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Religion, Terror and Peace

Cardinal Martino Reflects on Role of Belief

SINGAPORE, JULY 1, 2006 ( The role of religion in promoting peace and helping to defeat terrorism was the subject of a recent speech by Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace and for Migrants and Travelers.

The discourse came during his visit to Singapore last week, as Benedict XVI’s special envoy to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Singapore.

The public lecture, delivered June 22, was titled: “The Role of Religions in Promoting Peace and Solidarity and Denouncing Terrorism.”

Cardinal Martino noted the variety of cultural and religious elements present in Singapore.

Religion, he said, “must never become a pretext for fueling conflict, hatred and violence.” He added that sincere religious sentiment can actually be a strong antidote against conflicts.

“In this perspective, individuals and religious communities must clearly manifest a complete and radical rejection of violence, all violence, starting with the violence that would wrap itself in the mantle of religion, even appealing to the holy name of God as it commits offences against humanity.”

No religious end, the cardinal emphasized, can justify the practice of man committing violence against man.

The Pope’s representative called to mind the example of Pope John Paul II.

The previous Pontiff invited believers to cultivate dialogue, believing it to be a useful means to dispel distrust and misunderstanding. He also invited us to recognize the gifts of different cultures and traditions.

Promoting dialogue

This teaching is most useful in facing current problems, Cardinal Martino noted. He invited believers of different religions to undertake their dialogue within the context of promoting justice and solidarity. Believers also need to be conscious of the deep wounds of ethnic and social conflicts, of violence and war, and a lack of respect for rights.

The message of Jesus, the cardinal continued, invites us to place value on what we share in common and on what unites us.

Dialogue between believers is also necessary in order to overcome the dangers of religious fundamentalism, the cardinal said. “Just as in the recently ended twentieth century, certain ideological concepts corrupted the truth of politics, so the power of men over other men threatens today to exploit religions, deeply disfiguring their intrinsic truth.”

Another serious danger is that of terrorism, today more than ever, now that it has been transformed from isolated acts of individual extremists into a sophisticated network with access to significant financial resources. Terrorism is “unacceptable in the most absolute of manner,” the cardinal stated unequivocally. It is based on contempt for human life and uses persons as means to achieve an end.

In addition to killing innocent victims, terrorism also leads to isolation, distrust and closed-mindedness, which in turn fosters hatred. This leads to a vicious cycle whereby violence engenders further violence.

Terrorism is also an attack on human dignity, Cardinal Martino added, and an attack against all humanity. For this reason there is a right to defense against terrorism. He also recommended international cooperation with particular attention put to resolving problems that can fuel terrorism. “The recruitment of terrorists, in fact, is more easily accomplished in social contexts where hatred is sown, where rights are trampled, and in situations where injustices have been tolerated for too long.”

Rejecting fundamentalism

The cardinal then returned to the matter of religious fundamentalism.

He noted that in this year’s message for the World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI warned that at the roots of terrorism we often find fundamentalism or nihilism.

Fundamentalism is the belief that one is in complete possession of the truth, such that one can impose it by force. “Truth, however, must be continually sought; it can only be contemplated and never possessed, because God is truth.”

Moreover, every authentic believer knows that the truth is larger than the believer himself. “For this reason, it is a profanation and blasphemy to proclaim oneself a terrorist in God’s name, to kill or inflict violence upon people in God’s name.”

No religion, Cardinal Martino stressed, can tolerate terrorism, much less preach it. This is particularly true for the great monotheistic religions in which there is faith in God the creator of mankind.

Terror is also contrary to the concept of a God who cares and loves people, and to the idea of God as father of all men and women.

For Christians terror is contrary to faith in Christ, sent by the Father, who said: “Love one another; even as I have loved you, so also must you love one another” (John 13:34).

The cardinal then urged Christians and believers in the other monotheistic religions, along with other religions, to work together to spread a greater awareness of the unity of the human race. This should be done by teaching that the dignity of the human person is great in God’s eyes, and violence can never be done in the name of the one who is love.

He also called for effort in teaching people that there is no connection between terrorism and religion.

This can be helped by means of a renewed commitment to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and cooperation, carried out in spirit of mutual understanding, respect and trust. “There is a right to defend oneself against terrorism, but we must not forget that the true defense against terrorism is found in the spiritual and cultural order.”

Peace, the cardinal said, is the result of a just order in the relationships between human beings, regardless of their color, culture or social class. It also comes when fundamental human rights are respected and when people fulfill their duty towards others. Peace also requires sincere cooperation, responsibility, and a society built on truth, justice, freedom and love.

Anglican perspective

The role of religion in peace and conflict was also examined recently by an Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali. Originally from Pakistan, with a family background that is both Christian and Muslim, Nazir-Ali is currently bishop of Rochester, England.

In his book, “Conviction and Conflict: Islam, Christianity and World Order,” (Continuum, 2006), the Anglican prelate admitted that religious beliefs have been, and still are, a powerful ingredient in many conflicts.

Religion can go wrong, in the sense of stimulating conflicts, but he clarified, so can other fundamental human realities such as love or patriotism, due to the effects of sin on our human nature. On the positive side, Christians are often at the forefront of dialogue and the promotion of peace.

Nazir-Ali also argued that it is wrong to conceive of religion as a purely negative influence in its relation with the state. The great moral codes, such as the Ten Commandments, have greatly contributed to the formation of legal codes in various civilizations.

And democracy has flourished in countries with a Christian background.

There are, nevertheless, troubling issues regarding Islam, such as the financing by some states of extremist groups, and the use of concepts such as Jihad to justify conflicts. Within England the presence of radical Islamist leaders has also been a cause of problems.

In the face of such problems the bishop of Rochester called upon Islam and Christianity to engage in dialogue. He also recommended promoting cultural exchanges, and the provision of economic aid that will reduce the numbers of the poor and unemployed who are exploited by extremists.

Religion, it seems, will be an important part of finding a solution to the current problems of violence and terrorism.

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