ROME – Following an initiative by the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires, today Pope Francis, the Argentine bishops together with leaders of Islam and Judaism in the country signed a declaration “for dialogue and coexistence” on Friday.
“There’s a double scope to the document: firstly, to reaffirm that any invocation of violence in the name of religion is completely wrong. Secondly, to reaffirm interreligious dialogue, which in our country is one of the few that have actually worked,” said Bishop Oscar Ojea, president of the Argentine bishops’ conference, after signing the document.
Speaking with Crux, the prelate defined the document as a reaffirmation of the one signed in August 2005, when Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, today Pope Francis, was the president of the bishops’ conference.
Moving forth, they want to go beyond signing a declaration and have it influence education, because it’s important to “promote a greater knowledge of the different cultural traditions among young people and children.”
At the same time, presenting religion through education, he said, would be a way to respond to “some minority sectors of our society that question the values and principles that have to do with our faith.”
Ojea was referring to the fact that in recent months, particularly during and after a national debate that ended with a “no” to the legalization of abortion, many in the country are calling for the division of state and church and en masse apostasy.
Ojea believes that with better education, religious leaders can help young people understand faith “not as a ‘no’ to everything, as prohibition to everything, as something coming from a medieval time, but as something that comes from the most genuine side of the human heart and our tradition.”
Ojea signed the document representing the bishops. Anibal Bachir Bakir signed it representing the Islamic Center of the Argentine Republic, and Agustin Zbar signed in the name of Argentine Mutual Israeli Association. In addition, they were accompanied by the co-presidents of the Interreligious Dialogue Instituted – Father Guillermo Marco, once the spokesman of Bergoglio, Muslim leader Omar Abboud, and Rabbi Daniel Goldman.
In the document, the leaders urge dialogue, calling “all religious communities, leaders, media and society in general not to allow conflicts and confrontations from other regions of the world, whose solution is not among our possibilities, to affect our coexistence as brothers.”
“In these particular moments, our main duty is to preserve and strengthen all paths of dialogue that lead to greater fraternity and solidarity among all the inhabitants of our country,” the text says.
In that sense, it points out that “genuine dialogue, free of speculation, is an attitude of life and a permanent teaching, an instrument that resolves internal and external differences, and that from a peripheral vision achieves consensus for the common good.”
“The Argentines, beyond our difficulties and differences, we have been able to be witnesses of coexistence and peaceful and harmonious cooperation between different cultures and religious traditions. The preservation of this value invites us to prudence and reflection,” the document says.
It also emphasizes that most of the people in the world, including Argentines, declare themselves as believers, and this must lead religions to enter in dialogue among themselves, oriented into caring for nature and the planet, the defense of the poor, justice and the construction of networks of respect and fraternity.
For that reason, those the religious leaders commit to “continue creating instances of dialogue that strengthen our coexistence; to deepen in the mutual knowledge from the education and to share, to inform and to offer opinion rooted in our common values to society as a whole.”
They also undertake to respond to fake news and misleading information, and attacks on religious symbols, “in order to avoid misrepresentations and generalizations that confuse public opinion, feed prejudice and cause harm to communities.”
Although Argentina is a largely Catholic country, it’s also home to an unusual degree of religious diversity for Latin America. It has Latin America’s largest Islamic population, with about 400,000 Muslims, and also the world’s seventh largest Jewish population outside Israel, numbering about 200,000. In addition, there’s a burgeoning Protestant population, now 15 percent of the country, composed mostly of Evangelicals and Pentecostals.