On November 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Israeli Religious Council—a committee comprising leaders of Israel’s primary religious communities—at a Vatican meeting.  (Significantly, Benedict addressed the Council on the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht (1938).)  Among those present were Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, and a delegate described as “the head imam of Israel.”  This was the first time a Pope, according to Romereports.com, has held such a summit.  (See a video report of the meeting here.)

Founded in 2007, the Israeli Religious Council is a body consisting of representatives from eighteen different communities in Israel—including Jews, Muslims, and Christians—and its purpose is to foster interfaith awareness and dialogue.

The Pope’s message emphasized interfaith understanding to the end of promoting peace, particularly in the Middle East.  He differentiated, on the one hand, between violence motivated directly by religion and, on the other, violence that is simply the consequence of modern secular society.  In Pope Benedict’s view, simple interfaith understanding—which would theoretically end direct interfaith violence—will not generate lasting peace in the world; rather, an understanding of divine love and justice will be the source of lasting reconciliation in modern society, regardless of the mediating faith through which one chooses to understand such divinity.

For excerpts of Benedict’s address, please follow the jump.

“In our troubled times, dialogue between different religions is becoming ever more important in [generating] mutual understanding and respect that [leads] to friendship and solid trust in each other[, especially] for the religious leaders of the Holy Land who, while living in a place [of sacred memories], are tested daily by the difficulties of living together in harmony.

“[T]oday we find ourselves confronted by two kinds of violence: on the one hand, the use of violence in the name of religion and, on the other, the violence that is the consequence of the denial of God which often characterizes life in modern society.  In this situation, as religious leaders we are called to reaffirm that the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace.  This is a truth that must become ever more visible in the way in which we live with each other . . . . Hence, I wish to encourage you to foster a climate of trust and dialogue among the leaders and members of all the religious traditions . . . in the Holy Land.

“We share a grave responsibility to educate the members of our . . . communities with a view to nurturing . . . and developing an openness towards cooperation with people of religious traditions other than our own. . . . Justice, together with truth, love and freedom, is a fundamental requirement for lasting and secure peace in the world.  Mov[ing] towards reconciliation requires courage and vision, as well as the trust that it is God Himself Who will show us the way.  We cannot achieve our goals if God does not give us the strength to do so.

“[I]n May 2009, I stood in front of the Western Wall and [I placed between the stones a written prayer asking] God for peace in the Holy Land.  I wrote: ‘God of all ages, on my visit to Jerusalem, the “City of Peace,” spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, I bring before You the joys, the hopes and the inspirations, the trials, the suffering and the pain of all Your people throughout the world.  God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, hear the cry of the afflicted, the fearful, the bereft; send Your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family; stir the hearts of all who call upon Your name to walk humbly in the path of justice and compassion.'”

Let’s all—whatever we believe and no matter our religion (or lack thereof)—hope for whatever peace will come.

—DRS, CLR Fellow

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