Distinguished leaders of Christian Churches and all the major religions of the world, this meeting in Barcelona is a reflection of the long history of dialogue that the Sant’ Egidio Community is involved in. This is a dialogue that begun twenty five years ago following in the footsteps of the “spirit of Assisi”, the town where the Pope John Paul II inaugurated in 1986 the first inter-faith meeting for peace.
The 2008 meeting hosted by Cyprus is still vivid in my mind. It was an exceptional event at the heart of the Mediterranean, in a country that is still divided after the invasion and the subsequent occupation of its northern part. World religions could not have chosen a more ideal place to observe from close quarters the evils of war, or from which to give a message of hope. During the Meeting, Cyprus was a crossroads for many people of different religions and cultures. Since ancient times, Cyprus has always been a bridge uniting different civilizations. It still is, despite the severe trauma left by the division. The people of Cyprus know what it means to live in peace, because they have known and still experience the pain of war and the abandonment of their fathers’ homes.
For these reasons, I welcomed most gladly the 2008 Meeting, along with the people of Cyprus, and I would in turn like to thank yet again the Community of Sant’ Egidio and especially its founder and my friend, professor Andrea Riccardi, for the excellent organization.
I remembered this significant event during the visit of His Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI in Cyprus in June, and I expressed again our wish that “Cyprus should become a model for the coexistence of civilizations, a model of the civilization of the future”. The message of peace that was affirmed after the conclusion of the 2008 Meeting has reached us here today: “No man, no nation, no community is an island. There is always a need for the neighbor, for friendship, forgiveness and solidarity. We have a common world fate: either to live together in peace or perish together […] There is not hatred, war, or wall that could resist prayer, i.e. the calm love fond of dialogue and forgiveness. Dialogue does not weaken, dialogue reinforces. Dialogue is the true alternative to violence. Nothing is lost in dialogue”.
All my life I have tried to think in this spirit: finding reasons for consensus. The last word can never be one of division, bitterness, conflict. I wish to reaffirm this in Barcelona, at the other side of our turbulent Mediterranean. The countries around the Mediterranean are worlds of people with different national and religious cultures. Living together is difficult. Living together is a challenge. It is indeed true, that civilization does not seek an imaginary purity, but mixing, which is the result of the interaction of different identities and history. A world in which the other, the one different from us is oppressed and annulled, would be a barbarous world. True civilization is only that in which we are living together.
Therefore, since I was elected President of the Cyprus Republic in 2008, we continue consistently our struggle to reunify Cyprus and abolish occupation. We are currently in talks in order to achieve a commonly accepted agreement and give peace a real chance. We know that it is an effort fraught with difficulties, but we have a duty to build a peaceful future and deliver a reunified country to the generations to come. A hospitable land for all its children: Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins. In a Europe of unification it is inconceivable that Cyprus and its people should remain divided.
War always leaves behind a contaminated legacy of hatred and bitterness that does not allow problems to be resolved. It takes patience for people to learn how to live together through dialogue. As professor Riccardi mentioned: “A new world is possible, not by waving a magic wand, but as the result of an insistent process of rebuilding a culture of living together, of everyday dialogue, meeting with the other, respecting freedom and the personality of others, solidarity that would benefit the poorest and smallest”. That is also my belief.
We are faced with a difficult time in our history. Many of the cornerstones of the past are collapsing. All over the world we are feeling preoccupied by the breakdown of human civilization. Values, morals, justice: everything is breaking down. Man is losing his place at the centre of our thoughts and actions. We are witnesses to events of inhuman cruelty. The sad consequences of an unjust financial system are in front of us all: entire nations condemned to live in conditions of extreme poverty and absolute desolation. Lack of perspective and dialogue pushes many people to desperate actions. We see all over Europe the revival of voices of intolerance, marginalization and racism. Financial insecurity amplifies preoccupations everywhere: so the poor are an easy target for our fears and insecurities.
We need a radical change of political morality. What should politics and politicians do in light of this situation? I will say it in simple terms: “supersede the limits”. This phrase in my point of view summarizes the ideal of the politician who does not follow the impulses on the spur of the moment and does not fall prey to the traps of emotions.
Superseding the limits is an expression of the courage needed to disregard the selfishness of the few and the fears of the many. This challenge is multifaceted, but it must be addressed with valor and humility, with the objective to remodel the future and not to blindly accept it.
This is exactly what we intend to accomplish on our island, Cyprus. It is what must become reality in Europe. I do not wish to conceal the difficulties of the task. Nevertheless, it is imperative that we put superseding the limits above the general interest of a group or, even worse, some elites. Only this way could our dreams to live together and have justice come true.
But politics can only do so much. Part of the responsibility weighs your shoulders, the distinguished representatives of the world’s great religions. I see among you leaders who can join forces in an effort to eliminate distrust. I see in you the spiritual leaders that focus their attention to the noblest values, including the most important, the right to life and peaceful togetherness, without distinction based on colour, national origin and culture.
Enlightened religious leaders and courageous political leaders have a duty to unite forces in order to overcome cross-border obstacles in all areas of life. As I said in Cyprus: “There is room in our small world for all civilizations and all beliefs living together positively and creatively, thus benefitting man and his prosperity”.
Our common field of action is justice, mainly vis-à-vis the poorest. This is why our Embassy at the Holy See observes with great interest not only interreligious dialogue, but also cooperation for a more just world. It was my wish that my government should cooperate with the community of Sant’ Egidio in Africa supporting treatment for AIDS in Malawi and Guinea Conakry. It is an act of solidarity reminding us that we are not allowed to turn a blind eye to the painful consequences of this severe pandemic in the African continent. This is also another way to supersede limits.
Our meeting in Barcelona is the reflection of our superseding the limits between us. By being here all of us, side by side, we make a commitment. Today we are saying that we cannot live on our own, without peace. We are asking for the acceptance of the challenge to form a new humanitarianism of dialogue in light of different cultural, religious and popular traditions. Coexistence is the great challenge of our time. The culture of “togetherness” is more than necessary in our troubled world, in order to make it more just and peaceful.