Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew attended the “Interreligious Dialogue for Peace, Promoting Peaceful Coexistence & Common Citizenship” in Vienna on 26 February 2018. The conference created a first-ever joint action plan for Arab religious leaders to lead the way in repairing the divisions created by extremists, and rebuilding social cohesion and common citizenship in the Arab region.
The platform will be the first of its kind for the leaders of Christian and Muslim communities in the region, a space where they can cooperate to jointly promote the best interests of all the people in the region. Religious leaders and policymakers consider this institution essential; the lack of such a platform is as an obstacle to sustained interreligious dialogue.
Besides His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, His Beatitude Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria participated in the conference. With them, more than 200 religious leaders, policymakers, academics, and representatives of international and civil society organizations are attending the conference, including leaders from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Muslim World League and Evangelical Church of Egypt.
The conference is being organized by the Vienna-based International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID), and it represents represents a milestone in KAICIID’s programme to promote social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in the Arab region.
In an opening address, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew offered greetings and thanked those who traveled for this important historic endeavor. “It is indeed an extraordinary joy for us to be in the presence of so many tireless workers for peace, who have travelled to be in Vienna this week in order to participate in this conference and address the increasing threats that affect human dignity, understanding, openness and peace in today’s world,” he said. “May our work here bear fruit during a confusing and challenging time in our history.”
In spite of the struggle for human rights over many decades, many governments around the world continue to legislate discriminatory laws and use force in order to suppress and deny their citizens’ freedom of religion or belief, continued the Ecumenical Patriarch.
“Over the last few years, the percentage of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities against religious minority groups has steadily increased around the globe,” he continued. “Conditions in many parts of the world are far from ideal.”
The contribution of religion is crucial to overcoming the worldwide crisis. The Ecumenical Patriarch insisted on the importance of love:
“Our own personal response to these challenges is love, ἀγάπη. It has been recommended in the past that tolerance—tolerating each other—could help us achieve a peaceful coexistence and a common citizenship. But our conviction is that to merely bear another through toleration emphasizes the pervasive goal of dominance. If one must tolerate another, the one being tolerated is viewed as less valuable than the one who tolerates. This is a great deception. We must move beyond tolerance to love. Love is much more than tolerance. When we embrace and welcome ‘the other’ with genuine concern and love—as if ‘the other’ is our very own neighbor—we have the foundation for creating lasting peace in the world. The Greek word for solidarity is ἀλληλεγγύη—coming close and becoming a neighbor to “the other”. This is the essential message of the parable of the Good Samaritan; the reply that Jesus Christ gave to the question of “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Christ implied that rather than asking who our neighbor is, we should instead become the neighbor for “the other” (Luke 10: 37-38). When neighbors join together to seek the benefit of ‘the other’, we begin to live in solidarity. This is the seed for broader, universal solidarity.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew underlined the surnatural origin of love as a gift of God:
“Love surpasses human capacity. It is a divine gift. Therefore, we strongly believe
that to achieve it demands much more than our human spontaneous response. It
requires something much more than our simple will to follow God’s invitation. It
implies a lifelong and continuous response, a commitment through faith, prayer, and
spiritual struggle–in other words, through religion.”
The event also saw opening remarks from H.E. Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muammar, KAICIID secretary general; H.E. Dr Michael Linhart, secretary general for Foreign Affairs, Republic of Austria; H.E. Nizar Madami, state minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; H.E. Belén Alfaro, ambassador at large for the Alliance of Civilizations and for Interreligious Dialogue; and His Eminence Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.