Message to Buddhists for Feast of Vesakh

Education «in Respect for Life Should Be One of Our Urgent Priorities»

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 9, 2002 ( Cardinal Francis Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, sent a message to Buddhists on the occasion of the traditional feast of Vesakh.

In the Therevada tradition, the most important Buddhist feast (celebrated on May 19) commemorates the principal events in the life of Buddha. In countries of Mahayana tradition, these events are commemorated on different days. However, the most important celebration, Vesakh, commemorates the birth of Siddharta Gautama (April 8).

Here is Cardinal Arinze´s message, entitled: «Buddhists and Christians: Promoting a Culture of Life for the Future.»

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Dear Buddhist Friends,

1. I am writing to you again this year on the occasion of the feast of Vesakh to offer my hearty congratulations on behalf of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. I pray that all our Buddhist friends throughout the world may have a happy and joyful feast.

2. Addressing this message of congratulations, I cannot but recall the dramatic events of September 11 last year. Since then, people throughout the world have felt a new fear for the future. In the midst of such fear, would it not be our duty, as Christians and Buddhists, together with all people of good will, to encourage hope and to build a culture based on this hope in order to contribute to a more peaceful world in the future?

3. We are living in an era marked by great technological progress. This raises questions about the promotion of human values, and it is on this topic that I would like to share some thoughts with you.

One of the most important human values is doubtlessly the right to life, to be protected from the moment of conception up to the moment of natural death. However, it must be considered a serious paradox that this right to life is threatened precisely by today´s highly advanced technology. Such a paradox has reached the extent of creating a culture of death, in which abortion, euthanasia, and genetic experiments on human life itself have already obtained, or are on the way to obtaining, legal recognition. How can we not make a correlation between this culture of death, in which the most innocent, defenseless, and critically ill human lives are threatened with death, and terrorist attacks, such as those of September 11, in which thousands of innocent people were slaughtered? We must say that both of these are built on contempt for human life.

4. The Buddhist teaching and tradition uphold respect for all sentient beings no matter how insignificant they may appear. If even a seemingly valueless creature is treated with such care, how much more respect is there for the human being, who, we Christians believe, is created in the image and likeness of God himself. The dignity of the human being and the rights that flow from it have certainly been a primary concern of Catholics in recent times. It is precisely on this common respect for human beings that we Christians and Buddhists should build a culture of life, in which the right to life is fully protected from conception until natural death and all conditions necessary for a life worthy of human beings are concretely realized. This would be a way to counteract and overcome the culture of death.

5. It is our common belief that respect for human life first inhabits people´s hearts before it becomes a social reality. Here I would like to make special mention of young people, whose hearts are probably scandalized by and suffer from the tragic events they have seen with their own eyes. An education particularly for the youth in respect for life should be one of our urgent priorities. Through our respective religious communities and institutions we could devise our own approach to educating the youth so that strong ethical convictions and a culture of life may prevail among them. Only to the degree that an ethics and a culture of life will prevail in the whole of society can we hope that the principle of respect for life will be enshrined in society´s attitudes and laws.

6. Dear Buddhist friends, these are the thoughts that I wish to share with you this year. Together let us look forward to the future with hope that it will bring a more peaceful and flourishing world for all. Happy feast!

Cardinal Francis Arinze,

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