PONTIFICAL COUNCIL for INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE

 To the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See
Traditional Exchange of New Year Greetings

...Just a few days ago, we celebrated the Fiftieth World Day of Peace, instituted by my blessed predecessor Paul VI “as a hope and as a promise, at the beginning of the calendar which measures and describes the path of human life in time, that peace with its just and beneficent equilibrium may dominate the development of events to come”.[2] For Christians, peace is a gift of the Lord, proclaimed in song by the Angels at the moment of Christ’s birth: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” (Lk 2:14). Peace is a positive good, “the fruit of the right ordering of things” with which God has invested human society;[3] it is “more than the absence of war”.[4] Nor can it be “reduced to the maintenance of a balance of power between opposing forces”.[5] Rather, it demands the commitment of those persons of good will who “thirst for an ever more perfect reign of justice”.[6]

In this regard, I voice my firm conviction that every expression of religion is called to promote peace. I saw this clearly in the World Day of Prayer for Peace held in Assisi last September, during which the representatives of the different religions gathered to “give voice together to all those who suffer, to all those who have no voice and are not heard”,[7] as well as in my visits to the Synagogue of Rome and the Mosque in Baku.

We know that there has been no shortage of acts of religiously motivated violence, beginning with Europe itself, where the historical divisions between Christians have endured all too long. In my recent visit to Sweden, I mentioned the urgent need for healing past wounds and journeying together towards common goals. The basis of that journey can only be authentic dialogue between different religious confessions. Such dialogue is possible and necessary, as I wished to show by my meeting in Cuba with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as well as by my Apostolic Journeys to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, where I sensed the rightful aspiration of those peoples to resolve conflicts which for years have threatened social harmony and peace.

At the same time, it is fitting that we not overlook the great number of religiously inspired works that contribute, at times with the sacrifice of martyrs, to the pursuit of the common good through education and social assistance, especially in areas of great poverty and in theatres of conflict. These efforts advance peace and testify that individuals of different nationalities, cultures and traditions can indeed live and work together, provided that the dignity of the human person is placed at the centre of their activities.

Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. I think particularly of the fundamentalist-inspired terrorism that in the past year has also reaped numerous victims throughout the world: in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, the United States of America, Tunisia and Turkey. These are vile acts that use children to kill, as in Nigeria, or target people at prayer, as in the Coptic Cathedral of Cairo, or travellers or workers, as in Brussels, or passers-by in the streets of cities like Nice and Berlin, or simply people celebrating the arrival of the new year, as in Istanbul.

We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power. Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name. Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty. It can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders. The former are charged with transmitting those religious values which do not separate fear of God from love of neighbour. The latter are charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society that sees no opposition between social belonging, sanctioned by the principle of citizenship, and the spiritual dimension of life. Government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism. This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty; such policies cannot prescind from a clear appreciation of the importance of the family as the privileged place for growth in human maturity, and from a major investment in the areas of education and culture.

In this regard, I was interested to learn of the Council of Europe’s initiative on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which in the past year discussed the role of education in preventing radicalization leading to terrorism and estremist violence. This represents an occasion for a better understanding of the role of religion and education in bringing about the authentic social harmony needed for coexistence in a multicultural society.

Here I would express my conviction that political authorities must not limit themselves to ensuring the security of their own citizens – a concept which could easily be reduced to a mere “quiet life” – but are called also to work actively for the growth of peace. Peace is an “active virtue”, one that calls for the engagement and cooperation of each individual and society as a whole. As the Second Vatican Council observed, “peace will never be achieved once and for all, but must be built up continually”,[8] by safeguarding the good of persons and respecting their dignity. Peacemaking requires above all else renouncing violence in vindicating one’s rights.[9] To this very principle I devoted my Message for the 2017 World Day of Peace, with the title, “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace”. I wished primarily to reaffirm that nonviolence is a political style based on the rule of law and the dignity of each person.

Peacemaking also demands that “those causes of discord which lead to wars be rooted out”,[10] beginning with acts of injustice. Indeed, justice and peace are intimately linked[11]. Yet, as Saint John Paul II observed, “because human justice is always fragile and imperfect, subject as it is to the limitations and egoism of individuals and groups, it must include and, as it were, be completed by the forgiveness that heals and rebuilds human relations from their foundations… Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquillity of order” which involves “the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing”.[12] Those words remain most timely, and met with openness on the part of some Heads of State or Government to my request to make a gesture of clemency towards the incarcerated. To them, and to all those who promote dignified living conditions for prisoners and their reintegration into society, I would like to express my particular appreciation and gratitude...