MESSAGE by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew “2017 - Islamic Solidarity Year: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue” (Baku, December 21, 2017)
Delivered by His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France
On behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we would like to congratulate you on the occasion of the International Conference entitled: “2017 – Islamic Solidarity Year: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue”. We would especially like to thank His Excellency, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, for supporting such an important initiative.
The topic of today’s International Conference reminds us of the crucial articulation and essential interdependence of solidarity and dialogue. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church of 2016 declared with a prophetic voice that: “Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The Church strives to make ‘the peace from on high’ more tangibly felt on earth. True peace is not achieved by force of arms, but only through love that ‘does not seek its own’ (1 Cor 13.5). The oil of faith must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred.” (Encyclical, par.17)
The word “Solidarity” contains the very essence of the social ethos, referring to the pillars of freedom, love and justice. It means steadiness in the struggle for a just society, the respect of human dignity beyond any division of social classes. We believe that the future of humanity depends on the establishment of a culture of solidarity.
Religious traditions are no longer isolated. On the contrary, due to phenomena such as globalization, religions are increasingly called to work together, along with public authorities and civil society, to reestablish a culture of solidarity. Let us be honest. There is a crisis of solidarity throughout the world, based on mistrust and misrepresentation of the Other. For us, a crisis of solidarity is also a crisis of love. As Saint John the Theologian wrote in his first Letter: “Let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
Economic and social problems affect human beings at the center of their lives, their freedom and dignity. Religions have developed an impressive tradition of philanthropy and solidarity. Even modern adversaries of religion are astonished at the social power and impact of faith. Interfaith dialogue, environmental awareness and the culture of solidarity are responsibilities that we owe not only to the present generation. Future generations are also entitled to a world free from fanaticism and violence, unspoiled by pollution and natural devastation, a society which is a place of solidarity.
Today, we want to stand with our Muslim friends for the same reason that we were present at the Al-Azhar University, in April 2017, and we want to repeat today: “Inter-religious dialogue recognizes the differences of religious traditions and promotes peaceful coexistence and cooperation between people and cultures. Interreligious dialogue does not mean to deny one’s own faith, but rather to change one’s mind or attitude towards the other. So it can also heal and disperse prejudices and contribute to a mutual comprehension and the pacific resolution of conflicts. Biases and prejudices come from the misrepresentation of religion. By our presence today, during this important Conference, we would like to oppose at least one prejudice: Islam does not equal terrorism, because terrorism is a stranger to any religion. This is why interreligious dialogue can chase away fear and suspicion. It is central for peace, but only in a spirit of mutual confidence and respect.”
There is no solidarity without dialogue. Dialogue is the antidote to fundamentalism. It is a gesture and source of greater solidarity. Dialogue with the “Other” does not threaten our particular identity. On the contrary, it deepens and enriches it. Dialogue resists both fanaticism and relativism. It affirms plurality and intercultural exchange. Dialogue is a hopeful chance and a positive challenge. Fear of difference and otherness leads to enclosure within the boundaries of our own particular culture and consequently to fundamentalism.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with joy that we deliver greetings from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is the symbol of unity for the Orthodox Church, in addition to promoting solidarity and dialogue among mankind around the world. We should think of religion as a lever for social inclusion, which reveals another responsibility that we should pursue. The challenge of religious cooperation is to find the right balance between metaphysical discourse that transcends our societal framework, in Christian theology we call believers the “soul of the world”, and simultaneously, making the social activity of religions more inclusive. In other words, we are called to reconcile the formal distinction between the sacred and the secular through our synergies. Our role, as religious leaders, is to facilitate the representation of the “other” and to support the initiatives of the public authorities and civil society. We need to promote the skills we have been developing over the centuries: dialogue, mutual recognition, inter-culturality and inter-religiosity, and ultimately solidarity.