Vatican City, 21 September 2014 (VIS) – At 4 p.m. yesterday, after lunch in the apostolic nunciature with the Albanian bishops, Pope Francis proceeded to the Catholic University “Our Lady of Good Counsel” – instituted in 2004 and administrated by a foundation linked to the Religious Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception of Tirana – to meet with the heads of other religions and Christian denominations.
The event was attended by representatives of the six largest religious communities in the country: Muslim, Bektashi (an Islamic Sufi order), Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical and Jewish. The Pope expressed his joy at meeting with them as their presence together was a sign of dialogue and collaboration for the good of society as a whole.
Pope Francis began his discourse by remarking that Albania had sadly “witnessed the violence and tragedy that can be caused by a forced exclusion of God from personal and communal life”. He continued, “When, in the name of an ideology, there is an attempt to remove God from society, it ends up adoring idols, and very soon men and women lose their way, their dignity is trampled and their rights violated. You know well how much pain comes from the denial of freedom of conscience and of religious freedom, and how from such a wound comes a humanity that is impoverished because it lacks hope and ideals”.
However, the changes that have taken place since the 1990s have had, as a positive effect, the creation of the conditions for authentic religious freedom, making it possible for communities “to renew traditions that were never really extinguished, despite fierce persecution”. This religious freedom has enabled everyone to offer, according to his or her own religious convictions, “a positive contribution to the moral, and subsequently the economic, reconstruction of the country”.
However, he added, quoting the words of St. John Paul II, “True religious freedom shuns the temptation to intolerance and sectarianism, and promotes attitudes of respect and constructive dialogue. We cannot deny that intolerance towards those with different religious convictions is a particularly insidious enemy, one which today is being witnessed in various areas around the world. All believers must be particularly vigilant so that, in living out with conviction our religious and ethical code, we may always express the mystery we intend to honour. This means that all those forms which present a distorted use of religion, must be firmly refuted as false since they are unworthy of God or humanity. Authentic religion is a source of peace and not of violence. No one must use the name of God to commit violence. To kill in the name of God is a grave sacrilege. To discriminate in the name of God is inhuman”.
“From this point of view, religious freedom is not a right which can be guaranteed solely by existing legislation, although laws are necessary”, he remarked. “Rather, religious freedom is a shared space, an atmosphere of respect and cooperation that must be built with the participation of all, even those who have no religious convictions”. He went on to outline two attitudes that may be especially useful in promoting this fundamental freedom.
“The first is that of regarding every man and woman, even those of different religious traditions, not as rivals, less still enemies, but rather as brothers and sisters. When a person is secure in his or her own beliefs, there is no need to impose or put pressure on others: there is a conviction that truth has its own power of attraction. … Each religious tradition, from within, must be able to take account of the existence of others”.
The second is “commitment to the common good. Whenever belonging to a specific religious tradition gives rise to service with conviction, generosity and concern for the whole of society without making distinctions, then there too exists an authentic and mature development of religious freedom, which appears not only as a space in which to legitimately defend one’s autonomy, but also as a potential that enriches the human family as it advances”.
“Let us look around us: there are so many poor and needy people, so many societies that try to find a more inclusive way of social justice and path of economic development!” exclaimed the Holy Father. “How great is the need for the human heart to be firmly fixed on the deepest meaning of experiences in life and rooted in a rediscovery of hope! Men and women, inspired in these areas by the values of their respective religious traditions, can offer an important, and even unique, contribution. This is truly a fertile land offering much fruit, also in the field of interreligious dialogue”.
“But I would also like to mention an ever-present spectre, that of relativism: “it is all relative”. In this respect, we must keep a basic principle clear in our minds: it is not possible to enter into dialogue other than from the standpoint of one's own identity. Without identity dialogue cannot exist. It would be the spectre of a dialogue, a dialogue on air: without purpose. Each one of us has his or her own religious identity and is faithful to it. But the Lord knows how to lead history on. Each one of us starts from his or her own identity, without pretending to have another, because it is not useful ... and this is relativism. What we have in common is the path of life, and the good will to start out from one's own identity for the good of our brothers and sisters. Each one of us offers the witness of his or her own identity to the other, and dialogues with the other. After this, dialogue may proceed on theological questions, but the most important and most beautiful thing is to walk together without betraying one's own identity, without masking it, without hypocrisy”.
Pope Francis concluded his address by encouraging religious leaders to maintain and develop “the tradition of good relations among the various religious communities in Albania, and to be united in serving your beloved homeland. With a touch of humour, it may be said that this is like a football team: Catholics 'in competition' alongside all the others but all united together for the good of the country and for humanity. Continue to be a sign, for your country and beyond, that good relations and fruitful cooperation are truly possible among men and women of different religions”.