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E.R. Mercado: The Basis of Interreligious Dialogue

Sixth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
“Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values”
Bali, Indonesia, August 29-30, 2014

Address at a Side Event of Universal Peace Federation
"Unity and Diversity among Religions: Building Trust and Cooperation through Interreligious Dialogue"

Religions become crucial, because they form civilizations and they are the defining elements of culture. The fundamental source of conflict in the post-modern world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic… the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. The new divisions in the world are defined not in terms of their political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.

- Prof. Samuel Huntington, 1993

In the past as well as today, there is an ever-growing awareness of common territory and affinity between Islam and Christianity. There are two groups of texts that became foundational landmarks when I began my journey into the path of interreligious dialogue beginning in the southern Philippines in 1976.

The first is taken from the Qur’an in Chapter 5 verse 82, where the prophet unequivocally encourages Muslims to cooperate with Christians:

Thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are the ones who say, ‘We are Christians’; that because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud (5:82).    

The second are words of two Popes:

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

- Pope Paul VI, Nostra Aetate, 1965

It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict. It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence. Violence destroys the image of the Creator in his creatures, and should never be considered as the fruit of religious conviction.

- John Paul II, Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, 2001

Pope John Paul II spoke of the urgent need for "presenting our two religions not in opposition, as it happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family."

It is no accident that religion as observed in practically all internal conflicts becomes either the “bridge” or the “wall” in social interaction, that is, both in war and peace. Religion remains the most potent and fascinating form of social capital.

Dialogue happens:

  • When people who are neighbors or colleagues begin to talk to each other about their lives, beliefs and spiritual experiences.
  • When people join together to struggle for freedom or human rights and discover that they are doing so because of their faith.
  • When people of different faiths are concerned about the moral and spiritual values influencing the communities in which they live.
  • When people share spiritual experience with one another. Prayer is yet another form of dialogue.

Our common ground is our compassion for humanity:

  • Common service to humanity
  • Solidarity with the poor and vulnerable
  • Peacemakers and healers
  • Empowering persons and communities
  • Integrity of creation

There is a the urgent need to plant, cultivate and nurture a new and refreshing attitude of openness in mind and heart, an essential disposition in understanding and living through the relations between Muslims and Christians.

The Arabic word for this is tadabbar. This is the new attitude that will pave the way for a new beginning for each one of us and for each of our faith communities – yes, a new passage from the culture of war to a culture of peace.

I wonder if this is what the martyred President of Egypt Anwar Sadat expressed at the Knesset during his historic visit to the Holy City of Jerusalem in 1977:

Yet, there remains another wall. This wall continues and constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection, a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deeds or decision. A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement. It is this official statement as constituting 70% of the whole process. Today, through my visit to you, I ask why don’t we stretch out our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we might destroy this barrier?

I would like to quote what ten-year old Negah said about his understanding of peace:

I know what a mine, a tank or a gun is, but I don't know what Peace looks like, because I haven't seen it. Some people say it is a bird. Some people say it is luck. But I know when there is peace everyone can go to his homeland and live in his home. When it comes, I will see what peace is and I will forget the names of all the weapons that I know.