Address by Cardinal Seán Brady at the Abrahamic Religions Dinner in Belfast Castle
10 March 2011
Address by Cardinal Seán Brady at the Abrahamic Religions Dinner in Belfast Castle
‘The Gospel, the Tanak, the Qur’an are all books of peace’ – Cardinal Brady
- I believe the most urgent challenge for people of faith today is to discern God’s plan for our times. I believe it is only by dialoguing together, by respectfully acknowledging the action of God in our respective traditions that we can offer the world ‘a future and a hope’.
- My hope is that the new Government in the Republic, and after the elections in May the new Executive in the North, that they will give priority to establishing new structures of formal dialogue with and between the major faith traditions on this island.
- I warmly welcome the announcement that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has accepted the invitation of President McAleese to visit the Republic of Ireland in the near future.
- The experience of inter-Church dialogue in Ireland has a wider significance for conflicts involving religious as well as historical-political dimensions.
- We should encourage a joint approach from faith and political leaders in Ireland to the United Nations to explore ongoing dialogue between political and religious leaders at international level about the peace and well-being of the whole human family.
What a pleasure it is to be part of this evening’s panel. We need events like this. We need opportunities to share our beliefs and insights in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual concern for the whole human family. We share a common home and it will only be a happy and nurturing home if we work together to keep it well. So I thank the Northern Ireland Dialogue Society for organising this important event and for hosting this ‘Abrahamic Religions Dinner’ in the beautiful surroundings of Belfast Castle.
God is not silent. This is a conviction that all of the descendents of Abraham share. So when the organisers ask the question: ‘Why dialogue in today’s world?’ my first reply has to be because God is in constant dialogue with us. God has spoken his word to men and women throughout history, indeed He himself has entered history in order to enter into dialogue with humanity. God has something to say to us all about who we are, why we are here and what we ought to do at this critical moment in the history of the world! What is more, as descendents of Abraham we share the belief that God has a plan for us, a plan of salvation and justice. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah: ‘that plan is for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’ (Jer. 29:11). This is why I believe the most urgent challenge for people of faith today is to discern God’s plan for our times. I believe it is only by dialoguing together, by respectfully acknowledging the action of God in our respective traditions, that we can offer the world ‘a future and a hope’.
Here in Northern Ireland we know only too well the hope that can be born of dialogue. That is why I am delighted to see some of the members of our Legislative Assembly here this evening. The fact that we have a devolved Assembly up and running in Northern Ireland is testimony to the progress and stability that can come from dialogue. I think it has to be acknowledged that religious leaders, by and large, played their part in that dialogue. Especially at those times when politicians and others found it difficult to engage with one another, there were religious leaders from different denominations who engaged in both public and behind the scenes mediation and bridge building. I believe history will show that this involvement by church people played a critical part in achieving political agreement and support for that agreement in the wider community.
I think it is also significant that the beginning of the Troubles coincided with a period of unprecedented progress in inter-Church dialogue at an international level. When the Second Vatican Council acknowledged that unity among Christians is the will of Christ for His Church, and other major denominations concurred, the door was opened for unprecedented engagement at a local level.
In Ireland, this gave rise to initiatives such as Corrymeela and the Ballymascanlon talks, which later became the Irish Inter-Church Meeting. The Inter-Church Meeting continues to this day as a formal structure of dialogue between the Churches in Ireland. A brief look back at some of the statements and joint position papers of that inter-Church dialogue during the early years of the troubles shows that the language of forgiveness, reconciliation, empathy, mutual understanding and respect were already the dominant themes. I would even argue that in a document such as Violence in Ireland: A Report to the Churches in 1977, the vocabulary and political principles of the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement were already present.
I would suggest that three broad principles emerge from the experience of inter-Church dialogue in Ireland that have a wider significance for conflicts involving religious as well as historical-political dimensions today:
– the first is to focus and build upon those things that we hold in common;
– the second is to engage on those issues which divide or cause conflict in an atmosphere of openness and respectful listening – in humility, if you like, and with a willingness to being changed by the encounter with the other;
– the third is, don’t give up – especially when violence or voices of exclusion, superiority or ignorance from within one’s own tradition make it difficult to continue.
Peace needs dialogue. It cannot happen without dialogue. That’s why it is so important to develop and maintain that dialogue today between all those who have the good of our society and of the whole of humanity at heart. At the local level, this involves supporting organisations such as the ‘Northern Ireland Dialogue Society’ and events such as this. It involves making a particular effort in our parishes, congregations, synagogue and mosques to meet with one another, build friendships with one another and work together on issues of common interest and concern.
All the Abrahamic faith traditions on this island have a vital contribution to make to the peace and well-being of our society. It would be helpful and appropriate if their wealth of experience and breadth of involvement in the lives of citizens was recognised in the form of a structured-dialogue with the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, as there was, for a while at least, with the Irish Government. My hope is that the new Government in the Republic of Ireland and the new Executive in Northern Ireland after the May elections will give priority to establishing new structures of formal dialogue with and between the major faith traditions on this island. Faith plays a fundamental part in the lives of the overwhelming majority of citizens in both parts of this island. The Churches and major faith traditions on this island have a positive and constructive part to play in helping build a confident, cohesive and welcoming society built on respect for the dignity of every person and a shared responsibility for the common good.
Let me take this opportunity to say in that regard that I warmly welcome the announcement that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has accepted the invitation of President McAleese to visit the Republic of Ireland in the near future. It is an important religious and civic event. I am conscious of the very warm and gracious welcome offered by Her Majesty to Pope Benedict XVI on his recent visit to Scotland and England. I welcome the visit of Queen Elizabeth as a mark of the mutual respect that exists between our two countries and also of the deep bonds of friendship between the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church on this island at this time.
The leaders of the larger Churches in Ireland discovered throughout the Troubles, that there is immense value in symbolic acts of joint leadership. This was especially true when that leadership was seen to represent wider historic religious, political traditions involved in conflict.
Differences of religion must not be a cause of conflict. The shared quest for peace on the part of all believers is a vital source of unity among all believers. For this reason the Catholic Church wishes to promote a fruitful cooperation with believers of other religions.
In 1964 Pope Paul VI set up the Secretariat for non-Christians. It was given the task of promoting appropriate research and friendly relations between the Catholic Church and non-Christian religions. In 1988 its name was changed to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. It retains the role of promoting relations with members and groups of religions that are not Christians but it is also charged with the task of keeping contact with those who are in any way imbued with a religious sense.
This serves to highlight the importance to the Catholic Church of finding new structures of dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths at an international level. Just as the emergence of the ecumenical movement at an international level opened the way for encounter, dialogue and understanding between Christians in Northern Ireland, so I believe establishing formal, permanent structures of inter-religious dialogue between the Abrahamic faiths at an international level could have a significant impact on local conflicts that have an inter-religious dimension.
The Gospel, the Tanak, the Qur’an are all books of peace. They contain a patrimony of religious and human values that are as relevant now for the peace and well-being of humanity as they have ever been. It is through respectful dialogue with one another that we can ensure the patrimony of values in our individual traditions becomes a vocabulary and patrimony of peace for the whole human family. I believe we should encourage a joint approach from leaders of the Abrahamic faiths and political representatives in Ireland to the leaders of the United Nations to explore the scope for a permanent and ongoing dialogue between political and religious leaders at international level about the peace and well-being of the whole human family. Inter-faith dialogue has to be mainstreamed. It also has to link in to the political system at every level so that the dialogue is not only between us but also with the political world and wider society.
In the words of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: ‘The [Catholic] Church’s social doctrine is characterized by a constant call to dialogue among all members of the world’s religions so that together they will be able to seek the most appropriate forms of cooperation. Religion has an important role to play in the pursuit of peace, which depends on a common commitment to the integral development of the human person’ (n.537).
The Compendium then goes on to recall the great event of a World Day of Prayer for Peace which Pope John Paul II called in Assisi in 1986. 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of that event. Affirming again that there can be no peace without dialogue, let me conclude by quoting the words of Pope Benedict on the World Day of Peace on 1 January last, when he announced that he would host a similar event in Assisi this year: “I will invite all solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace. Those who are journeying towards God cannot fail to transmit peace; those who build peace cannot fail to move towards God”.
Notes to Editors
- Cardinal Seán Brady is the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.
- Others speaking at the event are: Archbishop Alan Harper OBE, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh; Rev. Dr Donald Kerr, General Secretary of the Methodist Church;and Kerim Balci, Theologian/columnist from the Muslim Community. The theme of the evening is ‘Why dialogue in today’s world?’
- The Abrahamic Religions Dinner is hosted by the Northern Ireland Dialogue Society.
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