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Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines
to the United Nations
16 April 2009, New York


His Excellency, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon,

His Eminence, Edward Cardinal Egan,

His Excellency, Archbishop Migliore,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Happy Easter to all of you!

Let me begin by reiterating my gratitude to His Excellency Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, for inviting me to make “some remarks” on the interreligious dialogue portion of the address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the General Assembly on 18 April 2008 during this commemoration of the first anniversary of such address. I must confess that, initially, I was unable to grasp the reason why this should be a celebration of the first anniversary of the address and not of the visit . Before the end of this symposium we will completely know why: to stress the transcendence of the address, or the message. Undoubtedly, the message is the enduring legacy of the visit. That transcendence is revealed in the theme of the anniversary celebration - Justice: The Root of Human Rights. As a legacy, its value grows and increases every day. The root must spread every moment of every day, not in the ground, but in the hearts and minds of all peoples. Thus, I will speak in the present tense when making reference to it.

As instructed by Archbishop Migliore, I shall confine myself to the interreligious dialogue aspect of the address. Interreligious dialogue provides nutrients and tender and loving care for the root .

The Holy Father devotes a good portion of his address to interreligious or interfaith dialogue. His pronouncements thereon is proof of the special importance he accords to it and of the unceasing interest of the Catholic Church to promote and enhance interfaith dialogue. Only last Easter Sunday, in his “Urbi et Orbi” message, he spoke of “reconciliation” as a pre-condition for a future overall security and peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. Interreligious dialogue will play a crucial role in this reconciliation. Next month he will visit the Middle East to help build peace through reconciliation.

In his UN address, His Holiness speaks of the person as the image of the Creator; of the sacred character of life; justice; human rights; human dignity; human family; religious freedom; a vision of life firmly anchored in the religious dimension; peace; development; and the overarching role of the responsibility to protect. He expounds on these themes in the context of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In relation to the UN Charter, His Holiness stresses that “the founding principles of the organization – the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person, humanitarian cooperation and assistance - express the just aspirations of the human spirit and constitute the ideals which should underpin international relations”.

Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), His Holiness asserts that it is “the outcome of a convergence of different religious and cultural traditions, all of them motivated by the common desire to place the human person at the heart of institutions, laws and the workings of society, and to consider the human person essential to the world of culture, religion and science.” Continuing, he says that “the rights recognized and expounded in the Declaration apply to everyone by virtue of the common origin of the person, who remains the high-point of God’s creative designs for the world and for history.”

The way His Holiness explains his profound thoughts on these themes makes abundantly clear his message that God is at the heart or center of the UN Charter and the UDHR. This centrality of God in these hallowed documents confirms that the world is one human family, with each member recognizing that every human being is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that man is God’s temple and God’s temple is holy (1 Corinthians 3:16). For this reason, the opening paragraph of the preamble of the UDHR solemnly declares that the “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

But, we know – as experience and the lessons of history have taught us - that we cannot fully attain these objectives unless we breathe life to one of the ends of the UN Charter, namely: to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors. Further, unless we realize that, expanding the “one body, many parts” discourse of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 12:25-26) – as one human family we are one body with many parts, but so constructed that there be no division, but that the parts may have the same concern for the other, such that if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; and if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. Accordingly, we must have the same regard for one another; live in peace with all (1 Romans 12:19), for the New Testament teaches us a new commandment, the second greatest commandment: to love thy neighbor as thyself (John 13:34; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31).

We have also to accept the fact that the pursuit and fulfillment of the ends, goals and principles of the UN and the protection, promotion and enhancement of the rights solemnly enshrined in the UDHR cannot be left entirely to the States which may focus only on, in the language of His Holiness, “legality”; or, in my own view, their agenda, noble or otherwise. The latter could be motivated by selfishness, greed, or the lust for fame, power or supremacy which could cause war, violence, intolerance, persecution, oppression and injustice. As His Holiness notes, “experience has shown that legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactments of normative decisions taken by the various agencies of those in power. When presented purely in terms of legality, rights risk becoming weak propositions divorced from the ethical and rational dimension which is their foundation and their goal.” He further observes that “entrusting exclusively to individual States, with their laws and institutions the final responsibility to meet the aspirations of persons, communities and entire peoples, can sometimes have consequences that exclude the possibility of a social order respectful of the dignity and rights of the person”. He then proposes the better alternative: “a vision of life anchored in the religious dimension… since recognition of the transcendent value of every man and woman favors conversion of heart, which leads to a commitment to resist violence, terrorism and war, and to promote justice and peace.”

How can this vision be achieved or realized? Through “dialogue”, the Holy Father recommends. He defines “dialogue” as a “means by which the various components of society can articulate their point of view and build consensus around the truth concerning particular values or goals”. He refers more particularly to interreligious dialogue because the “nature of religions, freely practiced, … can autonomously conduct a dialogue of thought and life”; and if in that level the religious sphere is kept separate from political action, great benefits ensue for individuals and communities”. For the United Nations, he sees these benefits: “The United Nations can count on the results of dialogue between religions and can draw fruit from the willingness of believers to place their experience and the service of the common good. Their task is to propose a vision of faith not in terms of intolerance, discrimination and conflict, but in terms of complete respect for truth, co-existence, rights and reconciliation”.

This separation from political action is of utmost importance. For one it underscores the principle of separation of Church and State. In her book The Mighty and the Almighty, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says: “It is common in our day to assume that the separation of church and state was intended to keep religion out of government, but the objective was more the other way around: the primary goal of the founders was to protect religion from the heavy hand of politicians”. On this basis and in light of the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution, Albright continues: “separation of church and state rests on three “nos”, no to religious test for public office, no to established state religions, and no to abridgment of the right to religious liberty.” Human rights include the right to religious freedoms. “It should never be necessary to deny God in order to enjoy one’s rights,” Albright says further.

For another, separating the religious sphere from the political sphere in the level of interreligious dialogue establishes a separate path to justice and peace. A path constructed with understanding and cooperation; justice and peace which are the foundation of a culture of life, a civilization of love.

We know that since 1964 the Catholic Church has been actively engaged in interreligious dialogue. In that year His Holiness Pope Paul VI created a special department of the Roman Curia known as the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), inter alia, to promote mutual understanding, respect and collaboration between Catholics and the followers of other religious traditions.

On 28 October 1965 the Second Vatican Council issued the DeclarationNostrate Aetate, on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions.

Nine years later, or in 1974, Pope Paul VI instituted the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (CRRJ). The CRRJ does not only condemn anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination, it also adheres to the obligation of reciprocal understanding and mutual esteem of their respective religious traditions.

On 6 March 2008, a little over a month before he visited the UN, The Holy Father approved the establishment of the Catholic-Muslim Forum. The Forum held its summit on 4-6 November 2008 with the theme “Love of God, Love of Neighbor.” It ended with the adoption of a Declaration which embodies the congruent interfaith views that should inspire the more than one billion Catholics and the more than one billion Muslims around the world – or a total of one-third of humanity – to live together in harmony.

Then last 24 and 25 February 2009 in Rome the annual meeting of the Vatican-based Joint Committee for Dialogue of the PCID and the Cairo-based Permanent Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue Among the Monotheistic Religions was held. The Final Declaration of the meeting underscored, among other things, that peace and security are much needed in the present world; peace is a gift from God; there is a strong link between peace and human rights; and religious leaders have the duty to promote a culture of peace.

The CRRJ and the CFM would, hopefully, guide the leaders, scholars and followers of these great Abrahamic religions – namely - in alphabetical order - Christianity, Islam and Judaism – in, among other things, pursuing, promoting and enhancing a peaceful, friendly and cooperative co-existence and in ushering in a reign of lasting and durable world peace.

It may be observed that although the approach of the Catholic Church in Her engagements in interreligious dialogue is more on the theological plane, it nevertheless strongly complements other dialogue processes or modalities that are focused on the socio-economic, cultural and political dimensions of human life. Both processes converge and unite and mutually support and reinforce each other in their goal of protecting and enhancing the dignity and worth of the human person and creating and sustaining a just and humane society where freedom, truth, justice and love prevail and dominate.

In the United Nations, it was only in 2004, or almost 60 years after its founding, that the Organization recognized the positive contributions interfaith understanding and cooperation can make to achieving the goals of the UN and the UDHR. This was made possible by the adoption on 11 November 2004 by the General Assembly of the Philippine-initiated Resolution 59/63 entitled “Promotion of Interreligious Cooperation for Peace”.

What inspired the Philippines to introduce this resolution was her own experience at home of a bloody civil strife in the South between Christians and Muslims. Interfaith dialogue was primarily instrumental in promoting understanding, peace, cooperation and development. For this reason, it included interfaith dialogue and reconciliation as one of the main features of its Medium Term Development Plan.

General Assembly Resolution 59/63 opened the portals of the UN to interfaith partnerships and cooperation in the cause for justice and peace. To pursue further Resolution 59/63 , the Philippines consulted in early 2005 like-minded countries, UN agencies and religious NGOs. This resulted in the informal formation of a Core Group made up of 16 countries, three UN bodies (UNESCO, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the World Bank) and the Committee of Religious NGOs accredited with the UN composed of 110 members. This fact only underscored the absence of a UN mechanism dedicated to enable the people of the world to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as neighbors through interreligious or interfaith dialogue.

After a series of consultations, the Core Group recommended the holding of a gathering of learned academicians, scholars, top thinkers from Governments, the UN System and the religious sector or to consider the relationship of interfaith or interreligious dialogue with the goals of the UN.

The recommendation was given flesh and blood by the holding on 22 June 2005 of the Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace at the UN Headquarters, with the participation of the Secretary General, the Presidents of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the ECOSOC, the Director General of UNESCO, and an array of selected speakers from the tripartite sectors - Governments; UN bodies, agencies, funds and programmes; and civil society organizations.

Among the outcomes of the conference were the recognition of the Core Group which later became the TROIKA of the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace (TFICP) and the calling of the High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly in September 2005 to take into account the conclusions and recommendations of the conference.

In 2005, The President of the Philippines, H.E. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, convened in New York an informal summit of like-minded world leaders, which adopted a Declaration urging “that the conduct of inter-religious, inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue and cooperation be guided by our common humanity and by the understanding that the rich diversity of cultures, civilizations and religions represents the collective heritage of mankind.” The Declaration mandated the holding of a summit every five years and the convening of a Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace at the margins of the annual general debate of the UN General Assembly.

On 24 March 2006, The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines launched in New York the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace (TFICP). The Terms of Reference of the Forum sets this Mission: to explore practical measures, utilizing interfaith dialogue and cooperation, to advance understanding between diverse peoples, their cultures and religions, in order to foster mutual respect, tolerance and friendship. Undoubtedly, this Mission has a global appeal because it is not only shared by Governments, the UN system and the religious NGOs alike; it strikes at the heart of the aspirations and hopes of all peoples to embrace each other as one global family.

The Terms of Reference of the Forum sets this Goal: to deliberate, on an open-ended basis, how interfaith dialogue and cooperation can contribute to effectively address opportunities and challenges to peaceful co-existence. This goal clothes the movement with another attraction which is aimed at achieving a noble aspiration of humankind – peaceful co-existence - which has remained elusive because of misunderstanding and intolerance.

The Forum is now composed up of 55 Governments, 15 UN agencies and 110 religious NGOs at the UN.

To carry forward this Mission and this Goal, the Tripartite Forum has offered, and is pursuing new approaches: (1) open-endedness or inclusiveness in which non-partners are welcome to participants in the Forum’s deliberation and projects, (2) consensual decision-making process whereby those not ready to join the decision can opt to join later when they are prepared to do so, (3) non-requirement of financial commitment to join the Forum either as Partner or Observer because of the conviction that money is often one of the major causes of dissension or division. These approaches have developed a new paradigm of understanding and cooperation that is faith-fuelled and love-inspired.

In 2005 the Philippines tabled in the General Assembly Resolution 60/10 entitled “Promotion of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace.” In 2006 to 2008, the Philippines and Pakistan jointly tabled resolutions 61/221, 62/90 and 63/22, entitled “Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace.” All of them were adopted by consensus. Among the concrete outcomes of these resolutions were (1) the holding by the UN General Assembly of the High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace in October 2007, (2) the designation of the Office of Economic and Social Council Support and Coordination of DESA as the focal unit in the UN Secretariat to handle within the UN system all interreligious, intercultural and intercivilizational matters, and (3) the proclamation of 2010 as the International Year of Rapprochement among Cultures.

The Philippines has, since 2005, co-sponsored annually two regional interfaith dialogues namely: The Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Forum for Harmony, and the Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue. And since 2006 it has sponsored annually, at the margins of the general debates of the General Assembly, the Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogues and Cooperation for Peace.

To cap these UN activities/events on interreligious interfaith dialogue, the General Assembly held on 12 and 13 November 2008, under the agenda on Culture of Peace, a plenary meeting or interfaith dialogue, with participation at the highest level. The participation at the highest level accommodated the request of the King of Saudi Arabia who was successful in holding the Madrid conference on interfaith dialogue. Several Heads of State and Heads of Government and Monarchs spoke during the meeting. All of them were one in stressing the invaluable contribution of interfaith dialogue and cooperation to the achievement of global peace. In this meeting the General Assembly adopted by consensus Resolution 63/22, introduced by the President of the Philippines, entitled “Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace.” The resolution is co-sponsored by 79 Member States, including Saudi Arabia. It mandates preparations for the 2010 International Year of Rapproachment among Cultures and planted the seed for the eventual declaration of the United Nations Decade on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace for 2011-2020.

GA Resolution 63/22 also recognizes these various initiatives at the national, regional and international levels to enhance dialogue, understanding and cooperation among religious, cultures and civilizations which are mutually reinforcing and interrelated: the fourth Asia-Pacific Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace and Harmony, held in Phnom Penh from 3-6 April 2008; the Third Global Inter-Media Dialogue, held in Bali, Indonesia on 7 and 8 May 2008; the fourth Asia-Europe Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue, held in Amsterdam on 3 to 5 June 2008; the World Conference on Dialogue held in Madrid from 16 to 18 July 2008; the Sixth General Meeting of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations”, held in Rhodes, Greece, from 9 to 13 October 2008; the second Alliance of Civilizations Forum, to be held in Istanbul, Turkey on 2 to 3 April 2009; the SpecialNon-Aligned Movement (NAM) Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Development to be held in Manila from 26 to 28 May 2009; the fifth Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue to be held in Australia in 2009; the Parliament of the World’s Religions to be held in Melbourne, Australia from 3 to 9 December 2009; and the Third Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, to be held in Astana on 1 and 2 July 2009, with the participation and technical assistance of the United Nations system.

The Special NAM Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace in Manila has been moved from 26-28 May 2009 to 1-3 December 2009. This high-level event of the NAM, made up of 118 countries, will be the largest international event that the Philippines will host this year.

Given these interreligious or interfaith initiatives of the Catholic Church and now by the UN through, among others, the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, we see two separate means, moving parallel to each other, but now and then connecting each other, to achieve a common purpose, namely, the fulfillment of the ends, goals and principles of the UN Charter and the protection, promotion and enhancement of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These separate means are (1) the political, through the political instrumentalities of the UN; and (2) the faith-fuelled means – interreligious dialogue – to promote understanding, respect, friendship and cooperation amongst peoples of different faiths, cultures and civilizations. To me, the political means constitutes the external force. But, the external force usually suffers from delays because the UN specific rules or procedures have to be followed; negotiations, which are sometimes enmeshed in long, protracted and heated debates that are tainted with or affected by ideological colors and clashes of conflicting interests, have to be undertaken. In some instances they end up in recriminations; or only with non-binding instruments; or in nothing positive at all simply because of a negative vote cast by a Member State which is privileged with the veto power under the Charter.

The interfaith dialogue provides the internal force that can work out a faster and surer formula to build a world of freedom, justice and peace; a civilization of love; or in the language of the Psalmist (Psalm 85:11), a world where love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.

Since religions are united in one abiding faith – faith in one God, Holy, Immortal and Sovereign - this interfaith dialogue has an internal transforming power which no Government can provide. It can fortify our faith; unite peoples of different religions and make them understand each other better; deepen humility; erase pride, hate, anger and intolerance. In times of great crises, such as those we are witnessing today, interfaith dialogue uplifts our hope. Above all, this dialogue intensifies love for one another. Love is the best prayer that can give us the power to face all trials, tribulations and tragedies. The Holy Father has issued an encyclical: Deus Caritas Est (or God is Love). So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love (Corinthians 13:13). God’s promise to Solomon may yet be fulfilled in the fullness of time: If my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

The merits of this internal power can unleash an external force that is powered by spiritual, moral and ethical values, which can change and transform leaders and countries to pursue the path in accord with, to quote the Holy Father, “God’s creative designs for the world and for history”. Now, how comforting it is to hear President Obama say that the United States “is not and will never be at war with Islam”, or to learn that for the first time the King of Saudi Arabia has chosen a black man to lead prayers in Mecca. May many more leaders recognize the value of interreligious dialogue. May the Member States include interreligious dialogue and reconciliation as a major component in their development plans.

To conclude, the support given last year by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the promotion of interreligious dialogue has helped beyond any measure to extinguish any lingering doubts or misgivings on the efficacy of interreligious or interfaith dialogue in achieving the aims, goals and principles of the UN Charter and in protecting and promoting and enhancing the rights solemnly enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I thank you.

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