Putin and Aleksij II say country must unite against terrorism and bolster inter-ethnic accord.
Moscow (AsiaNews) Metropolitan Tadeus Kondrusiewicz, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Russia, has called for the addition of new members to the Inter-religious Council of Russia so as to make it more representative. He made his proposal to a session of the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations of the Russian Federation held in Kremlin on September 29. President Vladimir Putin himself presided over the meeting which lasted more than two hours.
According to Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz inter-religious dialogue within the Council can only be more fruitful if representatives from more religions are invited. Currently, only Orthodox, Muslims, Buddhist and Jews are represented; no Catholic and Protestant has ever sat on the Council since its creation in 1988.
Addressing the issue of "traditional religions", a legally-relevant notion used in Russia to afford some denominations rights that others do not enjoy, the Catholic Bishop said that the notion falls short from helping Russia to fully integrate its many components. "The Catholic Church in Russia may be small," he said, "but she has always contributed to uniting society" adding that Catholics "pray for victims of acts of terrorism and help its victims".
Speaking about the hopes and aspirations of the Catholic Church in the areas of social partnership and inter-faith dialogue, he complained that in some parts of the country the initiatives and activities undertaken by Catholics have been met with misunderstanding and hostility. Never the less, Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz thanked President Putin for convening the Council.
Under its rules, the Council must meet at least twice a year but had not done so for the past three.
Terrorism, especially the Beslan tragedy, was at the top of the meeting's agenda. According to Putin escalating terrorism in no way justifies prejudices against members of other religions or nationalities. "Obviously," he said, "it is unacceptable to vent one's anger at the terrorists by attacking people of a different religion or nationality. In a multi-national country, it is destructive." He went further stating that "Russia, with its age-long experience of peaceful coexistence, has many peoples and religions, and the struggle against this threat [i.e. terrorism] is in its fullest sense, a struggle for our country's unity." More importantly, "you very well understand that in a country like Russia maintaining an ongoing confessional dialogue means strengthening inter-ethnic accord", the president told the Council.
Speaking on the role religious groups can play in consolidating civil society, the President said that "they are crucial in finding a solution to [. . .] terrorism and extremism in all their expressions". As he had previously and repeatedly told Council members, the terrorists' "claims are inspired by religious ignorance and are based on distorting cultural and spiritual traditions. They cynically cover their violent and cruel doings under religious slogans."
For the Russian president, "it is extremely important today to continue developing cooperation between religious associations and the government in the pursuit of national goals. Of course, such work will not take a day or two. It will take a lot of time and will require a big common effort", he added.
In his intervention, Aleksij II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, backed greater cooperation between religious groups, the government and the wider society in the fight against terrorism. "We need a genuine partnership among the three," the Patriarch said adding that "I am happy that this partnership is getting more active and substantial".
As he reminded his fellow members that state and Church are separate, he also stressed that "no wall should come between them. We share many goals such as maintaining inter-religious dialogue and promoting peace, tolerance and mutual respect. We should prove to our friends and enemies that Russia cannot be intimidated, that she is ready to defend her values, originality and spiritual freedom."
According to the Patriarch, "today, Russia is coping with the new outburst of terror with sorrow and courage. Monstrous crimes aim to suppress the will and undermine the unity of the country. We also face a real danger of inter-religious discord," the Patriarch noted.
"Terrorists," Aleksij stressed, "have earthly goals but try to justify themselves with religious references. Genuine believers may follow them, but that is because they are not educated people".
In its statement to the press, the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organisations said that the fight against terrorism must be mindful of the Constitution and strictly conform to the law. "Our enemies want to push Russia into chaos and lawlessness," it read. "History, including that of Russia, shows that whenever law and humanity are forgotten in the heat of battle, the most terrible tragedies follow. These mistakes must not be repeated".
"Over the past decade, terrorism has assumed a global scope. Its web covers the whole world, its invisible threads reaching each and every country. The civilised world must make a united effort to counter this horrible threat. Double standards are out of place here."
The statement went on to say that "in order to resist terrorism effectively, governments and civil society religious organisations, public associations, political parties and all citizens of our country must unite their efforts".
It ended backing the authorities in their actions to ensure public security and welcoming the idea that parliament debate the fundamental issues facing the country so as inform the public as well as take the latter into account.