04/23/2015, 00.00
UNITED NATIONS – ITALY
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The “extremism of dialogue" can defeat the "religion of war,” says Maria Voce at the UN

The president of the Focolare Movement took part in a two-day meeting at the United Nations on tolerance and reconciliation. For the Catholic leader, cultures and religions should meet in what she calls a “continuous and fruitful experience." Dialogue can meet "the most difficult challenges." Citing Chiara Lubich, she said, “Only peace is truly holy because God is peace."

New York (AsiaNews) – Maria Voce, president of the Focolare Movement, spoke yesterday at a two-day high-level meeting on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation, Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism.

Sponsored by the General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the meeting was held at the UN building in New York

In her address, Ms Voce said that we must not "give ground" to those who try to present "many ongoing conflicts as 'religious wars'" because "war is, by definition, irreligion”. Instead, we should refer to it as the “religion of war” as evinced by the never-ending tragedies and hundreds of deaths from war and sinking boats in Mediterranean.

Like 14 other representatives of various religious traditions and regions of the world, the Catholic leader spoke after representatives from UN Member States, each stressing the importance of religion for humanity. Their contributions will go into formulating this year’s UN development agenda.

At present, we are witnesses to a “very serious situation of political, institutional, economic and social disintegration," Maria Voce said. This requires an "equally radical answer in order to change the prevailing paradigm."

The meeting of cultures and religions is a "continuous and fruitful experience” in the Focolare Movement. It is “not limited to tolerance or simple recognition of diversity." Hence, we must go beyond the principles of reconciliation and create "a new, broader, and shared form of identity.”

For her, this requires “active dialogue involving people of many beliefs, even the non-religious. It calls upon us to look to actual needs in order to meet together the more difficult challenges."

Currently, “the extremism of violence” is becoming increasingly noticeable. Against it, we must provide a radical response that is as strong but “structurally different”. What is needed is “the extremism of dialogue,” which “calls for the utmost of involvement. This is risky, demanding, a challenge that cuts off at the roots misunderstanding, fear and resentment.”

In view of this, the Catholic leader directly addressed UN members, asking them “what does it mean today to be the Organisation of the United Nations, if such an institution fails to work for unity among nations, respectful of their rich identities.”

Finally, she noted that after the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Chiara Lubich said, "War is never holy; never was. God does not want it. Only peace is truly holy because God is peace."

Maria Voce was elected president of the Focolare Movement by its General Assembly on 7 July 2008. She is the first person to succeed the movement’s founder Chiara Lubich (1920-2008).

Born in the southern Italian region of Calabria in 1937, Ms Voce is a lawyer by profession. She joined the Focolari (also called the ‘Opera di Maria’ or Work of Mary) in the 1960s.

Today, the movement is present in 182 countries, with about two million members and supporters, mostly Catholics.

From 6 January until 20 February 2010, the Focolare president toured Asia, visiting South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand.

When she was in Tokyo as part of her tour, she met with the AsiaNews correspondent, speaking to him about the prospects of the mission in Asia and interfaith dialogue with the Buddhist world.

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