Intervention of the Holy See
66th session of the United Nations General Assembly
World Interfaith Harmony Week 2012:
Common Ground for the Common Good
New York, 7 February 2012
It is my pleasure to add my voice to yours Mr. President and to that of Her Excellency Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, UN Deputy Secretary General and the other leaders speaking in today’s program to highlight the work being done by religious organizations and to promote ongoing efforts for achieving greater interreligious harmony.
Today’s meeting is a reminder that the participation of religious organizations and openness to the Transcendent are not only a welcome reality in many parts of the globe but are a necessity everywhere if we are to address the challenges of our time.
This reminder of the role of religious organizations within society is particularly important in a time when we increasingly see societal and governmental leaders denying the role of religious organizations or marginalizing their participation in public life and in decision making. These efforts not only deny the truth of the human search for the Transcendent but also fail to acknowledge the role of religion in the very founding of the states, institutions and ideas which we now hold dear.
For its part alone, the Catholic Church and its many organizations have been active in every corner of the globe. These organizations have worked to promote access to education at its over 68,000 kindergartens, 92,000 primary schools and 42,000 secondary schools; they have worked to provide access to health care through more than 5,000 hospitals, 17,000 dispensaries, 500 homes for people with leprosy, 16,000 homes for the elderly, chronically ill or disabled; they have worked to resolve conflicts through numerous interreligious dialogue initiatives and direct mediation of conflicts such as those efforts in Mozambique and in Latin America and they have worked to respond to disasters through the commitment of the many professional and dedicated agencies who not only provide assistance after disasters but live in solidarity with the populations affected by disaster long before and after disasters occur. These organizations not only provide such services regardless of race, religion and national origin but often, thanks to dedicated consecrated religious personnel, lay employees and countless volunteers, are able to provide these services more cost effectively than other sectors of society.
While these statistics represent only a portion of the selfless efforts and great sacrifice being done by religious organizations and their personnel, sometimes even at the expense of their own lives, they serve as a constant reminder that no serious efforts to achieve the goals of the United Nations as set out in the Charter will be successful and lasting if religious and faith-based organizations are not actively engaged in policy discussion and implementation.
This year’s World Interfaith Harmony Week falls only three months after the important gathering of over 300 religious leaders at the Assisi Meeting for Peace of October last, 25 years after the first such meeting of religious leaders in Assisi. These meetings represent the commitment of church and religious leaders to join forces in promoting peace and rejecting the use of religion as a justification for violence and to serve as an example for all religious believers of the efforts needed to promote a culture of peace.
At this Assisi meeting three months ago, Pope Benedict XVI called on all to reject violence as being against the true nature of religion. He stated, “If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion… see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when [an individual] no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence”. Now, we gather today in the United Nations to reiterate yet again the need for religious believers to reject violence and commit ourselves to working to promote greater respect and understanding amongst believers of all religions and the promotion of the common good of all of humanity.
As your note in preparation for this meeting acknowledges, the world’s religions play a vital role in the mediation of conflict and the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation, in the response to disasters, in promoting development and respect for the environment and in revitalizing the work of the United Nations. However, in order for religious organizations and people of religious belief to achieve these ends and to continue this work, it is of fundamental importance that all States respect religious liberty and recognize the rights of individuals and religious organizations to profess and practice one’s faith and to also participate within political and social life.
Respect for religious liberty provides the protections necessary for religious leaders and believers of all faiths not only to practice their faith and but also to provide a voice to the voiceless when circumstances threaten peace and human dignity. It is therefore imperative that all governments and political and religious leaders work to promote genuine religious liberty so that religious organizations can continue their many contributions to society and work to promote even greater respect for the common good.
Thank you Mr. President.