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Mercy and dialogue

· Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the Pope's journey to Sri Lanka and The Philippines ·

There are “two strong points” of the Church's mission on the Asian continent, and they are: “the charitable activities in the fields of healthcare and education”, and interreligious dialogue, which “is a necessary condition for peace in the world today, and so it is a duty for all religions”. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, made this statement during an interview which took place on 8 January at the Vatican Television Centre in cooperation with L'Osservatore Romano on the eve of the Pontiff's journey to Sri Lanka and The Philippines.

Pope Francis is returning to Asia five months after the visit to Korea where, in the interreligious dialogue, he indicated the Church's the primary mission on the Continent. Do you believe that he will stand firm on this point even in these two countries that are so different?

The mission of the Church in The Philippines and Sri Lanka is that of the Church throughout the world: to proclaim the Gospel, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, who is the font of life and of hope for all mankind. Naturally, the context she lives and works in is kept in mind. It is a context characterized by multiplicity, almost a mosaic of societies, cultures and religions. The Asian continent is the cradle of the great religions of the world. Then, bearing in mind the fact that the Church is a small minority, a little flock in the middle of so vast a reality as this. So this mission, too, must modulate itself on the basis of these characteristics. There seem to me to be two strong points of this mission: on the one hand, the aspect of charitable and humanitarian activities in the fields of healthcare and education, which are already well appreciated by the people and governments of both countries; and on the other hand, the aspect of interreligious dialogue with an aim to promote and consolidate the culture of encounter, respect and mutual acceptance. This includes what the Pope says in the Evangelii Gaudium, that interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world today, and so it is a duty for all religions. This will be a nodal point, the Pope's centre of attention during the journey.

Unfortunately, the ethnic and religious differences in Sri Lanka continue to be a source of tension, to the extant that even Buddhist fundamentalism has developed in the country. What is the mission, the task of Christians in this complex scenario?

It seems to me that if there is a place where one has to speak about the function of bridges, it is precisely in Sri Lanka. And it is precisely the Church in Sri Lanka. Also because the Church is facilitated in this task of hers by the fact that she gathers members, gathers faithful from both of the main ethnicities, from both the Tamil and the Sinhalese people, and thus the Church knows something of what is in the heart of each one and also knows theirs expectations; and so she is able to carry out this task, this role of reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation. However, I would also like to underline the fact that traditionally Sri Lank has experienced great development of this religious harmony among the various religions; it is always characterized by this encounter, this dialogue. Unfortunately, there have recently been extremist groups that manipulate public opinion somewhat and create tension by using religion for purposes that are unclear. So we hope that this tradition, which is of interreligious dialogue and cooperation can prevail over these new attempts to destabilize the situation and at the same time, we also hope that the authorities are able to intervene precisely in order to preserve these fundamental values of the population.

The Pope will also visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu in the predominantly Tamil region. What itinerary must the journey of reconciliation follow after so many years of war which have claimed so many lives?

I would say that Madhu is in a way the symbol of this “ecclesial bridge” that I spoke of, precisely because it is a centre of prayer and also a centre of encounter. The Shrine of Madhu is also known and appreciated and attended by members of other religions, not only by Catholics. Let us then also remember the episodes linked to the civil war, when Pope Benedict asked the then president of the Republic to make every effort to preserve the integrity of that shrine, exactly for this of its characteristics: it lay on the front line between the two warring factions, and had become a gathering place for many displaced people from both parties. I think Pope Francis, as he did on 8 February, when he met with the Sri Lankan community in St Peter's, will recall all of these painful episodes, the many tears, he said, that had been shed on account of the violence and cruelty of the conflict. Not so much to reopen wounds, as to instead cast a glance at the future. This commitment to reconciliation must characterize all components of the society of Sri Lanka. A commitment to reconciliation which is passed on through the recognition of truth. I think these are the steps: attention to justice and the cooperation of all for the common good.

The Philippines are the only country of Catholic majority in Asia. How can the presence of this young and dynamic Church be enhanced on the continent?

They told me just yesterday evening about Filipinos who have returned in these days from their country, that in these weeks there truly is deep choral prayer in preparation for the Pope's visit. This is a very positive preface. I think that the enhancement will come about through recognition of the role that the Church in The Philippines has in both the context of Asia and Southeast Asia and on the world stage. With this journey, in continuity with that to Korea, the Pope wants to focus the Church's attention on this reality; and at the same time to also introduce her into that nine-year journey leading to the celebration of the fifth centenary of the Gospel's arrival in The Philippines in 1521. And this year is the year dedicated to the poor. So centrality is derived from the number: that is, The Philippines is one of the countries of Southeast Asia where the majority of the population is Catholic. I say one because there is also East Timor, where 90% of the population is Catholic: we must not forget this too. The Philippines has also been somewhat the geographical centre: suffice it to think of the many important meetings that have taken place there, beginning with the visit of Blessed Paul vi in 1970, which then gave rise to the constitution of the Federation of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. I think the other important point is the centrality of the Filipino people, for example the studies of so many young people who come from various neighbouring Asian countries to enhance their formation which is provided in the country's different Catholic universities. And finally there is also the diffusion of Filipinos throughout the world: we know that Filipinos are present in many, many countries in Asia, but also in the Americas and in Europe. Therefore, there are many possibilities for evangelization by Filipinos; the important thing is that the Church in The Philippines embrace this message and this impetus from Pope Francis to be a Church which goes forth: a Church which feels the duty to evangelize and proclaim the Gospel.

The theme will be mercy and compassion, and Pope Francis will demonstrate these qualities and ask for them for the victims of typhoons and earthquakes, but also for the victims of poverty, injustice and corruption ….

This is somewhat the theme of the journey: to show compassion, to show mercy toward the many people who are suffering, suffering due to natural disasters, especially in The Philippines; suffering on account of structural injustices, such as poverty and corruption; also suffering because of the consequences of the ongoing civil war. It is a kind of mercy, of compassion which heals, in the first place. Then, this is somewhat the sense of the Pope's presence: to bring an element, a dimension of healing and of comfort to this situation. And at the same time – just because in this sense mercy and compassion are active elements – to call everyone to give their own contribution so that these wounds may be healed and these sorrows may be comforted and most of all that the causes which provoked them may be overcome.

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