This is the text of a message from the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, to Muslims on the occasion of the end of Ramadan, their month of fasting.
Education for Dialogue: A Duty for Christians and Muslims
Dear Muslim Friends,
1. First of all I wish to send you my best wishes for ´Id al-Fitr with which the month of Ramadan closes.
Together with the other religious practices which accompany it, such as prayer and alms-giving, Ramadan is a time for assessing relationships with God and with one´s fellow human beings, a time for turning back to God and towards one´s brothers and sisters. Fasting is one of the ways in which we give worship to God, come to the help of the poor and strengthen family ties and the bonds of friendship. Fasting is a form of education, for it reveals to us our own weakness and opens us up to God, so that we may be open to others.
Though the fast you observe has its own characteristics and discipline, fasting is a practice which is also common to Christianity and to other religions. This month provides a propitious moment therefore for us to remind ourselves of “the spiritual bonds which unite us,” to use the words of Pope John Paul II.
2. The Year 2001 has been proclaimed by the United Nations as “The International Year of Dialogue between Civilizations.” This gives an opportunity to reflect on the bases of dialogue, on its consequences and on the fruit which humanity may harvest from it. The dialogue of civilizations, the dialogue of cultures, the dialogue between religions, are nothing less than human encounters whose purpose is to build up a civilization of love and peace. We are all called to promote such dialogue according to its distinctive forms, as a way of bringing about appreciation of other cultures and religions.
3. All who are concerned with the education of youth are certainly conscious of the need of educating for dialogue. In accompanying young people along the highways of life, attention has to be given to the preparation required for living in a society marked by ethnic, cultural and religious plurality.
Such education implies, first of all, that we broaden our vision to an ever wider horizon, become capable of looking beyond our own country, our own ethnic group, our own cultural tradition, so that we can see humanity as a single family in both its diversity and its common aspirations. This is education in the fundamental values of human dignity, peace, freedom and solidarity. It evokes the desire to know other people, to be able to share their sorrows and to understand their deepest feelings. Education for dialogue means nurturing the hope that conflict situations can be resolved through personal and collective commitment.
Education for dialogue is not just for children and young people, it is also important for adults. For true dialogue is an ongoing process.
4. In October 1999 an Interreligious Assembly, “On the Eve of the Third Millennium: Collaboration Among the Different Religions,” brought together in the Vatican some 200 persons belonging to about 20 different religious traditions. Thirty-six Muslims, from 21 different countries, were present and took an active part in the deliberations and in the writing of the Final Message. This Message confirms the importance of education for promoting understanding, cooperation and mutual respect. It lists some of the ways and means of carrying out this education: support for the family, assistance to young people in the formation of conscience, the provision of objective information about different religions especially in textbooks, respect of the mass media for the various religions, so that each one can recognize itself in the image projected.
5. The Final Report of the Assembly also referred to education as the key to promoting interreligious harmony through respect for different religious traditions. Is it necessary to repeat what the participants said about education? That it is a process which enables one, above and beyond the knowledge of other religions, to come to an appreciation of others through real attentiveness and true respect. Is it not the noblest of arts to learn to respect and love truth, justice, peace and reconciliation?
6. Prayer and fasting dispose each one of us to fulfil our duties better, including that of educating the younger generations about the dialogue of civilizations and religions. May God assist us in achieving this aim in the best way possible. On the occasion of Id al-Fitr may He grant you the grace of serenity and prosperity, and bestow on you His abundant blessings. We are sure that God listens to the prayer which rises to Him from a sincere heart: for you, as for us, He is a Generous God.
Cardinal Francis Arinze