Opening Remarks XI Plenary Assembly

of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran

25 November 2013

It is with joy and gratitude that I greet each one of you, as part of this “small family”, which is our Council for Interreligious Dialogue: 16 people who are working to carry out the directions of the Members, and to support dialogue with believers of other religions.

I greet in particular those participating for the first time. Let me take this opportunity to introduce to you four people who, in June 2012, have been called by the Holy Father to work in our office. First of all, the Rev. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ, former Dean of the Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, who is the new Secretary of the Dicastery, and then Rev. Fr. Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage of the clergy of the Diocese of Badulla (Sri Lanka), lecturer at the Faculty of Missiology at the Pontifical Urban University, now the new Under-Secretary; also the Rev. Fr. Michael Weninger, from the Archdiocese of Vienna, Austria, and finally Ms. Sabrina Fieni, our librarian.

The previous Secretary, His Excellency Pier Luigi Celata (2002-2012), is now Vice Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church. We remember him with respect and friendship, as well as Msgr. Andrew Vissanu, our previous Under-Secretary, and now Under-Secretary of the Episcopal Conference in Thailand.

The proposed theme for our consideration in this Eleventh Plenary Assembly is “Members of different religious traditions in civil society.” Is there still a place for religion in today’s society? Or, even better, do the men and women of our time still feel the need for God? And, if it is true that they feel it, how do they satisfy that need? What can they do, or more concretely, what are believers actually doing to promote a culture of encounter and dialogue with society today? In many countries, believers are denied the right to exercise their religion publicly, and there seems to be a press to relegate religion to the private sphere of citizens, with the result of depriving the society itself of the valuable and indispensable contribution which religions offer. Where there is the claim to identify a religion with the law of the State, however, religious freedom is severely restricted and pluralism is no more than a mere statement of principle.

In these days, we must ask ourselves what are the components of society able to promote dialogue and encounter and, on the other hand, what are those that hinder the emergence or continuation of relations of cooperation and friendship among the members of different religious traditions. We will greatly benefit from listening to the experiences and reflections of Members from different continents, and the discussion that emerges can be fruitful and open new perspectives for the future.

Religions, in fact, constitute, among other things, spaces for listening and sharing, benefitting the whole of society. In fact, they teach respect for the human person and his/her fundamental rights, as well as care for creation. They also help to relativize politics and economics. Many times religions also replace institutions, when these are not able to give an answer to man – I am thinking about illness and death – and finally, they give light and strength in view of the common good, because they have the power to shape a community, and thus contribute to social cohesion.

In the sometimes ruthless world in which we live, to live together implies to trust in the other, to reject revenge, to recognize one’s wrongdoings, and to have the courage to forgive. In this way the understanding between culture and religion, the consideration without one condescending to the other, and the respect of the rights of each can grow. These are words that Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Lebanon.

Let me stop here, hoping that these days will be the occasion of encouragement to persevere and to show that religious beliefs inspire peace, strengthen solidarity, promote justice and defend freedom.

Thank you very much and now I turn the floor over to the Secretary of our Dicastery, Father Ayuso.