Vatican secretary for interreligious dialogue on Arab Awakenings
2012-09-08 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) The new Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Fr. Miguel Ayuso, has addressed a two-day international interfaith conference in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference is exploring the themes of Muslim and Christian perspectives on the Arab Spring, and peace in the Middle East and is held under the auspices of the Turkish Religious Foundation Center for Islamic Studies and the Marmara University Institute for Middle Eastern Studies.
In an interview ahead of the conference, Fr. Ayuso told Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure that the aim of the conference is to preserve peaceful co-existence among those coming from diverse religious, sectarian, and ethnic backgrounds by enhancing interfaith dialogue, gathering together scholars, intellectuals, community and religious leaders, and other eminent regional figures from the Middle East and North Africa.
Fr. Ayuso went on to say that the Holy See wants to add its voice to those “that support peaceful and orderly transition in the region as well as the legitimate aspirations of the people of the Middle East and in particular North Africa for freedom, dignity and democracy.”
Q: What has been the aim of your participation at this Conference?
as the invitation noted, to “add the voice of the Holy See to those that support peaceful and orderly transition in the region as well as the legitimate aspirations of the people of the Middle East and in particular North Africa for freedom, dignity and democracy”. In this context, as the Pope noted in his address to the Diplomatic Corps this January 2012, it is very important, in this process, to recognize the “inalienable dignity of each human person and of his or her fundamental rights”. He called on the international community, I remember, to help build “stable and reconciled societies” ending discrimination in every form, especially religious discrimination.
Q: This is what the Pope has often suggested…
Yes, in fact, the Pope Benedict XVI has often suggested that the promotion of human rights is the most effective strategy for obtaining the common good that is the basis of social harmony. Democracy presumes its foundation on a respect for human rights. In the growing efforts to enable democracy to take hold in the fabric of society in the Arab world, the hope is that it will lead to greater consideration of these basic rights.As Pope Benedict has stated in many different situations, religious freedom is an intrinsic human right and it would be “inconceivable, then, that believers should have to suppress a part of themselves – their faith – in order to be active citizens.” Christians in the Arab world, alongside their fellow Muslim citizens, are ready to play their part as citizens who together strive to build societies that respect the human rights of all citizens, acknowledging that “a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension can help to achieve this, since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favours conversion of heart, which then leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace.”
Q: And what does the Arab Spring need now, after the elections that have taken place in various countries?
I think that now needs to be a follow-up to further develop and nurture a “culture of democracy” that includes developing a clear rule of law, where all are equal before the law, as well as developing needed state institutions which are at the service of all citizens. Obviously, nurturing a “culture of democracy” will take time, effort, patience and education.
Q: For this we need to implement dialogue, tolerance, and respect…
Yes, particularly rejecting the instrumentalisation of religion as a tool to create discord among the various components of a nation. This means, among the rest, freedom of belief and freedom of opinion and expression…
Q: The tragedy of the situation in Syria is not far from our minds and hearts…
Yes. We know how the Holy Father has condemned the violence and terrible loss of human life. It is necessary, as the Pope has repeatedly called upon, to end the violence and rather to enter the path of dialogue as the true means to address such concerns.
Q: How do you see the situation of Christians in Syria?
Christians in Syria seek to live in peace and harmony with their fellow Syrians. They are naturally fearful that the growing violence, destruction and displacement, the continuing loss of life, endangers not just Christians but all Syrians, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. The specter of what has happened to Christians in Iraq hangs heavily over the Christian communities in Syria. Christians do not want to be marginalized in Syria nor do they wish to seek partisan advantage. Rather they want to be in the service of the common good, to be points of reference, or bridges with, and between, all communities. It would be regrettable if the choice of Christians to avoid partisan politics should be interpreted as cowardice instead of courage. The choice to be open to all communities, to transcend partisanship, requires perhaps a greater courage. Christians have as their mission to be builders of peace, harmony and unity, among all Syrians, regardless of ethnicity or religious affiliation, as the way of living in the difficulty of the struggle of their nation.
Q: Any final message, as to the outcome of this International Conference held at Istanbul?
As believers, Muslims and Christians have to enlighten those who bear the heavy responsibility of leading societies to discern the degree of humanity of their decisions. If we recognize the singularity of the human person, his or her vocation, we are all compelled, leaders and ordinary people, to ask if politics, economy, laws are at the service of the human person, created by God who wants humanity to be a family. We have to indicate, not only in words but by deeds, that a society can only be built and thrive by recognizing the legitimate rights of its people, each person’s human dignity, freedom to worship and finally to contribute his or her gifts to the society in which each lives, regardless of race, religion or ethnic base. This is true of established societies as well as those in profound transition as we see in the countries of the so called “Arab Spring”. For this I hope, that the results of this International Conference may contribute to find the true path to “peaceful and orderly transition … for freedom, dignity and democracy.”