martes, 6 de junio de 2017

The peace potential of religions

Conference organized by European People’s Party
Working group on intercultural and interreligious dialogue
European Parliament, Strasbourg
16 May 2017

Intervention by Rev. Dr. Manuel Barrios
Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue
Spanish Bishops’ Conference

Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

It is an honour for me to participate as speaker in this conference on “the peace
potential of religions” here in Strasbourg, during the plenary session of the European Parliament. I thank very much the European People’s Party, its Working Group on Intercultural and Religious Dialogue for this opportunity. I find it very appropriate and praiseworthy for a political group to engage in a structured and regular dialogue with Churches and religious representatives, as the EPP does. Churches and religions have much to offer to the political community in the way of insights, values, world views, solidarity, spiritual renewal, which are so much needed in our world. A world that is in agony and threatened by many things. My name is Manuel Barrios. I am a catholic priest and I a work in the Spanish Bishops’ Conference since 2011 as director of the Secretariat for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

I want to argue in this brief speech that religion, when it is authentically lived and taught, not only nurtures peace, but it also enhances humankind, making persons and communities more genuinely human and full. The reason for this is that the human being, as the Bible teaches, is made in the image and likeness of God, that is, he has an inherent transcendent dimension, he is open to the Ultimate Reality in his very being. His very nature, as the existentialists say, is to ex-ist, to exist outside himself, in reference to the Other. This is what Saint Augustine also expresses in his famous quote: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee”.

It is true that today many people, mainly in the West, don’t think this way. What they have seen and learned in the social sciences, in the media, and in public discussion brings them to consider religion as dangerous and as a hindrance to human development; as something that promotes or gives grounds to fanaticism, terrorism, bigotry, superstition and that threatens basic human rights, like freedom of conscience and equality between men and women. Many, to avoid this danger, lobby to reduce the presence of religion in the public sphere and use the means at their disposal to discredit religions and religious leaders. Obviously, I don’t believe this. I believe that religion is inherent to the human person as such and if well practiced brings him to fulfil his potentialities.

But let’s go back to the initial question: What is the peace potential of religions? What can we do to enhance it? What can the religions offer to our world? To answer this I will make a brief reference to Pope Francis’ visit to Egypt a few days ago and his speech at the University of Al-Azhar and also to the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic of the Parliament of World Religions.

But first it is important to state one basic principle that is of paramount importance for world peace. It is the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. Though this might seem to us self-evident, it is not so. For the religious minded person it is difficult to accept that another person does not adhere to what he considers the Truth, with capital letter. For him this Truth is the most important thing in his life, it is a Truth that is valid for everyone, it is a Truth that has directly to do with eternal salvation, therefore he feels he has the duty to lead others to it. Accepting religious freedom as a fundamental human right, a right that implies that someone can choose a different truth, might be difficult to recognize for him. It was difficult for the Catholic Church. The path that brought finally to the declaration on religious freedom of the Second Vatican Council was not easy. This document was promulgated in the last session of the Council after much discussions and clarifications, and it was not accepted by all. The path undertaken by the Catholic Church has to be undertaken by all Churches and religions if we want peace. Accepting religious freedom does not imply that men and women are not obliged to seek truth and once found to adhere to it; it means that this obligation falls and exerts its binding force upon the human conscience and cannot be imposed by external coercion.

In his speech in the university of Al-Azar in Cairo, Pope Francis spoke of Egypt as the

land of civilizations and the land of covenants. He spoke of the importance of education and the quest for true knowledge, for wisdom. He taught that in interreligious dialogue one has to put together respect for one’s own identity, the courage to accept differences and sincerity of intentions. He said that the only alternative to the civilty of encounter, fostered by good education, is the incivility of conflict. In relation to  the role of religions he said: “especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man… Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves”.

In relation to the image of Mount Sinai, pope Francis spoke of the ten commandments that were promulgated there. He quoted Pope John Paul II who, in his Jubilee pilgrimage to Mount Sinai in the year 2000, said: “The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary imposition of a tyrannical Lord. They were written in stone; but before that, they were written on the human heart as the universal moral law, valid in every time and place. Today as always, the Ten Words of the Law provide the only true basis for the lives of individuals, societies and nations. Today as always, they are the only future of the human family”.

Here, I gather, is where the great peace potential of religions lies. Beyond engaging in interreligious dialogue and religious leaders giving example of friendship and cooperation, beyond the defence of the fundamental human right to freedom of religion and conscience, beyond declaring the sacredness of human life against every form of violence, beyond praying for one another and imploring from God the gift of peace, beyond doing all we can to eliminate situations of poverty and exploitation – all things that are very necessary – religions can offer and are called to offer a spiritual renewal that our world desperately needs, a change in the hearts of people, a change based on the “binding values, convictions and norms which are valid for all humans, regardless of their social origin, sex, skin colour, language or religion”, as the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic states.

According to this proposal of a Global Ethic Project*, it is possible to define a set of “binding values, irrevocable standards, and personal attitudes” that are common to religions, without ignoring the differences between them; in other words, it is possible to arrive to a minimal fundamental consensus on a set of core values and attitudes we all share. These can be summarized in the six ethical principles of a global ethic: humanity, the Golden Rule, non-violence, justice, honesty and partnership between men and women.

Keeping alive this sense of global responsibility based on these values and passing it on to future generations, promoting peace, justice, truthfulness and partnership, is the special task of religions and their main way of contributing to peace.

Thank you very much!

*According to the Global Ethic Project, If we take a close look at world religions, we
find in them similar ethical teachings. Common to them is that every human being must be treated humanely and that we must do good and avoid evil. A basic principle that is found in many religions is the golden rule: what you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others. From this basic principle there arises a set of guidelines that are also common to religions. Namely:

  1. Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life, in accordance with the commandment: “You shall not kill!”; or, positively expressed: Have respect for life!
  2. Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order, in accordance with the commandment: “You shall not steal!”; or, positively expressed: Deal honestly and fairly!
  3. Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness, in accordance with the commandment: “You shall not lie!”; or, positively expressed: Speak and act truthfully!
  4. Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women, in accordance with the commandment: “You shall not commit sexual immorality!”; or, positively expressed: Respect and love one another! 

jueves, 20 de abril de 2017

Volver a Galilea para apropiarnos de nuestra historia

Homilía en la Vigilia Pascual
Madrid, 16 de abril 2017

Queridos hermanos y amigos:

Fuente de la imagen
Hoy celebramos ­-y celebrándolo lo hacemos presente con toda su fuerza salvífica para nosotros hoy­- el acontecimiento fundamental de nuestra fe, la resurrección del Señor. «Jesús ha resucitado»: este es el anuncio, la buena noticia que da el ángel a las mujeres que fueron al sepulcro ese primer día de la semana, el día después del sábado, al amanecer. Él ángel les anuncia un acontecimiento, algo que ha tenido lugar, pero algo realmente excepcional, un actuar de Dios en nuestra historia solo comparable con la creación del cosmos de la nada. Dios resucita a Jesús de la muerte, cumpliendo de modo sobreabundante todas sus promesas, yendo mucho más allá de lo que podíamos imaginar: la resurrección del Señor es el fundamento de nuestra vida y de nuestra esperanza. El cristiano es fundamentalmente una persona que cree en la resurrección del Señor.

Fuente de la imagen
La excepcional Liturgia de la Palabra de esta Vigilia Pascual nos muestra el acontecimiento de la resurrección como culmen de toda la historia de la salvación, de toda esa historia dirigida por Dios para salvar al hombre hecha de gestos y palabras narrados en el Antiguo Testamento. Así, la primera lectura nos habla de la creación del mundo, porque la resurrección es el cumplimiento de la creación, es el inicio de la nueva creación en la que Dios será «todo en todos» (1 Cor 15, 28). La segunda lectura del sacrificio de Abraham, porque Jesús es el verdadero Isaac entregado por Dios Padre y porque Abraham es modelo de creyente por su obediencia a la palabra; la tercera lectura del éxodo, porque el poderoso actuar de Dios para liberar a su pueblo de la esclavitud era imagen y preparación de la verdadera Pascua que nos libera del pecado y de la muerte. La cuarta y la quinta lectura de Isaías porque los planes de Dios no son nuestros planes y nuestros caminos no son los suyos y porque el amor de Dios es un amor eterno; aunque nos hayamos sentidos abandonados por él, eso fue cosa de un momento; la sexta lectura del profeta Baruc, porque la resurrección del Señor es donde se encuentra «la vida larga, la luz de los ojos y la paz»; la séptima lectura de Ezequiel, porque por medio de la muerte y resurrección de Jesús, Dios ha hecho una nueva alianza con nosotros, dándonos su espíritu que nos permite caminar en una vida nueva.

Pablo nos dice en su epístola a los Romanos que gracias al bautismo hemos sido incorporados al misterio de la muerte y resurrección de Jesús; hemos sido sacramentalmente sepultados con él para resucitar con él a una vida nueva. Por eso esta noche renovamos nuestras promesas bautismales, ya que al don de la gracia del bautismo debe corresponder nuestro esfuerzo por vivirlo a través de las opciones de vida que tomamos y de los valores que intentamos honrar. Hoy queremos renovar nuestras promesas bautismales, pero no como un rito más, sino con sinceridad.

Fuente de la imagen
Del pasaje evangélico que acabamos de escuchar, quero solo indicar tres elementos que destaca el mismo evangelista Mateo: el sepulcro vacío, el «ir a Galilea» y la unidad entre el crucificado y el resucitado. En primer lugar: el sepulcro vacío. Hay una insistencia en este hecho en el relato evangélico. El ángel dice a las mujeres: «No está aquí: ¡ha resucitado!, como había dicho. Venid a ver el sitio donde yacía…». La tumba estaba vacía. Ya no estaba el cuerpo del Señor. Los que hemos tenido el regalo de ir a Tierra Santa y visitar la Basílica del Santo Sepulcro, hemos podido entrar en ese edículo y tocar con mano la tumba vacía como las mujeres aquel primer domingo. Esa tumba vacía es prueba de ese acontecimiento tan asombroso de la resurrección. 

En segundo lugar, el ángel pide a las mujeres que digan a los discípulos que vayan a Galilea, allí verán a Jesús, y la misma orden repite el resucitado justo después. ¿Por qué ir a Galilea? ¿Qué significado tiene Galilea? En Galilea todo empezó. En Galilea los discípulos podrán
«rebobinar» su historia desde principio, pero ahora mirándola con ojos nuevos, a la luz de resurrección. Allí podrán entender mejor lo que significó su llamada años atrás a orillas del lago a ser pescadores de hombres, las bienaventuranzas que pronunció el Señor en aquel monte y que entonces parecían palabras de otro mundo; allí también podrán comprender mejor los momentos de prueba y la oposición a Jesús que fue creciendo hasta llevarle a la muerte. También para nosotros es importante de vez en cuando «volver a Galilea» para reencontrarnos con nuestra historia y entenderla mejor y asumirla, volver a los inicios, a ese amor primero. Mirar el recorrido de nuestra vida a la luz del misterio pascual nos permite comprenderlo mejor y hacerlo nuestro, apropiarnos de él y abrazarlo como una historia de amor y redención; también los momentos de prueba y de oscuridad, adquieren sentido. 

Fuente de la imagen
En tercer lugar, la unidad entre la pasión-muerte y la resurrección. Él ángel dice a las mujeres: «buscáis a Jesús, el crucificado. No está aquí…». El resucitado es el mismo que fue crucificado. La resurrección es la otra cara de la moneda de la pasión y la muerte. La cruz, esa cruz no buscada directamente ni querida, que permite el Señor en nuestra vida, esa cruz que nace de la entrega a los demás y de la lucha por el Reino y la justica en un mundo marcado por el pecado, es el camino para la resurrección.

¡Que el Señor nos de la alegría de la resurrección y nos ayude a vivir con más coherencia nuestro bautismo!