Naples Event Seen as Aid in Warding Off Civilization Clash

Says Coexistence Is Only Solution for Globalized World

ROME, OCT. 22, 2007 ( The interreligious event under way in Naples is the type of meeting that may help the world avoid the clash of civilizations, says the founder of the Catholic lay group that is co-sponsoring the encounter.

Andrea Riccardi described in this way the 21st International Encounter of Peoples and Religions, organized by the Sant’Egidio Community and the Archdiocese of Naples. Benedict XVI inaugurated the event Sunday.

Riccardi told ZENIT that Samuel Huntington’s book on the feared clash of civilizations is “something to be taken very seriously.”

“It has impressed me that the book sold well in the Arab world,” the founder said. “And it has even gained approval in certain fundamentalist environments, because perhaps it says that which many want to hear: Our situation is this clash? What happened on Sept. 11 is proof that Huntington was right?

“I believe that we are within a framework of difficulties, but within this framework, we have the responsibility of finding a model or bringing ourselves out of this situation, and this model — I believe — is a civilization of coexistence.”

This is the theme of Riccardi’s book “Convivir” (Coexisting), published in Spanish by RBA Libros.

Riccardi explained: “There are different civilizations, there are diverse religions, there is not a universal civilization, because with globalization, Western civilization has not become universal civilization.

“On the contrary — I speak in the book about just this — identities rise up from the past in the face of this process of globalization. Precisely because we are before the phenomenon of globalization, we are all naked and want to clothe ourselves with our colored clothing.

“And therefore, identities exist, civilizations exist, cultures exist, nations exist, religions don’t die.”


Riccardi noted that secularization has not overcome the desire for religiosity.

“There is a great demand for religion coming from all parts, including in Europe,” he said. “Thus, the problem is not to destroy identity, but to live together.

“I believe that secularism is a model of coexistence in a handful of countries: France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and a few more. It is an interesting and important model, but I am convinced that the most intelligent thing that European countries can do is not divide themselves between secularists and believers, because I believe our countries need ‘ressourcement’ — to use the French word — to go back to the origins, to the headwaters of their religious discourses.

“In my opinion, it is silly to divide ourselves regarding the religious question. It is necessary to understand that a religious life is one of the important components of our identity. Naturally, it is not the only one.”

The answer to possible conflicts of identity, Riccardi says, is in the “civilization of coexistence,” that is, “the capacity of people from different worlds to live together and to merge.”


This coexistence, he suggested, is supported with dialogue, which should not be understand as “a loss of one’s own identity.”

“Dialogue without identity does not exist,” Riccardi said. “Therefore, dialogue demands a great identity, and dialoguing is not in itself an identity. If you and I dialogue, it is because you represent something for me, and I for you.

“Each one has many identities. I am Catholic and I define myself as such, but within me, there is a lay heritage; in my Christian being, there is an implicit Jewish tradition; there is the experience of contact with a socialist-lay culture, and so on.

“Some of us choose what we want to be, but in this identity, purity is a myth, a dangerous myth sometimes. The myth which is invented by the fundamentalists is dangerous, and fundamentalism is a great simplification.”

For this reason, Riccardi affirmed that he rejects relativism, the denial of the existence of truth.

“Relativism conceives of a world without history, a world that has not taken tradition into account, from where we come,” the Sant’Egidio Community founder affirmed. “This is, for me, the gist of the question. The delusion of European modernity consists in failing to take into account tradition. I believe that we should take into account tradition, and therefore, relativism is frequently a discourse constructed in a laboratory.”

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