Cotonou (AsiaNews) - Political leaders of the world " Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom!" This was the appeal launched today by Benedict XVI from Cotonou, Benin, where he arrived yesterday, in a strong speech to leaders of the country, but also to diplomats accredited here and the religious representatives.
The presence of the former gave the Pope the opportunity to underline the importance of interreligious dialogue, to which the Catholic Church’s commitment comes "from the heart." Interreligious dialogue, he says, requires “knowledge, deeper understanding and practice of one's religion ", which asks God for the gift "to see in the other a brother to be loved and, within his tradition, a reflection of the truth which illumines all people ", to place ourselves before one another "in truth" to avoid " muddled thinking or syncretism."
In the Hall of the People of the Cotonou Agreement, Benedict XVI spoke of hope, which at the outset of this journey on his arrival in this country he defined a characteristic of Africa, but extending the theme to the entire world. "During recent months - he said - many peoples have manifested their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions." " Many conflicts have originated in man's blindness, in his will to power and in political and economic interests which mock the dignity of people and of nature. Human beings aspire to liberty; then to live in dignity; they want good schools and food for their children, dignified hospitals to take care of the sick; they want to be respected; they demand transparent governance which does not confuse private and public interests; and above all they desire peace and justice. At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death. These ills certainly afflict your continent, but they also afflict the rest of the world. Every people wishes to understand the political and economic choices which are made in its name. They perceive manipulation and their revenge is sometimes violent. They wish to participate in good governance. We know that no political regime is ideal and that no economic choice is neutral. But these must always serve the common good. Hence we are faced with legitimate demands, present in all countries, for greater dignity and above all for greater humanity. Man demands that his humanity be respected and promoted. Political and economic leaders of countries find themselves placed before important decisions and choices which they can no longer avoid".
"From this place, I launch an appeal to all political and economic leaders of African countries and the rest of the world. Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom! This wisdom will help you to understand that, as promoters of your peoples’ future, you must become true servants of hope. It is not easy to live the life of a servant, to remain consistent amid the currents of opinion and powerful interests. Power, such as it is, easily blinds, above all when private, family, ethnic or religious interests are at stake. God alone purifies hearts and intentions".
In this context Benedict XVI also addressed the second point of his discourse, that of interreligious dialogue. " I do not think it is necessary to recall the recent conflicts born in the name of God, or deaths brought about in the name of him who is life. Everyone of good sense understands that a serene and respectful dialogue about cultural and religious differences must be promoted. True interreligious dialogue rejects humanly self-centred truth, because the one and only truth is in God. God is Truth. Hence, no religion, and no culture may justify appeal or recourse to intolerance and violence. Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts. To use the revealed word, the Sacred Scriptures or the name of God to justify our interests, our easy and convenient policies or our violence, is a very grave fault".
" I can only come to a knowledge of the other if I know myself. I cannot love unless I love myself (cf. Mt 22:39). Knowledge, deeper understanding and practice of one's religion, are therefore essential to true interreligious dialogue. This can only begin by sincere personal prayer on the part of the one who desires to dialogue. Let him go in secret to his private room (cf. Mt 6:6) to ask God for the purification of reason and to seek his blessing upon the desired encounter. This prayer also asks God for the gift to see in the other a brother to be loved and, within his tradition, a reflection of the truth which illumines all people (Nostra Aetate, 2). Everyone ought therefore to place himself in truth before God and before the other. This truth does not exclude and it is not confusion. Interreligious dialogue when badly understood leads to muddled thinking or to syncretism. This is not the dialogue which is sought".
"Despite the steps already taken, we know that sometimes interreligious dialogue is not easy or that it is impeded for various reasons. This does not necessarily indicate failure. There are many forms of interreligious dialogue. Cooperation in social or cultural areas can help people to understand each other better and to live together serenely. It is also useful to know that dialogue does not take place through weakness but because of belief in God. Dialogue is another way of loving God and our neighbour (cf. Mt 22:37) without abdicating what we are.
Having hope does not mean being ingenuous but making an act of faith in a better future. Thus the Catholic Church puts into action one of the intuitions of the Second Vatican Council, that of promoting friendly relations between herself and the members of non-Christian religions."
I want to assure, he added, that the dialogue offered by the Catholic Church “comes from the heart". "To finish, I would like to use the image of a hand. There are five fingers on it and each one is quite different. Each one is also essential and their unity makes a hand. A good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other which is not condescending, and the respect of the rights of each one are a vital duty. This must be taught to all the faithful of the various religions. Hatred is a failure, indifference is an impasse, and dialogue is an openness! Is this not good ground in which seeds of hope may be sown? To offer someone your hand means to hope, later, to love, and what could be more beautiful than a proffered hand? It was willed by God to offer and to receive".