INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Rome: Defeat extremists through Christian-Muslim cooperation
, April 25, 2015
In an effort to deal with the problems of Islamist extremism and the persecution of believers, the Holy See has launched a diplomatic offensive to bring the world’s great religions together.
Egyptian President el-Sisi
A visible effect of this commitment is a statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council on March 13, drafted by the Holy See together with Lebanon and Russia.
According to Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the UN in Geneva, the statement was “the first time we explicitly mentioned the category of Christian persons”.
The joint statement clearly recognises the abuses suffered by persons from any religious, ethnic, or cultural background simply because they want to exercise their religion.
The statement follows repeated calls by Pope Francis for the protection of religious, ethnic and other minorities in the Middle East.
Since the release of the joint statement, the UN Human Rights Council discussed in a special session the situation in Nigeria, where radical Islamist group Boko Haram has killed more than 15,500 people since 2012.
Archbishop Tomasi said: “We are witnessing the continued development and dissemination of a radical and ruthless type of extremism inspired by an ideology which attempts to justify its crimes in the name of religion.”
The Holy See Permanent Observer added that “with the recent explicit allegiance of Boko Haram to the Islamic State group, one cannot be blind to the fact that such extremist groups are growing like a cancer, spreading to other parts of the world, and attracting foreign militants to fight in their ranks”.
The Holy See’s final goal is help build a network able to stop the persecution of Christians and other religious groups, and to back the building of pluralistic societies with solid political systems, capable of protecting fundamental human rights.
In an interview with the political editor of The Australian, Dennis Shanahan, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, newly appointed head of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, said: “The Holy See will continue to dialogue with Muslim leaders and teachers, and to encourage respect of the true spiritual values which come from authentic religious experience.
“At the same time, the Holy Father has been very clear in rejecting and in encouraging the condemnation of all violence in the name of religion, and indeed of religious fundamentalism as such.
“The Holy See will continue to make efforts to contribute to the peaceful resolution of the conflicts which are driving Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities from their homes and the places their communities have lived for centuries.”
Fr Miguel Ayuso Guixot, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, stressed the need to “nurture a culture of democracy”, to develop “a fair rule of law, so that everyone is equal before the law” and to develop “needed state institutions at the service of every citizen”.
The Pontifical Council’s efforts are aimed at awakening the consciences of the Muslim world to oppose the brutalities carried out by Islamist extremists. In a declaration last August, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue called on Muslim leaders to speak out, asking: “Where is our credibility if we do not denounce what is going on, which is offending God and humanity?”
The same question was asked by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who is a devout Muslim, in an address to his country’s Muslim religious leaders in January.
He said: “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.” He urged Muslims to stand up publicly against extremism.
Shortly after the Islamic State seized Mosul and much of Nineveh province in northern Iraq, Pope Francis sent Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, as a special envoy to the country.
Cardinal Filoni returned to Iraq during Holy Week, visiting refugee camps, celebrating Mass for refugees, and meeting people to see how their conditions could be improved.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, he said that, “despite the precariousness of the situation, I met people willing to remain in their home country”.
These initiatives are designed to form a broad religious alliance of Christians and Muslims against extremism and terrorism, not just to protect Christian populations from persecution.
The Australian’s editorial (April 7, 2015) said: “A quarter of a century ago, St John Paul II played a pivotal role in the collapse of Soviet communism and the Berlin Wall through his support for the Solidarity movement in his Polish homeland and the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts with the US.
“As many in the Middle East, Africa and Asia struggle with death and displacement, and the world faces the deadly threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the Vatican is well placed to play a constructive role.”