Religion is key to protecting human life and promoting peace, Pope says to European leaders

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Addressing 350 participants at the Conference of the Ministers of the Interior of the European Union, Pope John Paul II told European leaders that religion in public life is key to protecting human life and to promoting peace in the world.

The Conference has as its theme, “Interreligious Dialogue: a Factor of Social Cohesion in Europe and an Instrument of Peace in the Mediterranean Region.”

The Pope told the ministers that this theme “recognizes the importance of religion, not only for safeguarding human life but also for promoting peace.”

The Pope said that building spaces of freedom, security and justice “involves seeking new solutions for the problems linked with respect for life, with the right of the family, with emigration; problems which must be considered, not only in the European perspective but also in the context of the dialogue with the countries of the Mediterranean area.”

It also requires, he continued  “the awareness of being one family of persons called to build a more just and fraternal world,” an awareness present “above all in the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”

“In this regard, how can we not note with a certain sadness that the faithful of these three religions, whose historical roots are in the Middle East, have not yet established among them a fully peaceful coexistence precisely where they were born?,” the Pope also said.

John Paul II also said that “current efforts at intercultural and interreligious dialogue” in Europe do not exclude “an adequate recognition, even legislative, of the specific religious traditions in which every people is rooted.”

The Crucifix in public

In a clear reference to the debate sparked in Italy concerning the presence of crucifixes in public schools, the Pontiff said “the recognition of a specific religious patrimony of a society calls for the recognition of the symbols which qualify it.”

“If, in the name of an incorrect interpretation of the principle of equality, one were to renounce expressing such a religious tradition and the cultural values linked to it, the fragmentation of today's multiethnic and multicultural societies could easily be transformed in a factor of instability and, therefore, of conflict.”

The Post Sept. 11 Europe

Turning to the question of initiatives for peace, the Pope recalled that, “following the dramatic events such as the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, even representatives of different religions multiplied their initiatives in favor of peace.”

He pointed out that at the end of the January 24, 2002 Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, religious leaders issued a declaration committing themselves to “uprooting the causes of terrorism, defending the right of every person to a dignified life according to their own cultural identity and to freely form a family, sustaining one another in a common effort to defeat selfishness, abuse of power, hatred and violence, learning from past experience that peace without justice is not true peace.”

The Holy Father concluded  repeating what he said in Assisi: “God Himself has placed in men's hearts an instinctive desire to live in peace and harmony. It is a longing that is more intimate and tenacious than any instinct for violence.” 

“Whoever uses religion to foment violent contradicts its most authentic and profound inspiration.”

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