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Reconciliation and Cooperation


I wish to begin my reflection by recalling here the memory of the late Venerable Etai Yamada, former Head of the Tendai Buddhist denomination. In 1987, inspired by the prophetic gesture of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, he began this commendable initiative to hold Religious Summit twenty years ago on Mt. Hiei. May the merciful God the Father bless his soul and grant him eternal rest. On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue I extend sincere gratitude to the organisers, especially to Venerable Kahjun Handa, Head of Tendai Buddhist Denomination, and his predecessor Venerable Eshin Watanabe, who kindly invited the Holy See to take part in this important event. I congratulate the Japan Conference of Religious Representatives for organising this event annually for twenty years, a wonderful achievement.

When religious leaders gathered for the 10th anniversary of the Religious Summit on Mt. Hiei in 1997 the organisers noted that ‘From Assisi to Mt. Hiei…the spirit transcends time and place’. Last year, when the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, we experienced that the same spirit also transcends ‘age and gender’. More than a hundred young people from nearly forty countries attended the 20th anniversary celebration in Assisi from 4-8 November 2006, almost one-third were young women. It was a significant event, showing how the “spirit of Assisi”, initiated by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, continues to inspire and guide the hearts of religious leaders. I am sure the participants here in the Religious Summit will bear credible witness to their respective religious traditions when they return to their own communities.

The topic of “reconciliation and co-operation” was addressed also in 1997 by eminent participants in the Religious Summit on Mt Hiei. I think it is opportune for me to give an overall assessment of how, despite difficulties and problems, the cause of peace has progressed and identify the contributions of different religions to these developments.

H.H. Pope Benedict XVI makes the following observation: “There is no doubt that the most significant event in this period was the fall of the Communist-inspired regimes in Eastern Europe. This brought an end to the Cold War that had given rise to a sort of division of the world into an axis of opposing influence that spawned the storing of terrifying arsenals and armies in preparation for a full-scale war. This was a moment when the widespread hope for peace induced many people to dream of a different world, where relations between peoples would develop, safe from the nightmare of war, and where the “globalization” process would unfold under the banner of a peaceful encounter of peoples and cultures in the context of a common international law inspired by respect for the needs of truth, justice and solidarity”[1].

The World in the IIIrd Millennium

In every age we have examples of how religion has been used by fundamentalists, each convinced that there is only one vision of truth, their own, and it is their duty to force it upon everyone else. Imposing truth on others by violent means is an offence against human dignity, and, ultimately, an offence against God whose image each of us bears. All of us see in religious fundamentalism an attitude radically opposed to God. Terrorists exploit not just people, they destroy the truth of God: they turn the true God into an idol to be used for their own purposes. The tragedy which took place on September 11th 2001 in the U.S.A. and the subsequent terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, are the results of this fundamentalism. These tragic events radically changed the course for peace in the world. They changed the way nations encounter nations, the way people encounter people, the way cultures encounter cultures, and the way religions encounter religions. Today, humanity appears to live under the shadow of fear; those who dreamt of peace are discouraged as if peace has become an illusion.

The third millennium has begun with increased terrorism and violence; these acts show no sign of abating. “Then, the fact that armed conflicts are taking place today against a background of the geographical and political tensions that exist in many regions may give the impression that not only cultural diversity but also religious differences are causes of instability or threats to the prospect of peace”[2]

The deadly events of the past century taught us that war is always a tragedy. The new millennium sadly began with wars in different parts of the world. The problem is aggravated by religion being presented on opposite sides. It is incumbent on us religious leaders to commit ourselves to the pursuit of peace and prove to the world that “the name of the one God must become increasingly what it is: a name of peace and a summons to peace[3].

The migration of people across the globe, especially the millions of refugees, adds to the anxiety of governments and people, especially in the receiving countries. Xenophobia is on the rise. To this violence we should add the increasing awareness of the dangers posed by global warming, which has already caused untold suffering to many peoples of the planet. Disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and droughts make all countries vulnerable. At the dawn of the twenty-first century we face more crises and problems than the whole of the past century.

Furthermore, we also face a world more sharply divided than ever before, between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-not, the north and the south, the developed and the underdeveloped, the east and the west. The signs suggest these divides widening. Technology is progressing at a breakneck speed. Mass media has made the world into a global village. People are connected almost instantaneously. However, it is an unfortunate irony that the world is more united through virtual images on the silver screen than facing the causes of division and fragmentation. The basic unit of every society, the family, is under threat everywhere.

While these tensions go on unabated, debates rage. One debate is that religions stand accused of inducing hatred and violence. Some mock at religions as outdated. Others hold religious leaders responsible for controlling the ignorant and spreading hatred against one another. In secular societies religious conviction has been marginalised and little credence is given to an absolute truth. Religious people and leaders know that truth is objective, eternal and unchanging, that the relativising of belief and morality has encouraged a self-centred world. This is an appropriate forum for us to ask: Do we religious leaders have a responsibility to tackle the growing influence of secularism? Can we find a convincing answer to those who suffer in the world? Should we not in this meeting offer a message of hope for the world?

That we have come together in the past and wish to continue to come together is a positive step. It sends a strong message to the world that religion means peace, promotes peace and lives at peace with each other. The late Pope John Paul II had warned those who gathered in Assisi in 1986: “The very fact that we have come to Assisi from various quarters of the world is in itself a sign of this common path which humanity is called to tread. Either we learn to walk together in peace and harmony, or we drift apart and ruin ourselves and others”.[4]

High-speed technology hastens communication but it does not always help to deepen human understanding. That can only be promoted by meetings such as this. Unfortunately those opposed to peace will always have their own vested interests, advancing their own selfish agenda. From my own experience there are many people, of different religious traditions, who desire peace and fervently want to promote peace in the world. We must help these people. How shall we begin? In many of his public discourses, Pope Benedict XVI keeps emphasising that “peace must be built in hearts” because “the human heart is the place where God intervenes”.[5]

So we start by educating our respective communities to help them answer the questions they face. We have the resources within our respective religious traditions to do this. With them we can heal and reconcile our broken human family. Through the path of interreligious dialogue we can build peace in our world. We begin by affirming and promoting the uniqueness and dignity of each human person who, we Christians believe, is created in the image and likeness of God.

Reconciliation between man and God – A Christian perspective

When the Servant of God Pope John Paul II called for the Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi on 27 October 1986, he reminded the religious leaders who were present in the following words: “The fact that we have come here (in Assisi) does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project, which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs”. The Second Vatican Council taught in Nostra aetate, “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions”: “We cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people in other than brotherly fashion, for all men are created in God’s image” (n. 5). Despite the fundamental differences that exist between religious traditions, we can still recognise that we are all part of one human family obliged for the sake of peace, to treat each other as brothers and sisters. A mature understanding of this fundamental religious sense, encourages all of us to live and work as one universal brotherhood under one Fatherhood of God. This inspires respect, friendship and tolerance, the foundation of peaceful relationships in families, between communities and all human beings.

Reconciliation between man and self – A Christian perspective

At the beginning of his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI reminded believers in the following words: “We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”[6] And in his Message for the World Day of Peace in 2007 he reiterated: “As one created in the image of God, each individual human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others. At the same time each person is called, by grace, to a covenant with the Creator, called to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his place (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 357).”[7] The Catholic Church continues to defend the dignity of the human person even though this same creature, willed and loved by the Creator, now finds herself living in the ‘desert’ of this world. And there are so many kinds of ‘deserts’. There is the desert of rejection, even before one is born, the desert of poverty, the desert of hunger and thirst, the desert of abandonment, of loneliness, of destroyed love. There is the desert of God’s darkness, the emptiness of souls no longer aware of their dignity or lacking any goal for their lives. The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.[8] Indeed, for the desert to become green again, man has to be reconciled with God and with the inner self.

Reconciliation between man and man – A Christian perspective

In our society human life, from conception to the moment of natural death, is under relentless attack, flowing from the tendency to promote “a culture of choice allowing the option of death” rather than “a culture which promotes life at all stages”. In the New Testament, St John writes to Christians the following words: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness” (1Jn 2:9). Today, many will justify ‘killing’ as a sort of social responsibility. This is based not on the unique value of each individual, but on the conditions of life, whether wanted by the mother, or costly to keep alive when old and feeble.

Feelings of hatred and vengeance are inculcated in young people living in societies, turned violent by conflicting ideologies, often dating back many generations. Such violence is not limited to war torn countries but is found in schools and in other places of learning. Ironically, as society progresses, more and more, cry in despair as they live without hope alone, rejected and in pain.

Pope Benedict XVI made the following appeal at a traditional Christian prayer: “In the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This ‘more’ comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can ‘tip the balance’ of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive “world” which is the human heart”[9].

Making reference to a passage from St Luke’s Gospel (6:27-31) Pope Benedict XVI proposed a principle of Christian ahimsa. He said: “(Christian non-violence) does not consist in succumbing to evil, as a false interpretation of ‘turning the other cheek’ (cf. Lk. 6:29) claims, but in responding to evil with good (cf. Rom 12:17-21) and thereby breaking the chain of injustice. One then understands that for Christians, non-violence is not merely tactical behaviour but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power and that he is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’, a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love, a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but is a gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Here is the newness of the Gospel, which silently changes the world! Here is the heroism of the ‘lowly’ who believe in God’s love and spread it, even at the cost of their lives”.[10]

Reconciliation between man and nature – A Christian perspective

God, the Creator of all that exists, has appointed human person the steward and caretaker of God’s own creation. In his Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus Pope John Paul II wrote: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed.” Since the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004 there have been other natural disasters in different parts of the world. Hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons and droughts are attributed to global warming, a phenomenon, due not just to natural causes, but also to human behaviours. In that sense human beings are responsible for global warming and their continued disregard for the environment will prove ever more fatal for human existence, unless the causes are addressed. Human beings are part of a larger whole. They should not manipulate, distort and abuse God’s creation. Rather they are called to be responsible stewards, able and willing to restrain their own desires for the good of all in God’s creation.

Interreligious meetings – experiences of reconciliation

As leaders of different religious traditions, we cannot preach reconciliation to others if we are not personally reconciled within ourselves and with one another. The people of the world look up to us as people of faith bringing peace and hope. Our meetings strengthen bridges between religions. We also need now to promote healing and reconciliation in our own communities and in our wounded world. As religious leaders, we should set a good example as reconcilers. I would like to recall here the “Day of Pardon” which the Servant of God Pope John Paul II convoked in Rome on 12 March 2000. The day was described as the “purification of memory”. Pope John Paul II said: “The recognition of past wrongs serves to reawaken our consciences to the compromises of the present, opening the way to conversion for everyone”. Reflection will show us that we, in some ways are responsible for the increasing atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the culture of death, exploitation of the poor.

It is heartening that many religious organisations have tried, in different ways, to bring people together by promoting dialogue and build partnership through trust and confidence. These are not partnerships of convenience but partnerships of commitment, partnerships that communicate the human touch, giving the sense of warmth from eye-to-eye contact. Anonymity dominates our societies, especially in the big cities where our neighbour becomes a stranger and people lose their individuality in crowds. We hardly have time to look into the face of the persons we pass in the street. They may be in material or spiritual need or struggling to make sense of life.

Meetings in interreligious dialogue do not of themselves remove the pains of the past or present. For reconciliation we have to recognise that our neighbours have been victims of our injustice, our anger, our exploitation. Dialogue becomes real when we listen with attention, when we are present to the other. Dialogue places the other before me. The aggrieved and the aggressors, the victims and the perpetrators may come to such meetings with suspicion. Attentive and sympathetic listening helps each to see the other as a brother or sister capable of loving, speaking the truth, seeking justice, offering forgiveness and sharing compassion. These are the basic values which all religious traditions encourage. They are paths to reconciliation and peace.

In the past few decades, more religious organisations have become catalysts of interreligious dialogue. The religious organisations in Japan, for example, realised that by being attentive to the problems faced by Jews, Christians and Muslims they could be an agent of reconciling process. These Japanese organisations encouraged groups to come together to reflect and find a solution to their current problems. Leaders spoke against fighting and killing in the name of God and condemned any kind of violence in the name of religion.

Interreligious dialogue is above all a matter of building trust and creating relationships across religious boundaries. Interreligious relationships presuppose our fundamental relationships with God, self, others and nature as I mentioned above. I would like to imagine that forging interreligious understanding is a life-long pilgrimage of reconciliation. Through regular meetings we help to nurture this common undertaking. Unlike a physical journey, this pilgrimage of interreligious dialogue, a pilgrimage into the heart that has no end. It is a lifelong journey in mutual trust and friendship. On this journey we grow in respect for each other and in understanding of each other’s religious traditions.

Interreligious co-operation

Interreligious dialogue is a means and not an end. We know from experience that interreligious dialogue is not reserved only for the elite; every believer is encouraged to engage in it. “Religious communities have great potential to help heal wounds, to build bridges, and to band together against extremists who would manipulate religion to promote hatred and violence. What Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote about bringing human rights to life applies equally to creating a culture of mutual respect among peoples: ‘Where,’ she asked, ‘do human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere’”[11]. It is encouraging to know that people of many religious traditions are taking initiatives at the local level, organising joint projects to tackle common concerns to build peace.

H.H. Pope Benedict XVI has been repeatedly saying that dialogue cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is a vital necessity today. The need is urgent; many believers need to be encouraged to engage in it as part of their religious life and at the same time commit to building relationships beyond their own religious group. Religious leaders should guide the way by example and invite their communities to reach across religious boundaries to bring greater understanding, respect and peace in our world.

Widening the circles of those engaged in interreligious dialogue

At the beginning of my talk, I made a mention of interreligious youth meeting in Assisi last year. That experience has given me much hope for the unique role of young people in forging bonds of friendship across religious boundaries. They are and can be important agents for peace. They do not carry the prejudices and stereo-types about each other. The young people in Assisi last November came in a spirit of openness and enthusiasm to meet, to learn, to listen and to understand from one another. They entered into the meeting with honesty, innocence and sincerity. They shared their dreams and learned about the religious traditions of the other. They grew in mutual respect, understanding and esteem. Each one spoke proudly of his or her religious tradition but always in the spirit of respect for that of the other. Each one, uncompromisingly rooted in his or her tradition, represented it, whether at discussions, prayer, meals or friendly conversations. They all had a “single goal and a shared intention, namely, peace”.

Today I want to echo their appeal to the eminent participants at this Religious Summit. They declared: “We prayed according to our respective religious traditions, imploring from God the precious gift of peace. While our prayers were offered in different places, languages and ways, we were united in a single purpose: praying for peace. In this way, we testified to the truth that ‘prayer does not divide but unites and is a decisive element for an effective pedagogy of peace, hinged on friendship, reciprocal acceptance and dialogue between different cultures and religions’ as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his message for the XXth anniversary of the first Assisi Meeting in 1986… Peace is not something only to be sought in halls of government, but also in the halls of our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our temples, our pagodas, our gurudwaras, our atash berhrams, our schools, our workplaces, our homes and most importantly in our hearts”[12].

I wish to address a particular word on behalf of women. Their role in the religious traditions we represent is indispensable. They generally remain very close to each member of the family and so they are the first educators of the children’s faith; they have a lion’s share in moulding future leaders for the society. I believe many of you will agree with me that our own mothers have influenced and shaped our lives and helped us to become the people we are today. In difficult situations of impasse women have been instrumental in bringing conflicting sides together, reconciling them and healing them.

The mass media does a great work bringing people together. They can contribute to mutual understanding by dispelling prejudice and stereo-types. I appeal to them to help us build peace through co-operation and reconciliation.

Thank you for listening, for your patience. May God bless us all and may He bless our endeavours to heal divisions in the human family and advance reconciliation between peoples through greater co-operation among believers of different religious traditions.

[1] To Mgr. Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi, Message for the XX Anniversary Interreligious Prayer Meeting for Peace in Assisi, 2 September 2006.

[2] Ibid., .

[3] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 6 January 2001, n. 55

[5] To Mgr. Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi, Message for the XX Anniversary Interreligious Prayer Meeting for Peace in Assisi, 2 September 2006.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Inaugural Mass at the beginning of his Pontificate held at St. Peter’s Square on 24 April 2005.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace 2007, n. 2.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI on 24 April 2005.

[9] Benedict XVI, Angelus Reflection for Sunday, 18 February 2007.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Mary Ann Glendon, “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities”, United Nations, New York, 11 May 2007, in Pro Dialogo, Vatican City, 124, 2007/1, p. 23-24

[12] Pro Dialogo, 123, 2006/3, p. 322-323