Keys to peace: outreach, education, encounter

British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker

British Ambassador to the Holy See Nigel Baker

Education, interreligious engagement and encounters between the various sects within a religion are three ways in which religions can promote a culture of peace, said Ambassador Nigel Baker, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, at a conference organized by The Lay Centre last month.

The ambassador was a respondent, along with German Ambassador to the Holy See Annette Schavan, at a conference given by Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Holy See’s Secretary for Relations with States, on the theme “Creating a Culture of Peace: What Can Religions Do?”

Below, The Lay Centre presents excerpts from Ambassador Baker’s remarks.

*****

“I wanted to highlight three ways in which, I think, religion in particular can promote the culture of peace. …

Interreligious engagement, what I call ‘peace through coexistence.’ Contextual and comparative education … (or) ‘peace through understanding.’ But also ecumenical encounter, what I call ‘peace through unity.’ …

  1. Peace through coexistence

Interreligious engagement is all about reaching out to ‘the other’. Famously, fear of people of other faiths tends to be greatest in communities that have no experience of that faith. More people are afraid of Islam in the U.S. Bible Belt, for example, where hardly any Muslims live or work, than in the melting pot of New York. The more monocultural or monoreligious a society becomes, the greater the risk of intolerance, fear, and downright hostility to the other. And that can lead to scapegoating and demonization, especially by people who are unscrupulous enough to use fear of ‘the other’ for their own ends. …

It’s not easy. There are too many current examples of where it is not working, or not happening. But it is possible and something religious leaders themselves have great responsibility to take forward.

  1. Peace through understanding

Education, or rather lack of it, is so often at the root of extremism or fear, two of the prime causes of conflict in the world today. Ensuring a genuine contextual education … remains an essential tool toward social peace. There are two ways in particular that religions can contribute:

a) The training of their own.

In our globalized world, no course of formation for priests, imams, missionaries or other young future leaders can be considered complete without a sound training in the beliefs of the other. … It is even more important in societies where encounters with the other are far rarer than in mixed-faith societies. …

Comparative, contextual and contemporary religious studies are essential to the formation of a tolerant, wise and understanding preacher or minister in our globalized world. How can he or she lead his community otherwise? And how can religions counter the extremists and fanatics who exist in their midst without that education? …

b) Using their influence to ensure that good religious studies – and by that I include studies into all the major world faiths – are on the school curricula.

I agree with those who say that it is a scandal that the curriculum in some Muslim-majority countries either fails to mention Christianity at all, or only mentions Christians in disparaging terms. In response, in turn, it may also be worth examining more closely how Islam, Judaism or Hinduism are portrayed in curricula in Christian-majority or secular countries – something the Church is well-placed to do. This is vital, for without a comparative understanding of religion, rejecting cultural stereotypes and emphasizing the connections between our faiths rather than the differences, we are not well equipped to apply discernment. …

  1. Peace through unity

… Ecumenism is rather out of fashion at the moment. It seems all too difficult, Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, Orthodox-Anglican, or Anglican-Catholic. Where is the end goal, that hoped-for ecclesial unity? What’s the point when we are never going to overcome what Pope Francis himself has called “the scandal of disunity”?

I think the Pope himself answered that in his address to another group of ecumenical delegates in Rome a few days ago. “There is a strong bond,” he told them, “that already unites us, which goes beyond all divisions.” And I think that’s the point. Peace is undermined if we concentrate on what divides us. It is certainly achievable if we strive to focus on what unites us.

I do believe that what is true for Christianity is also true for Islam and other faiths, especially at a time of open division within those faiths. I don’t know what the best translation of ecumenism would be when applied to Islam, but I think that its principles – dialogue, striving to understand, receptivity to the beliefs of the other, searching for better coexistence and, just perhaps, for eventual unity – apply equally to Islam as to Christianity. …”

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