoked oftentimes to justify the burning of bridges and staying away from one another, the Pope wanted us to see that healing and reconciliation is possible, even at the “scene” of one of the most horrendous crimes of all time.

Now more than ever before, Pope Francis challenges us to turn places of hatred and conflict into places of healing and reconciliation, places of death and destruction into places of new life and new beginnings, leading to a society where a culture of peace and harmonious co-existence becomes a concrete way of life, the norm rather than an exception.

Thank you.