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Addressing the Crisis in the Middle East
The Pope just completed a courageous three-day trip to Lebanon amid all the strife in the region. Following are excerpts from some of his speeches and observations.
Pope Benedict XVI, Sept. 15, 2012
The wealth of any country is found primarily in its inhabitants. The country’s future depends on them, individually and collectively, as does its capacity to work for peace. A commitment to peace is possible only in a unified society. Unity, on the other hand, is not the same as uniformity. Social cohesion requires unstinting respect for the dignity of each person and the responsible participation of all in contributing the best of their talents and abilities. The energy needed to build and consolidate peace also demands that we constantly return to the wellsprings of our humanity. Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart….
While more evident in countries which are experiencing armed conflict – those wars so full of futility and horror – there are assaults on the integrity and the lives of individuals taking place in other countries too. Unemployment, poverty, corruption, a variety of addictions, exploitation, different forms of trafficking, and terrorism not only cause unacceptable suffering to their victims but also a great impoverishment of human potential. We run the risk of being enslaved by an economic and financial mindset which would subordinate ‘being’ to ‘having’! The destruction of a single human life is a loss for humanity as a whole. Mankind is one great family for which all of us are responsible. By questioning, directly or indirectly, or even before the law, the inalienable value of each person and the natural foundation of the family, some ideologies undermine the foundations of society. We need to be conscious of these attacks on our efforts to build harmonious coexistence. Only effective solidarity can act as an antidote, solidarity that rejects whatever obstructs respect for each human being, solidarity that supports policies and initiatives aimed at bringing peoples together in an honest and just manner…. A better quality of life and integral development are only possible when wealth and competences are shared in a spirit of respect for the identity of each individual. But this kind of cooperative, serene and animated way of life is impossible without trust in others, whoever they may be….
The goal of education is to guide and support the development of the freedom to make right decisions, which may run counter to widespread opinions, the fashions of the moment, or forms of political and religious ideology. This is the price of building a culture of peace! Evidently, verbal and physical violence must be rejected, for these are always an assault on human dignity, both the perpetrator and the victim. Emphasizing peacemaking and its positive effect for the common good also creates interest in peace. As history shows, peaceful actions have a significant effect on local, national and international life. Education for peace will form men and women who are generous and upright, attentive to all, especially those most in need. Thoughts of peace, words of peace and acts of peace create an atmosphere of respect, honesty and cordiality, where faults and offenses can be truthfully acknowledged as a means of advancing together on the path of reconciliation….
We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbor. Love of neighbor disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death. But it is possible for us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good. It is to this conversion of heart that we are called….
In Lebanon, Christianity and Islam have lived side by side for centuries. It is not uncommon to see two religions within the same family. If this is possible within the same family, why should it not be possible at the level of the whole of society? The particular character of the Middle East consists in the centuries-old mix of diverse elements. Admittedly, they have fought one another, sadly that is also true. A pluralistic society can only exist on the basis of mutual respect, the desire to know the other, and continuous dialogue. Such dialogue is only possible when the parties are conscious of the existence of values which are common to all great cultures because they are rooted in the nature of the human person….It cannot be forgotten that religious freedom is the basic right on which many other rights depend. The freedom to profess and practice one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone….Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace! It promotes a harmonious life for individuals and communities by a shared commitment to noble causes and by the pursuit of truth, which does not impose itself by violence but rather ‘by the force of its own truth’: the Truth which is in God….The peacemaker is humble and just. Thus believers today have an essential role, that of bearing witness to the peace which comes from God and is a gift bestowed on all of us in our personal, family, social, political and economic life. The failure of upright men and women to act must not permit evil to triumph. It is worse still to do nothing.
[Earlier, on the flight to Lebanon, Pope Benedict was interviewed by Father Lombardi. Excerpts…]
Father Lombardi: Many Catholics are expressing concern about increasing forms of fundamentalism in various parts of the world and about attacks that claim large numbers of Christians as victims. In this difficult and often violent context, how can the Church respond to the imperative of dialogue with Islam, on which you have often insisted?
Holy Father: Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world. Therefore the task of the Church and of religions is to undertake a purification – a lofty purification of religion from such temptations is always necessary. It is our task to illumine and purify consciences and to make it clear that every person is an image of God. We must respect in the other not only his otherness, but also, within that otherness, the essence we truly have in common as the image of God, and we must treat the other as an image of God. So the essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.
Father Lombardi: In the context of the surging clamor for democracy that has begun to spread in many countries of the Middle East through the so-called “Arab Spring,” and in view of the social conditions in most of these countries, where Christians are a minority, is there not a risk of an inevitable tension between the dominant majority and the survival of Christianity?
Holy Father: I would say that in itself, the Arab spring is a positive thing: it is a desire for greater democracy, greater freedom, greater cooperation and a revived Arab identity. This cry for freedom, which comes from a young generation with more cultural and professional formation, who seek greater participation in political and social life, is a mark of progress, a truly positive development that has been hailed by Christians too. Of course, bearing in mind the history of revolutions, we know that this important and positive cry for freedom is always in danger of overlooking one aspect – one fundamental dimension of freedom – namely tolerance of the other, the fact that human freedom is always a shared freedom, which can only grow through sharing, solidarity and living side by side according to certain rules. This is always the danger, and it is the danger in this case too. We must do all we can to ensure that the concept of freedom, the desire for freedom, goes in the right direction and does not overlook tolerance, the overall social fabric, and reconciliation, which are essential elements of freedom. Hence the renewed Arab identity seems to me to imply also a renewal of the centuries-old, millennia-old, coexistence of Christians and Arabs, who side by side, in mutual tolerance of majority and minority, built these lands and cannot do other than live side by side. I therefore think it important to recognize the positive elements in these movements and to do all we can to ensure that freedom is correctly conceived and corresponds to growth in dialogue rather than domination of one group over others.
Father Lombardi: (Many) Christians have felt obliged, reluctantly, to leave their homeland. What does the Catholic Church intend to do or say in order to help in this situation and to stem the flow of Christians from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries?
Holy Father: First of all I must say that it is not only Christians who are leaving, but also Muslims. Naturally, there is a great danger of Christians leaving these lands and their presence there being lost, and we must do all we can to help them to stay. The essential way to help would be to put an end to war and violence which is causing this exodus….What can we do against war? Of course we can always spread the message of peace, we can make it clear that violence never solves problems and we can build up the forces of peace. The work of journalists is important here, as they can help a great deal to show that violence destroys rather than builds, that it is of no use to anyone.