.- In a meeting with interfaith leaders at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C on Thursday evening, Pope Benedict XVI praised American traditions of religious freedom and religious involvement in public life. He also encouraged inter-faith cooperation and dialogue as a way of both building mutual understanding and the strengthening society. However, the Pope also said that such cooperation and dialogue should not obscure the real differences between religious faiths.
In his address, Pope Benedict lauded what he called the United Statesâ âlong history of cooperationâ between religious faiths. As examples of such cooperation, he cited interreligious prayer services at Thanksgiving, joint charitable action, and speaking with a âshared voiceâ on public issues. These activities, the Pope said, brought members of different religions together to âenhance mutual understanding and promote the common good.â
âI encourage all religious groups in America to persevere in their collaboration and thus enrich public life with the spiritual values that motivate your action in the world,â Pope Benedict said.
The Holy Father cited the mission statement of the meetingâs venue, the Pope John Paul II Center, which offers a Christian voice in the âhuman search for meaning and purpose in life.â He said the centerâs mission recalls the American conviction that âall people should be free to pursue happiness in a way consonant with their nature as creatures endowed with reason and free will.â
Pope Benedict referenced the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose nineteenth century writings argued that, in American life, religion and freedom are âintimately linkedâ in upholding democracy. The Pope expressed hope that other countries could learn from the United States that âa united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples provided that all recognize religious liberty as a basic civil right.â
He also quoted approvingly one of the countryâs Latin mottoes, "E pluribus unum," which means "out of many, one."
Noting that religious freedom could not be protected only within the law, the Pope said that protecting people, especially minorities, from unjust discrimination and prejudice ârequires constant effort on the part of all members of society to ensure that citizens are afforded the opportunity to worship peaceably and to pass on their religious heritage to their children.â
Pope Benedict said that interreligious dialogue enriches both its participants and the surrounding society. This dialogue reveals a shared esteem for âethical values, discernable to human reason, which are revered by all peoples of goodwill.â He urged all religious people to bear common witness to these values as a way of serving society as a whole. He cited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said, âNo greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of faith.â
The Pope listed the âenormousâ responsibilities of religious leaders: âto imbue society with a profound awe and respect for human life and freedom; to ensure that human dignity is recognized and cherished; to facilitate peace and justice; to teach children what is right, good and reasonable!â
While praising various governmentsâ sponsorship of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, Pope Benedict said that such dialogues, along with religious freedom and faith-based education, âaim at something more than a consensusâ about strategies for advancing peace.
âThe broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth,â he said.
The truth, the Pope said, involved questions like âWhat is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence?â
Addressing these deeper questions, the Pope said, was the only solid basis of peace and security for human family. âWherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace," the Pope said, citing the Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace.
Pope Benedict said these deeper questions are âtoo often marginalized,â but âcan never be erased from the human heart.â Citing several Psalms reflecting human restlessness with the passing world, he emphasized the special duty, even competence, of religious leaders to place deeper questions at the forefront of life. Such leaders must also âreawaken mankind to the mystery of human existenceâ and make room for reflection and prayer in a busy world.
The Pope then proposed the Christian answer to such deep questions:
âConfronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue.â
Pope Benedict also suggested that in attempts to discover common ground in interreligious dialogue, âperhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity. While always uniting our hearts and minds in the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of truth.â
Religious dialogue must not stop at identifying common values, but must also ask about their âultimate foundation.â The truth, Pope Benedict said, reveals to man âthe essential relationshipâ between the world and God. He also said the âheavenly giftâ of peace calls mankind to conform human history to the divine order.
âMay the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere,â the Pope concluded. Generous engagement in interreligious dialogue and âcountless small acts of love, understanding and compassion,â the Pope said, lets us be âinstruments of peace for the whole human family.â
To view the full address click here.