His Excellency Mr Lubomir Rehak, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the Court of St James's, and Mr Anthony Bailey OBE, Delegate for Great Britain and Ireland of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St George, hosted a New Year reception at the Slovak Embassy in Kensington, London on Thursday evening, which was attended by faith and community leaders, ambassadors from around the world, academics and friends. The theme of the evening was the role of faith in communities and interfaith dialogue.
Archbishop Angaelos, Coptic Archbishop of London, Lord George Carey, Bishop Paul Hendricks of Southwark, Faiths Minister, Viscount Younger and the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan were among the speakers.
In his welcoming address, the Ambassador quoted the opening words of St Pope John Paul II's pontificate: 'Do not be afraid'. He said: "We must unite our forces, use the strength of belief, ideals of good and confraternity to face and challenge these negative phenomenons of today… Our activities, quite naturally, have often a religious component, reflecting our traditions and identity. Not only today's reception is an example of it, but also events like Advent wreath making for Ambassadors and High Commissioners and their spouses that my wife Dana has hosted for several years."
Mentioning that the Chaplain of the Slovak Catholic Mission in London, Fr Tiborovsky was present, he noted that on 21st January at 1pm, the Embassy is organising a concert of Slovak Christmas Carols at St Martin in the Fields, with singers from Slovakia.
Ambassador Rehak added: "We will present an exhibition at the Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue next Friday 24th January at 6pm. The exhibition, a part of which is displayed here exclusively for you today, discovers an unknown story of one Councillor of the City of Bratislava Aron Grunhut, who in 1939 rescued over 1300 Jews from then-occupied Slovakia and Austria. He rented two ships for taking refugees to the Holy Land. His own son, among other Jewish children from Slovakia was rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton in his Kindertransports to the UK. By all this we strive to join efforts, aimed at a world that is better, peaceful, prosperous and respectful."
Mr Anthony Bailey said his Order has always resolved to work for the defence of Faith and values the relationships of co-operation and trust it has built across the boundaries of faith, culture and race. … "alongside our Catholic knights and dames are Anglicans, Orthodox, Protestants, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh believers…. We remain true to our Roman Catholic heritage yet are deeply proud of our diversity and hold firm to Saint John Paul II's conviction that what unites the faiths is far more important than what divides them, and his belief that religions need to be the primary bridge-builders in our fractured world….Such gatherings tonight show how we are brought together because of our faith, and not in spite of it."
Archbishop Angaelos said: "We know that our faith, if lived properly and conducted properly with the very bare human understanding and recognition, should make us better people.… As Christians and in our scriptures we adhere to the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ when he spoke to his disciples, commending them to ministry saying to them that they would witness to him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And so if we look at this ecumenically in our Christian family in an interfaith setting with those of other faiths and then with those of no faith at all, we must respect the human dignity that is represented in each one of us. And that is what our faith teaches us.
"Of course, as we all know, we have the Universal Declarations of Human Rights and we revere them. But they are merely annotations and an enshrinement of God-given rights of freedom that we all have - to choose - to worship or indeed even reject him. And it is within our faith communities that we are able to teach this best because we respect the image and likeness of God within all of us...
"At this time I'd like to commend especially the Constantinian Order and synonymously my dear friend Anthony Bailey because of the work you do, not only on these islands but but around the world, bringing communities together. bringing us all together, knowing that we represent something higher than the division that is spread within our communities. And knowing that in one another we have the strength to be able to empower and enable each other to respect others. And especially when we face the greatest obstacles to those rights that we cherish, not only for ourselves but for each other. You see as a Christian I believe one of the worst things I can possibly do is just look after Christians - because that would make me tribal. That would make me like those condemned by Our Lord, saying what good is that to you, for anyone loves those who are like him or her. And yet it is only accept that when we love and cherish those who are different that we show who we truly are. .
"One of the greatest mistakes and tragedies of this decade and the decade before, I fear, was the concept of tolerance. Because we're told that tolerance is the base line. The problem is that if we fall below that base line we are intolerant. And yet when our base line is low and respect and human dignity - than if we fall below that we are still a long way from being intolerant. And so it is with that spirit that I'm very thankful that I'm here among you and not only as a guest but now being non-Catholic as a member of the Order that is a great privilege that I carry."
The Archbishop thanked all those present wished them a blessed year ahead. He concluded: "One candle breaks the darkness and each and every one of you becomes that light that breaks that darkness and together we become an infinitely greater light that breaks the darkness that tried to engulf us all.."
Bishop Paul Hendricks from Southwark Diocese said: "It is obvious whatever our faith we live in a lively and varied community enriched by the contributions of people from all over the world. Thats why I love living in London. And it that situation, daily life is a constant dialogue where we learn from each other. And its true at times this means our assumptions and our attitudes are challenged and that's good. Dialogue with people of other religions has enriched my faith over the years, because it stimulates me to ask you questions and to reexamine my attitudes, and as a result of that my faith is not weakened it is strengthened more firmly founded.
"Pope Francis is a great inspiration to us all with regard to dialogue people of other faiths. Last February he met with the Grand Imam of Egypt at Al Alar Mosque university to sign a commitment of fraternity between religions races and nations.
"About the same time in Britain concerns were expressed about the results of a survey - you may remember - showing that only about a quarter of our people think Islam for instance is generally compatible with the values of society in our country. Now that is a disturbing future for anyone committed to inter religious dialogue.
"But my question would be what does compatible mean? If it means its possible for a faithful Muslim to obey the law and to live peacefully with his neighbours then I say yes. It is compatible. If it means that all the prevailing values of our society are in harmony with Islam then I'd say perhaps not. But then I'd say exactly the same thing about Christianity.
"For both religions there are similar tensions - not only in the obvious areas of life issues and human sexuality but also with regard to individualism, consumerism and materialism, And I don't think this is because of anything especially anti-religious about modern society. I see these tensions as part of a conflict within each of us between the goodness we aspire to and the temptations of our fallen human nature. And just as religion challenges us to renew and purify our intentions so religion itself needs to be continually renewed and purified...
"At the meeting I mentioned earlier Pope Francis said, 'true religious piety consists in loving God with all one's heart one's neighbour as oneself. Religious behaviour there ore needs to be continually purified from the recurrent temptation to judge others as enemies and adversaries. Each belief system is called to overcome the divide between friend and enemies in order to take up the perspective of heaven which embraces persons without privilege or discrimination. And I would say this can't happen in a vacuum. only in respectful dialogue between our friends, neighbours of other religions.'"
"I'm very happy to note to role of the Constantinian Order in supporting this evening's reception and it's very appropriate considering their longstanding commitment to inter religious relations in this country and internationally. And the fact that their prior in Britain is Cardinal Vincent Nichols is a clear sign of the importance of their work and that this is recognised."
Harun Khan from the Muslim Council of Great Britain said that a key aim of the Council was "." working for the common good - working together on common and shared values to improve our societies.." He described a new initiative called Visit My Mosque. In the past year more than 300 mosques in the UK held an open day in which they welcomed visitors.
Echoing Archbishop Angaelos, he said: "Personally I'm not a great fan of the word tolerance. I'm born and bred in this country - and 'tolerance' is defiantly the last line. . we need more than that. Mr Khan said he felt relations with Muslims in the UK were improving and pointed out that there are more Moslem parliamentarians in the UK then that are across Europe. He said Muslims are also well represented across the professions. "Even though as a community we have our challenges, we are working together with leaders like yourselves to build those relationships, build dialogue and demonstrate to the wider world that we can live together in peace and harmony."
Other guests included: Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need, Canon Christopher Tuckwell, Westminster Cathedral, Dom Cuthbert Brogan, St Michaels Abbey Farnborough, Professor John McIntosh CBE, Dr Colin Smythe, Canon Peter Newby, Sister Ellen Flynn Provincial of the Daughters of Charity, Catholic publisher Kevin Grant. Dr Charles Tannock, Lord Carey of Clifton, Vivian Wineman. and Prof Simon Uttley.
Tags: Constantinian, Slovak, Anthony Bailey, Mr Lubomir Rehak, Interfaith, ACN, Archbishop Angaelos, Neville Kyrke-Smith, Aid to the Church in Need, Canon Christopher Tuckwell, Westminster Cathedral, Dom Cuthbert Brogan, St Michaels Abbey, Canon Peter Newby, Sister Ellen Flynn, Daughters of Charity, Kevin Grant, Prof Simon Uttley.Coptic, Lord George Carey, Bishop Paul Hendricks, Southwark , Muslim, Harun Khan
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