"A Religious Leader Who Preaches Violence is Neither A Leader Nor Religious"

Andrea Riccardi, Founder of SantEgidio Community Speaks to ZENIT on the Need For Interreligious Dialogue

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A conference was held yesterday in the Hall of Congresses of the Sant’ Egidio Community, which gathered representatives of the Catholic Church and Shi’ite institutions. The participants addressed the topic of the “responsibility of believers in a global and plural world” and dialogue for the building of peace, at an historical moment marked by many crises and conflicts on the international scene.

Speaking to ZENIT, Professor Andrea Riccardi, founder and former president of Sant’Egidio Community, said: “I think that between different worlds we must discover one another: today either there is friendship or there is conflict, It’s no longer possible to ignore one another.”

During his intervention at the end of the conference, Riccardi asserted: “a religious leader that preaches violence is neither a leader nor religious.”

He then added that “religions that do not know how to address globalization are destined to irrelevance or fanaticism,” because today it is necessary to live in global communication. Moreover, with globalization, the world has neither become ecumenical nor found peace and justice. What is a Catholic for a Shi’a and a Shi’a for a Catholic? In answering this question, Riccardi said that, during the congress, a journalist asked the reason for today’s congress and whether Shi’ite immigrants were present: he had not understood that, with globalization, “there either is friendship or there is conflict.”

The Founder of Sant’Egidio Community said that “a global man should be more religious, more of a believer than a man of the Middle Ages or a peasant,” because our global society is in great need of religion and spiritual values.

“Dialogue determines the ecology of the world. If we ask ourselves, of what use is dialogue, we could ask ourselves of what use is prayer. We sow today and reap in five, ten or more years,” continued Riccardi.

“I would like this dialogue between Catholics and Shi’ites to continue opportunely. Today is a first encounter. An encounter does not leave us as we were before, and we must always improve,” he concluded.

For his part, Imam Jawad al-Khoei mentioned the participation in the congress of Ulema of several countries, all with great influence in society, who proposed very important ideas, which reflect the thought of the Shi’ites. Al-Khoei quoted Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran’s words, according to whom “it’s not necessary to impose oneself on others.” The Imam added that to impose a constriction in the reading of religion is a sign of ignorance. The religious leaders are accused of being the cause of this constriction, hence, of terrorism when, instead, they should be part of the solution. We must give hope and optimism, to understand that the problem is not in religion, but in ignorance of it. Therefore, a religious State cannot be exacted.

“There are many points in common between Shi’ites and Catholics, such as the role of reason, spirituality and morality. In this congress we underscored the importance of human dignity and we recalled the importance of protecting values and moral principles at all levels. “

The conference was organized jointly by Sant’Egidio Community and the Imam al-Khoei Foundation, an international Foundation associated to the highest religious authority of Iraqi Shi’ite Islam, the great Ayatollah Al Sistani.

Taking part in the meeting were some ten religious dignitaries of the first order from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait. Along with them were eminent Catholic authorities, such as Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community; Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Together with other Catholic representatives, they addressed the subjects of the relation between State and religion, the role of believers in today’s society and the prospects of dialogue and cooperation for the future. 

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