Address to Hindu & Muslim Leaders

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Given on 21 January 1995 in Colombo, Sri Lanka

It is dangerous when religious leaders do not speak to each other, Pope John Paul II said 21 January in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He spoke to six Hindu and six Muslim leaders who attended the meeting of interreligious leaders—a meeting boycotted by Buddhist leaders. "I thank you for this meeting. 'Meeting' means we are together. It is necessary to be together; not being together is dangerous," said the pope. But those remarks were not part of the prepared text for the meeting. They were added at the time of delivery.

Prior to the pope's departure for his 12-21 January visit to the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Sri Lanka, it became known that Buddhist leaders in Sri Lanka were disturbed over remarks about Buddhism in the pope's best-selling book, "Crossing the Threshold of Hope"—remarks whose intent, a Vatican spokesman said, were misinterpreted out of context. Here Origins presents the pope's prepared text for the interreligious meeting in which he presents an overview of the value of interreligious relationships.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity during my visit to Sri Lanka to meet representatives of the various religions which have lived together in harmony for a very long time on this island: especially Buddhism, present for over 2,000 years, Hinduism, also of very long standing, along with Islam and Christianity. This simultaneous presence of great religious traditions is a source of enrichment for Sri Lankan society. I wish to reaffirm the church's and my own deep and abiding respect for the spiritual and cultural values of which you are the guardians.

Especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has been fully committed to pursuing the path of dialogue and cooperation with the members of other religions. Interreligious dialogue is a precious means by which the followers of the various religions discover shared points of contact in the spiritual life, while acknowledging the differences which exist between them. The church respects the freedom of individuals to seek the truth and to embrace it according to the dictates of conscience, and in this light she firmly rejects proselytism and the use of unethical means to gain conversions.

The Catholic community hopes that through a continuing "dialogue of life" all believers will cooperate willingly in order to defend and promote moral values, social justice, liberty and peace. Like many modern societies, Sri Lanka is facing the spiritual threat represented by the growth of a materialistic outlook, which is more concerned with "having" than with "being." Experience makes it clear that mere technological progress does not satisfy man's inner yearning for truth and communion. Deeper spiritual needs have to be met if individuals, families and society itself are not to fall into a serious crisis of values. There is ample room for cooperation among the followers of the various religions in meeting this serious challenge.

For this reason, I appeal to you and encourage you, as the religious leaders of the Sri Lankan people, to consider the concerns which unite believers, rather than the things which divide them. The safeguarding of Sri Lanka's spiritual heritage calls for strenuous efforts on the part of everyone to proclaim before the world the sacredness of human life, to defend the inalienable dignity and rights of every individual, to strengthen the family as the primary unit of society and the place where children learn humanity, generosity and love, and to encourage respect for the natural environment.

Interreligious cooperation is also a powerful force for promoting ethically upright socioeconomic and political standards. Democracy itself benefits greatly from the religiously motivated commitment of believers to the common good.

Perhaps nothing represents a greater threat to the spiritual fabric of Sri Lankan society than the continuing ethnic conflict. The religious resources of the entire nation must converge to bring an end to this tragic situation. I recently had occasion to say to an international group of religious leaders: "Violence in any form is opposed not only to the respect which we owe to every fellow human being; it is opposed also to the true essence of religion. Whatever the conflicts of the past and even of the present, it is our common task and duty to make better known the relation between religion and peace" (address to the sixth assembly of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, Nov. 3, 1994). The only struggle worthy of man is "the struggle against his own disordered passions, against every type of hatred and violence; in short against everything that is the exact opposite of peace and reconciliation" (message for the 1992 World Day of Peace, 7).

Esteemed friends: I am certain that the principles of mercy and nonviolence present in your traditions will be a source of inspiration to Sri Lankans in their efforts to build a peace which will be lasting because it is built upon justice and respect for every human being. I express once more my confidence that your country's long tradition of religious harmony will grow ever stronger, for the peace and well-being of individuals, for the good of Sri Lanka and of all Asia.

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