Violence a "Crime Against Religion," Leaders Say

Congress Organized by European Commission and Orthodox Patriarch

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BRUSSELS, Belgium, DEC. 23, 2001 ( Eighty European Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders made an appeal, at the end of a congress on “God´s Peace in the World,” that faith not be used to justify hatred and violence.

The two-day meeting that ended Thursday was organized by Bartholomew I, Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, and Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission.

Among the participants were two cardinals; Orthodox bishops; several rabbis and representatives of the World Jewish Congress; Muslim muftis; and leaders of moderate Muslim states, such as Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, read a message from John Paul II, in which the Pontiff requested the participants to reflect on and commit themselves to the “general renewal of the heart of individuals and of relations among peoples.”

“Only through reciprocal forgiveness and our will to establish justice will we make the sacred nature of man and his dignity shine,” the papal message states.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. President George W. Bush also sent messages to the congress. Bush´s message was entitled “The Peace of God in the World — Toward Peaceful Coexistence and Collaboration Between the Monotheist Religions.”

The congress´s final appeal recalls the attacks on the United States and the crisis in the Holy Land.

The statement continues: “In a spirit of good will and sincerity, we have debated the present spiritual condition of humanity, from the point of view of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Acknowledging that in the history of humankind, great religious communities have committed crimes against humanity, we state, nevertheless, that extremist expressions of faith do not reflect the teaching of these religions.”

Mention was made of the Declarations of Berne (1992) and the Bosphorus (1994), which state that “a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion.”

“The true role of religion is to bring God´s peace on earth, to impede the force of faith being used for ends that have nothing to do with its role,” the congress´s participants stated.

Moreover, “the causes of local and regional tensions, especially in developing countries” must be addressed, and unjust situations must never justify the destruction of human lives, the conferees said.

The Brussels declaration unanimously rejects the thesis, which states that religion inevitably leads to the “clash of civilizations.” On the contrary, the declaration highlights the constructive and educational role of dialogue between civilizations.

Lastly, the document announced a “plan of action” calling for, among other things, congresses of opinion-makers, in order to foster understanding between religious communities, and interconfessional and intercultural initiatives.

The “Common Declaration” was presented by Patriarch Ignatius IV of Antioch, in the presence of Romano Prodi. The presentation was followed by a debated moderated by Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Prodi told his listeners that the declaration´s values are at the heart of the civil and political conception of the European Union, and that religions must also participate in the reform of the Union´s institutions leading to a European Constitution.

Other participants included Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel; European Commissars Anna Diamantopolou (social affairs) and Viviane Reding (education and culture); Reverend Konrad Raiser, secretary-general of the World Council of Churches; Sheik Ahmed Kuftaro, Grand Mufti of Syria; and Chief Rabbi Rene Samuel Sirat of France.

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