ROME – Global migration, cultural changes and laicized states over the past hundred years have created more multi-faith societies, where different religious denominations live shoulder to shoulder. While some focus on the tensions this might entail, others, such as Pope Francis, have stressed that dialogue is “a necessary condition for peace.”
Representatives of different religions meeting for a conference in Rome set out to lay the groundwork for that dialogue on Tuesday, trying to sketch the parameters for understanding and cooperation.
“Every religion carries with it its own traditions and ways of interpreting life. If I talk to someone, I need to speak in a language that is not necessarily shared but at least understood,” said Italian Rabbi Gad Piperno in an interview with Crux.
“Knowing what are the very bases on which a religion, identity or culture are born is fundamental – not just for dialogue, I think, but also to understand one another,” he said.
Piperno spoke at a conference titled “Faith and Politics: How this relationship is expressed in religions,” held at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome Feb. 27. The meeting was aimed at business people, diplomats and journalists who, in a special way, shape and determine the dynamics between different faith denominations.
Although in the rabbi’s opinion all religions share the same God, that does not mean religions are the same or have the same interpretation.
“The great thing about this seminar is that this becomes a richness,” he said.
The conference was part of a series of initiatives taking place in Rome from January to March aimed at celebrating and better understanding the great religious traditions of the world.
Schools, hospitals, restaurants and society as a whole have been rapidly adapting to the needs and requirements of a multi-faith society, be it by providing halal or kosher foods, offering places of worship, or recognizing feast days. These efforts are in response to the considerable challenges of a multi-faith society, including interreligious marriages and raising children in one faith or the other, or even attempts to do both at once.
That’s why, according to religious leaders meeting in Rome this Wednesday, it’s essential to build a framework that allows for different faith communities to coexist, one stemming from dialogue and mutual understanding.
“We must look for what’s true and not true,” Piperno explained. “Searching for the truth doesn’t mean finding a key to open all doors. This key, I think, does not exist. Every door has its own key, and it’s important to know how to open it the right way.”
According to the medieval philosophy historian Benedetto Ippolito, who took part in the event, this type of meeting represents an “experiment,” and an “innovative” one at that.
“I find this event, and the others included in this initiative, to be very important, because they’re part of the current debate and exchange between different religious confessions but with a new point of view, or attitude, which does not simply wish to find simple or rhetorical agreements but rather allows for every religious tradition to present its own point of view, and thus lead to a deeper dialogue that is respectful of the different identities that exist in every religious confession,” Ippolito, who teaches at the Santa Croce and Roma Tre Universities, told Crux.
The professor believes that the meeting is deeply rooted in the messages expressed by Francis, who’s invited Christians not only to be open to one another but also toward other religious denominations.
“The function of religiousness today has a fundamental importance for peace in the world. Only if man will be able to regain that spiritual universality that characterizes his essence, will he be able in his own culture and religious identity to find and create the concrete conditions for a better life and the respect for all differences,” he said.
Earlier this month, during his weekly Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, Francis called all faithful as well as “everyone, in their own conscience, before God,” to pray together for the special Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace, which fell on Feb. 23.
A later statement from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue had emphasized that the pope’s invitation was extended to all faith communities “according to their own traditions and in their own places of worship,” in light of their essential role in the promotion and safeguard of peace.
Religions engage with politics not only to advocate non-violence and compassion, but also to guarantee that they be able to exercise their faith freely and without fear of repercussions.
Religions must protect themselves from two types of fundamentalism, according to Ippolito. The first is the fundamentalism of politics, especially an “atheist politics” that only obeys the logics of power.
“Pope Francis has called our attention to this more than once, with a certain persevering insistence, to avoid worldliness of power and the power of worldliness,” he said.
The second type of fundamentalism, he said, is represented by religions that aim to instrumentalize faith for political purposes that have nothing to do with faith. “Dialogue between religions and the rediscovery of the authenticity of the religious spirit in each faith is also the safe-conduct to avoiding these two types of fundamentalism,” Ippolito concluded.
The relationship between faith and politics has been the object of much conversation, and sometimes strife, in all corners of the world, including in the Hindu communities.
“The dialectic between the temporal and spiritual power is complicated in this ever more globalized world,” said Swamini Hamsananda, vice president of the Hindu Union in Italy. According to the Indian philosophy teacher, the solution lies in the realization of the laicized state, which guarantees fundamental equality to all religious denominations as well as to those who don’t have one.
Hamsananda also warned of a lay state that uses “so called lay values” against religious traditions and beliefs. “The law cannot be limited to avoiding conflicts. If it does not want these to become ungovernable, it must search for common principles, points of encounter, of compatibility,” he said before quoting the words of the Austrian jurist and philosopher Hans Kelsen, who believed compromise to be the rule of democracy.
“Those who place borders, build barricades,” Hamsananda said, forget that this is not the path toward peace and happiness. “I believe that God cannot be found in sadness but only in joy, and while it’s nice to find God at the destination, it’s just as nice to find Him in the journey.”