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E. Nachef: Presentation on Catholicism at Human Rights Forum

Presentation in collaboration with Trisha Ann Howard at the Geneva Conference on Interfaith Cooperation
and the Protection of Human Rights and Human Dignity
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, September 2, 2008


Ladies and gentlemen:

Gathered together today in the bosom of the United Nations, we young people belonging to different religions are happy to testify to our enthusiasm and our ambition to work, at our pace and according to our capacities, for interreligious dialogue and for peace.

We are convinced that religion, which is an expression of the relationship between God and human beings, cannot and must not ever fuel conflicts among people. On the contrary, it should be a source of respect and openness to welcome the other person in his or her deepest identity, which is as a worthy, free, and responsible human being.

Our world is currently shaken by scores of tragedies. Even if they take the title of "religious wars," the conflicts today are not merely religious wars but also social, economic, and political conflicts. In saying this, we do not ignore that the religious dimension is often an aggravating factor in conflicts.

I have been aware of these conflicts ever since my childhood. They formed part of my reality. I was born in a society that consisted of 18 religious communities – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and others – of around 3 million people [Lebanon]. This is why the issue of religion and God was impressed on my spirit very early in my life. Unfortunately, this religious mosaic was not always the source of richness which it should have been. Several years of atrocious and terrible war weakened the dream of being "more than a country but a message of peace, conviviality, and peaceful coexistence," as John Paul II expressed it.

It was an amazing world where any different person was potentially viewed as an enemy or a threat. Nevertheless, at the very moment when groups of people of different beliefs or even the same belief were killing one other in certain regions, other groups coexisted and lived in peace in other parts of the country. While some people coexisted and communicated with respect for the differences between themselves, their beliefs, and their traditions, others denied them any right to exist and live in a different way.

Therefore, early in my life, I became interested in the issue of "peaceful coexistence" and wanted to understand it in depth. I wanted to understand why and to what end a person could react in this way. How come one can indulge in horrible crimes when one believes in God or, even worse, commit crimes on behalf of God?

My research has led me down various paths as I seek to better know and understand the human being in relationship with himself, with others, and with God. My presence among you today is part of this quest for an answer and within the affirmation that "peace will have the last word."

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself, and there is no greater commandment than this," was a phrase uttered by Christ that sums up well the mission of the Church to go out and encounter people and individuals. Love for one’s neighbor is not simply a sentiment of sympathy, but consists of respect for others and for their otherness. It is a love which extends to all others, even one’s enemies. "If you love those who love you, what reward do you deserve?"

Dialogue facilitates the way to openness and acceptance of others on several levels: first, by the dialogue of life, which is reaching out to encounter all human beings in order to better know and understand them. This is the desire to live together and build a future of confidence, respect, and solidarity, rather than evildoing, hatred, and turning inward.

Next, the dialogue of action, as we pool our efforts and our differences for the sake of a more brotherly and just world. It has to do with establishing joint projects for peace education, improving social justice, and human development.

On another level, there is theological dialogue in which seekers come to deepen the understanding of their respective religious heritages and appreciate their spiritual values. Finally, there is the dialogue of religious experience that takes place through spiritual encounters and contemplative exercises, responding to the inner thirst of people as they search for a deeper understanding of the mystery of God.

We want to establish an authentic dialogue that will guide us towards a better life together, respecting the identity of others, their vision of the world, and the spiritual mysteries that have been revealed to them.

Our gathering today is the fruit of a providence that is greater than us. It is inconceivable to bring together so many different spirits from the four corners of the world and from different religions. Nevertheless, this has taken place, thanks to the efforts of several people who believe in the goal of peace and invest all their efforts into it.

Helder Camara said, "When one dreams alone, it is only a dream; then when several people have a dream, it is already a reality." Our gathering is the reality of a common dream which we wish to share as we carry out endeavors according to our capacities.

In our encounter, we recognize our portion of responsibility, because the future of our planet and our world depends on our individual and collective commitments. We want to act against every exclusion from the other, every sort of fundamentalism and fanaticism, and sources of violence and injustice, by associating our energies and our values.

Our similarities energize us and our differences enrich us, and on this base we are taking the first step. Pius XII said, "With peace, nothing is lost. With war, everything may be." The road is long, but every road begins with one first step. This is our desire: a better and more just world.