Religion Seen as a Factor, But Not the Cause, of Conflicts in Asia

Vatican Official Attends Forum of Christian and Muslim Leaders in Philippines

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 4, 2003 ( Religious differences can aggravate conflicts in Asia but are not their primary cause, says a Vatican official just back from an unprecedented interreligious meeting in the Philippines.

More than 100 Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders and Muslim scholars ended the meeting in Pasay City, in which they analyzed the way believers can contribute to peace. Among the participants representing 13 countries was Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The initiative sprang from a Philippines-based dialogue group composed of Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors and Muslim scholars, or ulamas. The group particularly addressed the violence fueled by radical Muslim groups on the island of Mindanao.

«The extremists, those who are violent, are few,» Archbishop Fitzgerald said on his return from the Philippines. «The majority of Muslims want peace, but they want peace with justice.»

In an interview on Vatican Radio, the archbishop said that religion is not the cause of conflicts or wars, but rather a factor of conflict.

«It enters a conflict and aggravates it but, in general, it is not the cause,» he said. «The causes are among other factors: They are political, economic or social. Difference of religion is a factor that strengthens this aspect of the conflict.»

The archbishop explained that, with the exception of the Philippines, Christians in Asia are a small minority, all the more reason why «ecumenical collaboration is necessary between Catholics and Christians of other churches and communities.»

«This was attested in this forum between bishops and ulamas,» he said. «In the beginning, only Catholic bishops met with Muslim leaders in the Philippines,» but later «they were open to bishops of other churches. It is a good example.»

The Pasay City meeting concluded with a document in which the participants acknowledge their responsibility and faults, in particular, when they have not rectified prejudices that can sow discord. They also acknowledged that religions could be manipulated at times.

The text presents the «pillars of peace,» put forward 40 years ago by Pope John XXIII in the encyclical «Pacem in Terris» — truth, justice, love and freedom — and adds two more: sincerity and prayer.

Archbishop Fitzgerald said the meeting in the Philippines was a sign of encouragement.

In Mindanao, «not only bishops and Muslim religious leaders, but also local leaders, imams and parish priests try to extend the dialogue,» he said. «This seems very important to me. They meet at the village and neighborhood level and then help the people to meet one another.»

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