“That which is said by the Pope is taken very seriously not just by the Catholic community, but taken seriously by all of us,” says Lord Nicholas Henry Bourne of Aberystwyth, UK Minister for Faith.
In an exclusive interview with ZENIT, he said this at the event for his speech ‘At the Crossroads Between Faith and Communities,’ organized by the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Mrs. Sally Axworthy, with the support of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, held at the Institute located steps away from Rome’s Marian Basilica, Santa Maria Maggiore. The Lord’s speech was followed by a panel comprised of Ambassador of Germany to the Holy See, Dr. Michael Koch; Ambassador of Lebanon to the Holy See, Dr. Farid El Khazen; and Ambassador of the Netherlands to the Holy See, Mrs. Caroline Weijers.
Lord Bourne had also been in Rome to participate in the Vatican conference titled, “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Listening to the cry of the earth and of the poor, organized by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, which took place March 7-9 in the Vatican’s New Synod Hall.
In addressing the participants on March 9 in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis expressed the importance meeting these goals which were approved in 2015 by more than 190 countries, stressing: “Solutions are what I hope will emerge from this Conference: concrete responses to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” The Pope suggested, religions, working together in the name of peace, “can help us along the path of integral human development.”
In the interview, the Welsh-born Lord speaks on the importance of the Pope and what he says, to all faiths. He also discussed the significance of the Feb. 4 Document “on Human Fraternity on World Peace and Living Together’ signed in Abu Dhabi between Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Tayyeb, between the Catholic and Muslim faiths, during the Pope’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, Feb. 3-5, 2019, marking the first visit of a Pope to the Arabian Peninsula.
Recognizing religions have their occasional fanatics, who tend to be a small number, he still warned: “it is important that they do not hijack what is the mainstream creed, belief and core of the religion which is peaceful belief” and generally working together across faiths.
Lord Bourne also discusses his experience observing how faiths can and do come together to tackle global issues, and the legacy of Pope Benedict’s visit to the United Kingdom in 2010.
ZENIT was granted the following interview at the Embassy event, which can be read in its entirety below:
ZENIT: Lord Bourne, what has brought you to Rome in these days?
Lord Bourne: What brought me here specifically was the conference underway, providing the chance to discuss Sustainable Development Goals and the progress we are making in the United Kingdom. That was the immediate reason for coming, but around that, it has been a great chance to speak to our Ambassador, to visit the Vatican, to see officials, to meet with the Pope [The Pope addressed the SDG conference on March 8]… And it’s a key part of national life for us.
Obviously, the Catholic religion is a large part of British life. It is not a dominant religion, but it is certainly a very significant religion. And things, that which is said by the Pope is taken very seriously not just by the Catholic community, but taken seriously by all of us. Hence, it is very important we have a chance to import and learn what the thinking is in the Vatican and what the Pope’s current thinking is, as well.
ZENIT: What has been your greatest impression so far of this encounter in the Vatican in these days?
Lord Bourne: First of all, how well organized it is. Secondly, how friendly it is. Thirdly, how much there is an active discourse but perhaps underpinning all of that, the most important thing, which perhaps we knew before we came here, but it has certainly been confirmed, is the value that the Pope is putting on the shared values that all religions have of the abhorrence of violence and the triumph of good over evil. That is what every religion has at its roots, at its core. We need to get that message across, that positive message. It needs to get across. I know that is what the Pope has been doing.
ZENIT: Why do you believe the document on human fraternity, signed between the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, in Abu Dhabi, is so significant?
Lord Bourne: I think it is important partly because of the message, the message, as I say, of human fraternity and the triumph of good over evil and the right of people to be able to have their faith beliefs upheld. This is important, but also extremely important is the fact that this point was made by a key leader from the Muslim faith [the Grand Imam of Al Azhar] and His Holiness. I think those really underpin how pivotal a moment it is, how significant this is. So, I think it has resonance for both, in what it says, but also the symbolism of the world’s great religions coming together.
ZENIT: The document deplores violence and extremism in the name of religion. In your role, Lord Bourne, what are your thoughts about this?
Lord Bourne: I think it is necessary because some people who profess to be adherents of the Christian faith Muslim faith Hinduism Judaism or any other faith, there are extremes in all religions. They are a small number of people, but it is important that they do not hijack what is the mainstream creed, belief and core of the religion which is peaceful belief in a particular religion, and often, very often, working together across faiths. I think that is something which is of massive significance, which I am glad that you report, and some people do. But it’s a message that doesn’t get across nearly enough. I believe the media has a really key role to play here.
ZENIT: You had spoken about faiths and religions, working together, to work toward positive objectives and addressing global issues. What are your current hopes, in this regard?
Lord Bourne: Basically, first of all, what I was saying about the climate change conference in Paris in 2015, the fact that I think that it was all the members of the United Nations, but one, coming together and agreeing, that is a very significant moment in international life, because that does not happen by chance. The fact that it can happen on something of key significance like that, where there are different interests and differences, does not happen often. I think indicates what is possible for the future. Certainly, I think that the challenge should be to the International Community and to all of us, and to every country individually, is: if it can happen on that, then why can’t it happen in relation to banning landmines, why can’t it happen in relation to the Genocide Convention and taking things forward like this. There’s no real reason. This is something we should be seeking to do. There is an urgency, there still is, about climate change, but there are many other issues as well.
ZENIT: As Minister for Faith, is there a specific time of watching faiths work together in some way that left an impression?
Lord Bourne: Well, certainly that was happening on climate change. I was in that ministry before I was in this ministry, and before having the role as the Minister of the Faith, this struck me forcefully. It’s true of many issues that you find that faiths are coming together if there is a particular humanitarian disaster somewhere, if there is a national disaster, or sometimes in relation to international debt. I can think of the floods in Britain two, two and a half, three years ago where all the faiths came together to help. There are many examples of this happening. It’s just that they don’t always get the credence and publicity that they should, because they do not get into the media. This is something we do need to work on. I think most faiths would agree on this. The media, and I certainly exempt you from this, needs to step up to the plate to give these things much more of favorable outing than they have at the moment because they do not necessarily give the publicity they should be.
ZENIT: We all know that Francis is an especially popular Pope, but we know his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI visited the UK in 2010. Did that trip leave a legacy in the UK?
Lord Bourne: I think certainly that is true, as any papal visit does. It is something that is regarded, and indeed is, of great significance. In the UK, if we have a papal visit, this is rare, even if it may happen with somewhat greater frequency than it used to. But we certainly would anticipate, hope and pray for a visit of Pope Francis. I think that would be something widely welcomed, and across all faiths.