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Address of His-All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch

Bartholomew

RELIGIONS AND PEACE

Al-Azhar and Muslim Council of Elders' Global Peace


Conference

Cairo, April 27, 2017

Your Beatitudes, Eminences, Excellencies,

Distinguished participants,

Dear friends,

It is an honor to be invited to address this Conference on Global


Peace organized by Al-Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders. We
wholeheartedly congratulate His Eminence Mr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb,
Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, for having the courage and vision to
organize this crucial initiative in the promotion of peace by religions.

During the last two decades, humanity has experienced continuous


terrorist attacks, which are the cause of death and hurt of
thousands of people, and which are becoming the greatest threat
and source of fear for contemporary societies. Since then, religions
have been often suspected or openly accused for inspiring terrorism
and violence. Our everyday life has become filled with horrible news
about terrorist attacks in the name of religion.

At the same time, we notice the willingness and capacity in our


world to promote dialogue instead of conflict. This is true, not only
for political leaders and secular organisations, but also for religious
leaders and institutions that have shown their readiness to engage
into a dialogue of peace on a local and on an international level, in
order to insure a pacific coexistence and collaboration between
people.

How, then, after so many conferences, declarations and initiatives


for peace, could we witness an increase of violence, instead of
noticing a progress in peace making? How can the world community
justify the last terrorist acts of Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Saint
Petersburg or Stockholm? How could we explain the ongoing wars,
armed conflicts and bloodshed in the Middle East? How can we
accept the attacks in the Coptic churches of Tanta and Alexandria
about two weeks ago? Allow us to express, once again, our sincere
condolences and the prayers of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the
Coptic community and to all the Egyptian people.

In order to understand what happens in our world today, let us


reflect on the role of religion in humankind. Paradoxically, instead of
the modernistic expectation of a post-religious secular age, our
epoch is in fact becoming a post-secular period or even one of
religious explosion. Religion appears as a central dimension of
human life, both at the personal and the social levels. It claims a
public role, and it participates in all central contemporary
discourses.

The crucial functions of religion are evident at the following four


areas of the human existence and co-existence:

1. Religion is connected with the deep concerns of the human


being. It provides answers to crucial existential questions,
giving orientation and meaning of life. Religion opens to
human beings the dimension of eternity and the depth of
truth.
2. Religion is related to the identity of peoples and civilisations.
This is why knowledge of the belief and religion of the other is
indispensable precondition of understanding otherness and of
establishing dialogue.
3. Religion has created and preserved the greatest cultural
achievements of humankind, essential moral values, solidarity
and compassion, as well as respect of the whole creation.
4. Religion is a vital factor in the peace process. As Saint Paul
once wrote: God is not the author of confusion but of peace
(1 Co 14:33) Religion can, of course, divide by causing
intolerance and violence. But this is rather its failure, not its
essence, which is the protection of human dignity.

Unfortunately, our contemporary world is marked either by


relativism deeply connected with secularism, or
fundamentalism, which is seen by many as a reaction to the first.
Indeed, fundamentalism often sees itself threaten or even
persecuted by relativism. While the last denies the existence of
truth, the fundamentalism considers that its own truth is unique,
and must therefore be imposed over the others, thus making
impossible for religion to serve as a bridge between human beings.
In recent History, the phenomenon of nationalism and of post-
colonialism has turned religious extremism and fundamentalism into
simple ideology, used for political purposes.
Unfortunately, the ongoing outburst of religious fundamentalism
and terrible acts of violence in the name of religion, give to the
modern critiques of religious faith arguments against faith, and
support the identification of religion with its negative aspects. The
truth is that violence is the negation of the fundamental religious
beliefs and doctrine. True faith does not release humans from being
responsible for the world, for respecting human dignity and for
struggling for justice and peace. On the contrary, it strengthens the
commitment of human action, it enlarges our witness for freedom
and human core values.

The Mediterranean region has experienced in the past, for several


centuries, a peaceful cohabitation of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
This experience demonstrates that people from different religions
can live together, finding the most fundamental message for
humanity which unites, instead of being a source of division. It
shows that religions can serve as bridges between people, as
instruments of peace and of mutual comprehension, tolerance
between human beings and of inter-religious dialogue.

For this reason, inter-religious dialogue recognizes the differences


of religious traditions and promotes peaceful coexistence and
cooperation between people and cultures. Inter-religious dialogue
does not mean to deny ones own faith, but rather to change ones
mind or attitude towards the other. So it can also heal and disperse
prejudices and contribute to a mutual comprehension and the
pacific resolution of conflicts. Biases and prejudices come from the
misrepresentation of religion. By our presence today, during this
important Conference, we would like to oppose at least one
prejudice: Islam does not equal terrorism, because terrorism is a
stranger to any religion. This is why inter-religious dialogue can
chase away fear and suspicion. It is central for peace, but only in a
spirit of mutual confidence and respect.

Last June, we had the privilege to preside over the Holy and Great
Council of the Orthodox Church worldwide, which gathered in
Greece, on the island of Crete. Among several issues, the Council
rejected and condemned fundamentalism. Its Encyclical stressed
that unfortunately we are experiencing today an increase of
violence in the name of God. The explosions of fundamentalism
within religious communities threaten to create the view that
fundamentalism belongs to the essence of the phenomenon of
religion. The truth, however, is that fundamentalism, as zeal not
based on knowledge (Rom 10.2), constitutes an expression of
morbid religiosity. Furthermore, the Council underlined that
Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of
mutual trust, and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation. ()
True peace is not achieved by force of arms, but only through love
that does not seek its own (1 Cor 13.5). The oil of faith must be
used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new
fires of hatred (Encyclical, 17).

The credibility of religions today depends on their attitude towards


the protection of human freedom and dignity, as well as on their
contribution to peace. This is the presupposition not only of peaceful
coexistence, but even the sheer survival of humanity. We can face
these challenges only together. Nobody not a nation, not a state,
not a religion, nor science and technology can face the current
problems alone. We need one another; we need common
mobilization, common efforts, common goals, common spirit.
Therefore, we regard the present multifaceted crisis as an
opportunity for practicing solidarity, for dialogue and cooperation,
for openness and confidence. Our future is common, and the way
toward this future is a common journey. As it is written in the
Psalms: Behold now, what is so good or so pleasant as for brothers
to dwell together in unity? (Psalm 133:1)

Your Eminence the grand Imam,

Dear participants,

It is our deep conviction that the contribution of religions remains


crucial in our common search for peace on the earth. It is precious,
because for religions, real peace in the world is not simply the
absence of war, but, essentially, the presence of freedom, justice
and solidarity. What is needed for religion, is to guide people to the
depth of this truth, to a change of mind and life and to mutual
understanding. This is indeed the core of our religious traditions.
For this reason, humanity is entitled to expect from us more than
we are actually giving. This is the biggest challenge for religions: to
develop their own potentials of love, solidarity and compassion.
That is what humanity deeply expects from religion today.

Thank you for your kind attention!