18-April-2008 -- Vatican Information Service |

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VATICAN CITY, 17 APR 2008 (VIS) - In the Pope John Paul II Cultural Centre in Washington D.C. at 6.30 p.m. local time today, Benedict XVI met with some 200 representatives of five religious communities: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The Pope John Paul II Cultural Centre was founded in 1998 at the initiative of the then archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Joseph Adam Maida, and was inaugurated in 2001 in the presence of President George W. Bush. It is a place of meeting, dialogue and academic research on the relationship between faith and culture.

"This country has a long history of co-operation between different religions in many spheres of public life", said the Pope in his address. "Inter- religious 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".

The Holy Father recalled how "Americans have always valued the ability to worship freely and in accordance with their conscience". Today, "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", he added, "take heart from your experience, realising that a united society can indeed arise from a plurality of peoples, ... provided that all recognise religious liberty as a basic civil right.

"The task of upholding religious freedom is never completed", the Holy Father observed. "Protecting religious freedom within the rule of law does not guarantee that peoples - particularly minorities - 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".

Going on to examine the question of dialogue between religions, the Pope expressed the view that "as we grow in understanding of one another, we see that we share an esteem for ethical values, discernible 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".

The Holy Father noted the "growing interest among governments to sponsor programmes intended to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue", and he described such initiatives as "praiseworthy". However, "at the same time, religious freedom, inter-religious 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".

"Spiritual leaders have a special duty ... 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".

He went on: "Confronted with these deeper questions concerning the origin and destiny of mankind, Christianity proposes Jesus of Nazareth. ... The ardent desire to follow in His footsteps spurs Christians to open their minds and hearts in dialogue".

"In our attempt to discover points of commonality, perhaps we have shied away from the responsibility to discuss our differences with calmness and clarity", suggested Pope Benedict. "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", he concluded, "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".

Having completed his discourse, the Pope moved on to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Centre's Polish National Room. There he met representatives of the Jewish community to whom he consigned a Message for the Feast of the Passover, which this year begins on Saturday 19 April.

In his Passover Message, the Pope writes: "At this time of your most solemn celebration, I feel particularly close, precisely because of what 'Nostra Aetate' calls Christians to remember always: that the Church 'received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the ancient Covenant. ... In addressing myself to you I wish to re-affirm the Second Vatican Council's teaching on Catholic- Jewish relations and reiterate the Church's commitment to the dialogue that in the past forty years has fundamentally changed our relationship for the better.

"Because of that growth in trust and friendship", the Holy Father adds in his Message, "Christians and Jews can rejoice together in the deep spiritual ethos of the Passover, a memorial of freedom and redemption. Each year, when we listen to the Passover story we return to that blessed night of liberation. This holy time of the year should be a call to both our communities to pursue justice, mercy, solidarity with the stranger in the land, with the widow and orphan, as Moses commanded".

"This bond permits us Christians to celebrate alongside you, though in our own way, the Passover of Christ's death and resurrection, which we see as inseparable from your own, for Jesus Himself said: 'salvation is from the Jews'. Our Easter and your Pesah, while distinct and different, unite us in our common hope centred on God and His mercy".

"With respect and friendship, I therefore ask the Jewish community to accept my Pesah greeting in a spirit of openness to the real possibilities of co- operation which we see before us as we contemplate the urgent needs of our world, and as we look with compassion upon the sufferings of millions of our brothers and sisters everywhere. Naturally, our shared hope for peace in the world embraces the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular. May the memory of God's mercies, which Jews and Christians celebrate at this festive time, inspire all those responsible for the future of that region - where the events surrounding God's revelation actually took place - to new efforts, and especially to new attitudes and a new purification of hearts!"

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