Before we shall start our panel, I want to pay tribute to the community of Sant' Egidio.
At the gathering held 30 years ago here in Assisi, the late Pope John Paul II envisioned intense worldwide activity over a period of many years, aimed at strengthening interreligious dialogue, and international understanding, in order to increase peace in the world and encourage acts of charity and kindness for all the poor and needy of the world.
As always, the community of Sant’Egidio stood at the forefront, and was the first to volunteer to take this important human and humanitarian challenge upon itself. And although the community of Sant’Egidio is not so big, what led to its success in realizing the Pope’s vision, and in recreating the special spirit of Assisi is the quality of its members and their great devotion to the concept and the ideal.
I have had the privilege of participating in several conferences organized by the Sant’Egidio community, and there is no question of their significant contribution to awareness and understanding among religions, through productive dialogue and individual face-to-face meetings between leaders of the various religions.
This important conference, by its very existence, expresses the desire that we all share to use dialogue to bring about a good, exalted and better world, in which the spirit has the upper hand – and violence, aggression and force have no part.
Naturally, our panel today fit-in well, with the historic spirit of Assisi.
Man is obligated as a human being to behave in a manner that dignifies the image and spirit of G-d within him, and the image and spirit of G-d in his fellow man. Whatever his religion and his opinions, whatever his nationality, man is first and foremost a human being made in G-d’s image, and must treat his fellow humans accordingly.
There is a wonderful essay by the late Rabbi Kook, the founder of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, on the subject of dialogue and peace.
The main idea is , that just as the beauty of the melody in a choir, or an orchestra does not come from identical voices , but rather from the dissimilar and varied voices, that join in harmony together. In the same way universal truth, dialogue and peace should constructed from diverse thoughts and perspectives, from varying opinions and methods, all of which have a place and importance in the harmony of life.
It is the uniting of forces, contrasts and opposites that endows dialogue for peace with added strength, beauty and perfection.
To strive for unity and peace is the ability to overcome personal interests, and to implement peace in our daily life – despite all the difficulties.
Those who favor dialogue and peace respond positively to any idea, opinion or emotion, without arrogance and without negating the other.
They see the good and the positive in every person, nation and ethnic group.
Peace and dialogue is then not just an existential need that brings temporary and current benefit. Peace is perfection and a fundamental element of faith.
However, we do not want that our peace and togetherness will be based on fear. Fear of unbridled terrorism that attacks innocents, women, children and babies – carried out in the name of G-d and religion, or because we are afraid of dangerous and irresponsible leaders who possess weapons of mass destruction, and who have the ability to destroy anyone in the world that does not agree with them.
Human life is unique and of the highest value in our world. Any attempt to destroy human life must be strongly rejected, and condemn. We must do every common effort, in order to promote dialogue, peace, human rights, respect for freedom of conscience and worship.
The task of religious leaders is to be the moral compass and conscience of the world. To emphasize the sublime value of life and awake the universe with an outcry at any killings, injustice or evil, not to allow political and national leaders to sink into apathy. They must condemn terrorists who in the name of G-D or religion murder innocents and undermine the divine order in the world. Only a firm, immediate and unequivocal response will deter these people from carrying out their cruel plans.
Religious leaders and their views are of unique importance and strongly influence the inter-religious mosaic. At many events, we have found that where politicians and states-men have failed, religious leaders have succeeded in inflaming or calming down various groups. The religious leaders, can encourage dialogue, educate, teach, bring people closer and achieve positive results in these areas.
The emphasis of course must be on the formal – and primarily the informal -educational frameworks, where religious leaders have great influence. You will hear soon about our activities in these issues.
It is very important to remember that rapprochement is the torch that we must carry proudly and fearlessly. It is no secret that on all sides there is a strong opposition for reconciliation and dialogue between religious and spiritual leaders. Which in extreme cases accompanied by threats to boycott and removal from the consensus. We should condemn strongly these phenomena and strengthen the dialogue between religious leaders.
The darkness and the violence cannot be chased away with sticks, certainly not with knives and guns. A little light repels much darkness! The light of faith and the light of positive action on the part of religious leaders, as a living and dignified personal example, will help chase away the darkness and the evil in our world.
If the message that emerges from here today is the vital need for dialogue and mutual understanding among us, it will be of tremendous value.
This is in fact the spirit of historical Assisi. This is the way of life that the community of Sant’ Egidio has marked on its banner.
For us, in Israel, inter-religious dialogue is especially important and essential.
As you may know, Israel has full freedom of religion and worship for all religions and believe. However, we also realize the importance and the vital need for constant and ongoing dialogue between us, so we established ten years ago, the forum of The Heads of Religions in Israel.
A forum, whose esteemed representatives are with us today.
The forum has a Standing Committee, which meets regularly throughout the year and works on several issues: education, culture, information, reconciliation, reducing tensions and more.
We will hear more about it during the panel.
As you probably all know, the Holy Land and in particular Jerusalem, is extremely important to the different religions and diverse faiths living in Israel, and the eyes of the entire world is watching us all the time.
There are many geographical differences in Israel. The South is hot and dry, the North - green and blooming. The Dead Sea - the lowest place on earth - to the very high Mount Hermon.
In the same way, there are also many differences of views and opinions in belief and worship of the various religious, which can naturally create divisions and tensions.
This is the duty of the Forum of Heads of Religions in Israel, which enables direct contact between the religious leaders, for every question, problem or any kind of conflict, there is an open line between them, and the problems are solved.
Sometimes if the situation requires, the religious leaders meet to find peaceful solution.
We have today the unique opportunity to hear directly from the senior religious leaders, of the principles underlying their activities.