Standing together to defend and
promote life and religious freedom everywhere
On Thursday evening, 17 April , after his
Visit to the Catholic University of America, the Holy Father went to the
near-by "Pope John Paul II Cultural Center" to meet with Representatives
of other Religions. The Center was founded in 1998 by Cardinal Adam
Joseph Maaida, Archbishop of Detroit, and was inaugurated in 2001.
It focuses on studies of the Magisterium of Pope John Paul II and the
In the Center's Rotunda, the Pontiff spoke to
200 Representatives of five different religious communities: Jews,
Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.
The following is the Pope's Discourse for the
My dear friends,
I am pleased to have this occasion to meet with you today. I thank
Bishop Sklba for his words of welcome, and I cordially greet all those
in attendance representing various religions in the United States of
America. Several of you kindly accepted the invitation to compose the
reflections contained in today's program. For your thoughtful words on
how each of your traditions bears witness to peace, I am particularly
grateful. Thank you all.
This country has a long history of cooperation between different
religions in many spheres of public life. Interreligious prayer services
during the national feast of Thanksgiving, joint initiatives in
charitable activities, a shared voice on important public issues: these
are some ways in which members of different religions come together to
enhance mutual understanding and promote the common good. I encourage
all religious groups in America to persevere in their collaboration and
thus enrich public life with the spiritual values that motivate your
action in the world.
The place where we are now gathered was founded specifically for
promoting this type of collaboration. Indeed, the Pope John Paul II
Cultural Center seeks to offer a Christian voice to the "human search
for meaning and purpose in life" in a world of "varied religious, ethnic
and cultural communities" (Mission Statement). This institution reminds
us of this nation's conviction that all people should be free to pursue
happiness in a way consonant with their nature as creatures endowed with
reason and free will.
Americans have always valued the ability to worship freely and in
accordance with their conscience. Alexis de Tocqueville, the French
historian and observer of American affairs, was fascinated with this
aspect of the nation. He remarked that this is a country in which
religion and freedom are "intimately linked" in contributing to a stable
democracy that fosters social virtues and participation in the communal
life of all its citizens. In urban areas, it is common for individuals
from different cultural backgrounds and religions to engage with one
another daily in commercial, social and educational settings. Today, in
classrooms throughout the country, young Christians, Jews, Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, and indeed children of all religions sit
side-by-side, learning with one another and from one another. This
diversity gives rise to new challenges that spark a deeper reflection on
the core principles of a democratic society. May others take heart from
your experience, realizing that a united society can indeed arise from a
plurality of peoples
"E pluribus unum": "out of many, one"
provided that all recognize religious liberty as a basic civil right
(cf. Dignitatis Humanae, 2).
Always foster religious freedom
The task of upholding religious freedom is never completed. New
situations and challenges invite citizens and leaders to reflect on how
their decisions respect this basic human right. Protecting religious
freedom within the rule of law does not guarantee that peoples
will be spared from unjust forms of discrimination and prejudice. This
requires constant effort on the part of all members of society to ensure
that citizens are afforded the opportunity to worship peaceably and to
pass on their religious heritage to their children.
The transmission of religious traditions to succeeding generations not
only helps to preserve a heritage; it also sustains and nourishes the
surrounding culture in the present day. The same holds true for dialogue
between religions; both the participants and society are enriched. As we
grow in understanding of one another, we see that we share an esteem for
ethical values, discernable to human reason, which are revered by all
peoples of goodwill. The world begs for a common witness to these
values. I therefore invite all religious people to view dialogue not
only as a means of enhancing mutual understanding, but also as a way of
serving society at large. By bearing witness to those moral truths which
they hold in common with all men and women of goodwill, religious groups
will exert a positive influence on the wider culture, and inspire
neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens to join in the task of
strengthening the ties of solidarity. In the words of President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt: "no greater thing could come to our land today than a
revival of the spirit of faith".
A concrete example of the contribution religious communities make to
civil society is faith-based schools. These institutions enrich children
both intellectually and spiritually. Led by their teachers to discover
the divinely bestowed dignity of each human being, young people learn to
respect the beliefs and practices of others, thus enhancing a nation's
What an enormous responsibility religious leaders have: to imbue society
with a profound awe and respect for human life and freedom; to ensure
that human dignity is recognized and cherished; to facilitate peace and
justice; to teach children what is right, good and reasonable!
Confront the deeper issues
There is a further point I wish to touch upon here. I have noticed a
growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to
promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are
praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom,
interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more
than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for
advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the
truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and
evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by
addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the
peace and security of the human family, for "wherever and whenever men
and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set
out on the path of peace" (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 3).
We are living in an age when these questions are too often marginalized.
Yet they can never be erased from the human heart. Throughout history,
men and women have striven to articulate their restlessness with this
passing world. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms are full of
such expressions: "My spirit is overwhelmed within me" (Ps 143:4; cf. Ps
6:6; 31:10; 32:3; 38:8; 77:3); "why are you cast down, my soul, why
groan within me?" (Ps 42:5). The response is always one of faith: "Hope
in God, I will praise him still; my Savior and my God" (Ps 42:5, 11; cf.
Ps 43:5; 62:5). Spiritual leaders have a special duty, and we might say
competence, to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human
consciousness, to reawaken mankind to the mystery of human existence,
and to make space in a frenetic world for reflection and prayer.
Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny
of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. He, we believe, is
the eternal Logos who became flesh in order to reconcile man to God and
reveal the underlying reason of all things. It is he whom we bring to
the forum of interreligious dialogue. The ardent desire to follow in his
footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue
(cf. Lk 10:25-37; Jn 4:7-26).
Dear friends, in our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps
we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences
with calmness and clarity. While always uniting our hearts and minds in
the call for peace, we must also listen attentively to the voice of
truth. In this way, our dialogue will not stop at identifying a common
set of values, but go on to probe their ultimate foundation. We have no
reason to fear, for the truth unveils for us the essential relationship
between the world and God. We are able to perceive that peace is a
"heavenly gift" that calls us to conform human history to the divine
order. Herein lies the "truth of peace" (cf. Message for the 2006 World
Day of Peace).
As we have seen then, the higher goal of interreligious dialogue
requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenets. In this
regard, colleges, universities and study centers are important forums
for a candid exchange of religious ideas. The Holy See, for its part,
seeks to carry forward this important work through the Pontifical
Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic
and Islamic Studies, and various Pontifical Universities.
Dear friends, let our sincere dialogue and cooperation inspire all
people to ponder the deeper questions of their origin and destiny. May
the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting
life and religious freedom everywhere. By giving ourselves generously to
this sacred task
through dialogue and countless small acts of love, understanding and
— we can be instruments of peace for the whole human family.
Peace upon you all!