Jerusalem: Pope meets interfaith organisations

After his visit to Yad Vashem, Pope Benedict met with representatives of organisations involved in inter-religious dialogue at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, which was given the status of Pontifical Institute by Servant of God John Paul II in 1978. The ceremony, which took place in the centre's auditorium, was attended by 500 people.

At the beginning of his remarks, the Holy Father indicated that although much has "been achieved to create a sense of closeness and unity within the world-wide human family", yet "the boundless array of portals through which people so readily access undifferentiated sources of information can easily become an instrument of increasing fragmentation".

"The question naturally arises then as to what contribution religion makes to the cultures of the world against the backdrop of rapid globalisation. ... As believers or religious persons we are presented with the challenge to proclaim with clarity what we share in common".

"Lives of religious fidelity echo God's irruptive presence and so form a culture not defined by boundaries of time or place but fundamentally shaped by the principles and actions that stem from belief.

"Religious belief presupposes truth. The one who believes is the one who seeks truth and lives by it", the Pope added. "Together we can proclaim that God exists and can be known, that the earth is His creation, that we are His creatures, and that He calls every man and woman to a way of life that respects His design for the world. Friends, if we believe we have a criterion of judgement and discernment which is divine in origin and intended for all humanity, then we cannot tire of bringing that knowledge to bear on civic life. Truth should be offered to all; it serves all members of society".

"Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, truth makes consensus possible and keeps public debate rational, honest and accountable, and opens the gateway to peace. Fostering the will to be obedient to the truth in fact broadens our concept of reason and its scope of application, and makes possible the genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today".

The Holy Father went on to express the view that, "in an age of instant access to information and social tendencies which engender a kind of monoculture, deep reflection against the backdrop of God's presence will embolden reason, stimulate creative genius, facilitate critical appreciation of cultural practices and uphold the universal value of religious belief".

Some people, said Pope Benedict, "would have us believe that our differences are necessarily a cause of division" and must "at most be tolerated. A few even maintain that our voices should simply be silenced. But we know that our differences need never be misrepresented as an inevitable source of friction or tension either between ourselves or in society at large. Rather, they provide a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to live together in profound respect, esteem and appreciation, encouraging one another in the ways of God".

The Holy Father concluded: "Prompted by the Almighty and enlightened by His truth, may you continue to step forward with courage, respecting all that differentiates us and promoting all that unites us as creatures blessed with the desire to bring hope to our communities and world".

At the end of the meeting, the Holy Father blessed the cornerstone of the new Notre Dame Institute of Magdala. The institute will welcome pilgrims visiting the Holy Land and act as a spiritual centre for the future Basilica of St Mary Magdalene.

Following the meeting, Holy See Press Office Director Fr Federico Lombardi S.J. issued a statement commenting on an unplanned intervention by one person at the gathering. Fr Lombardi said:

"The intervention of Sheikh Tayssir Attamimi was not scheduled by the organisers of the meeting. In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also inter-religious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that inter-religious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident".

An Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson said: It is regrettable that Sheikh Tayssir Tamimi has abused an inter-religious meeting aimed at promoting dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims, in order to incite against Israel.

Minister Stas Misezhnikov, charged with the Pope's visit to Israel, stated: "The sheikh's provocation hurt, first and foremost, Pope Benedict XVI who came to the Holy Land to promote peace and unity between the peoples of the region and all persons of faith. Israel condemns these words of hatred uttered by the sheikh, who instead of fostering peace and coexistence chose to plant seeds of division and confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as between Jews, Muslims and Christians."

It is a shame that the extremists were those who represented the Palestinians and the Muslims in this important event in the presence of the Holy See.

Source: VIS/IIB

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