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Educate for peace

· Interview with Cardinal Secretary of State on eve of Papal Journey ·

Terrorism, dialogue with Islam, and ecumenism are the main themes of the Pontiff’s visit in Egypt, explained Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State. The following is a working translation of the Cardinal’s interview with the Secretariat for Communication in anticipation of the Holy Father’s journey.

The Pope will be visiting Egypt less than three weeks after the bloody attacks on Coptic Churches on Palm Sunday.

Many people thought that Pope Francis, after the bloody and vicious attacks that shocked Egypt, would have reconsidered his journey to that land. Instead, the Pope never thought of doing so, precisely because he wants to be present; he wants to be there where there are situations of violence, situations of conflict, and in this case, precisely, in Egypt. He wants to be a messenger of peace where there is greatest need of peace, where there is greatest need to announce and work for peace. Certainly he will do so with his words, in the various meetings, but he will do so first and foremost with his presence, a presence of closeness, of solidarity, of encouragement. Thus, the Pope is going precisely because Egypt needs someone who announces peace and who tries to work for peace.

Could the Egyptian Government do more to protect Christian minorities from extremists?

The Government must do everything possible to protect the Egyptian citizens, regardless of which social or religious group they belong to. It is precisely the government’s role to guarantee security to its citizens through the action of its all its mechanisms, of all the forces of order. However, obviously, terrorism is a much broader challenge, which is not resolved by and is not not limited only to the level of security. It is a challenge that requires the removal of everything that can possibly cause and fuel terrorism; and obviously the government, the authorities must also be committed on this front. A front, however, which calls for the commitment of the whole society, above all with the commitment of education. Then, the family, school, Churches, the mass media, everyone has a responsibility to educate for peace and remove what could be the causes of this phenomenon, especially with regard to young people. Thus, giving meaning to their life, offering them values that are worth living for, committing and fighting, and not losing themselves instead in this vortex of violence and destruction that is truly senseless.

The Pontiff, together with Patriarch Bartholomew, will meet one of the most heeded voices of Sunni Islam. Can we expect a common appeal for peace?

I think there will be an appeal, a common commitment of Christians and Muslims will be expressed in favour of peace ... and this meeting will already be an example and model of peace, because it will be an encounter of dialogue. As we know, the dialogue with Al-Azhar University was formally resumed last year, on 23 May, when the Sheikh came to visit the Pope; and then there was a was a conference also sponsored by Al-Azhar on citizenship and freedom, in which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue also participated, where a declaration was signed, inviting everyone to reject violence in the name of God, inviting respect and peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims on the basis of the rule of law, of equality and of the concept of citizenship, another important concept to emphasize. Thus, this encounter is taking place along this line, and there will also be a peace conference, again this time sponsored by Al-Azhar, in which the Pope will take part with a speech, and now too the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. What the Pope has always said, he said it at the outset of his Pontificate, in the Evangelii Gaudium, that dialogue is indispensable; it is fundamental for peace in the world, and that all religions must feel committed to work in this sense. This dialogue must become an encounter and a collaboration for the common good. I think this occasion the Pontiff will have of meeting the Al-Azhar authorities, will go precisely in this sense, in the sense of proposing once more the method and way of dialogue and encounter as the method by which to overcome the contrasts and aggressiveness that can arise, unfortunately, in the name of religion, manipulating religion itself.

But how can the proselytism of fundamentalists be stopped?

The fundamental issue is education; thus educating the members of the various religions, especially children and young people for an attitude of great respect with regard to other faiths. It starts there. I think that the issue of language is fundamental: when aggressive language is used, there is a danger that this might then lead to aggressive acts. However, when language of peace, of respect, of reconciliation is used, certainly this will bear its positive fruit. Thus proselytism is confronted once again by educating for respect, tolerance and mutual acceptance.

The encounter with the martyr Coptic Orthodox Church will be another milestone of the ecumenism of suffering. But can a new communion prevent the exodus of Christians?

We deeply hope so, and I think it is precisely this support that Christians of the Middle East, too, need to feel from the part of their brothers and sisters of the West, which could help them to remain in their country despite the difficulties, and continue to bear their Christian witness in the midst of a society, the great majority of which is Muslim. I think the contribution of Christians is truly important; it is decisive. They can offer a contribution in every sense, for the building of society and for a more harmonious, serene and peaceful coexistence even within the society. This communion is in a certain sense cemented, reinforced by what the Pope calls the ecumenism of blood. This violence that is hurled against Christians as Christians, beyond their different confessional affiliations. Because believers in Christ, because disciples of Christ, have been made objects of this truly brutal and senseless violence. So surely the meeting with Pope Tawadros II and with the Coptic Orthodox community, which has suffered so much in recent times, will even further cement the already existing communion. There is a good relationship that the Pope and the Catholic Church have with the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is the largest Christian community in the Middle East, and all this will serve, I think, to give them greater courage, to not feel abandoned and therefore also to persevere in their presence in the country and in their witness.

The visit will conclude with the meeting of the small Coptic Catholic community. Is a flame that bears witness to the Cross but also of unity possible?

The Coptic Catholic community is small, a flame; this image is really beautiful. The Pope is also going in order to help, to confirm in the faith also in order that this flame not languish, not be extinguished, but continue to burn — even if it is a small flame — in this society and continue to bring its contribution. Thus there will be a meeting with the family of Catholics, a meeting to encourage them to go on in their everyday witness.

Alessandro Di Bussolo

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