The Communities of Sant’Egidio for Dialogue among Faiths and Cultures

The Communities of Sant’Egidio for Dialogue among Faiths and Cultures

A Paper by Alberto Quattrucci, Secretary General, International Meetings Peoples and Religions, Community of Sant’Egidio, presented for Eighth Rhodes Forum Session, October 2010

And dialogue changes the hearts and minds of people. I am convinced that only by changing hearts and minds we can change the world: even the most resistant political structures can be changed, if we change hearts and the minds. The opposite is never true: transformed structures cannot change the hearts, but transformed hearts change the structures. This is the great power of religions. But pay attention: religions are strong only when they are free. They have power when they are not the slaves of politics and economic powers. In fact they can use politics and economics to change the world, but Religions and Cultures can be used neither by politics or economics: in this case they lose their power and betray their own nature.

I am glad and honored to be present in this Eight Annual Session of the Rhodes Forum. I convey you the greetings and friendship of the Community of Sant’Egidio.

For more than forty years the Communities of Sant’Egidio of Europe, Asia, and especially Africa and Latin America, have worked for dialogue among faiths and cultures, fostering peace negotiations in several continents, but most of all living a relationship of daily solidarity with the poorest of the world, constantly engaged in a number of battles for the defence of life and human rights.

Let me start from the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals: “Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger”. I firmly believe that it is the true starting point for any action carried out by religions. In fact this is the true and authentic way for each religion to play his concrete role in the inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue in the development of dialogue community, as the title of this fifth panel.

But this is only possible if religions will have the human and prophetic courage to build a new alliance with the most vulnerable of any society. For that reason, in a time of economic and financial crisis like ours, which is then primarily a time of crisis of moral values, religions are among the few human and social realities that have the strength to give a better future to the humanity. Giving voice to the poorest and reconstruct the world with them: this is the most authentic revolutionary force which will render a more human world for all. This is the significance of religious dimension in human life.

Yes, the sufferance of the poor: this is the real starting point to build a more just and more human society. For believers, however, there is no “struggle against poverty” as an ideological or sociological endeavor. Rather, the struggle against poverty means solidarity with the poor, to struggle with the poor, to change the structures of the world, and therefore make poverty history.

The Bible indeed never speaks of “poverty”, but of the poor, of poor human beings. And the poor are concrete men and women, they always have a name, while the rich do not. This is the revolutionary power of religions, which stems from the poor and makes the world a more human place.

My dear friends, I believe religions have a great task today. They can promote dialogue among men and women, of all countries and all cultures. Yes, they can. And dialogue changes the hearts and minds of people. I am convinced that only by changing hearts and minds we can change the world: even the most resistant political structures can be changed, if we change hearts and the minds. The opposite is never true: transformed structures cannot change the hearts, but transformed hearts change the structures. This is the great power of religions. But pay attention: religions are strong only when they are free. They have power when they are not the slaves of politics and economic powers. In fact they can use politics and economics to change the world, but Religions and Cultures can be used neither by politics or economics: in this case they lose their power and betray their own nature.

This meeting of Rhodes 2010 – in a certain sense - opens the second decade of this 21st. I wish it will be a turning point. The first decade is symbolically framed by the “Twin Towers” in 2001 and the “Earthquake in Haiti” in 2010. Ten years of tragic events, from terrorism to natural disasters, to the proliferation of wars: Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East, several African countries… while a habit of widespread violence, physical and verbal, is accepted today as an inevitable component of our societies. We are at the beginning of a new decade, and we need radical change.

The black wave of oil from the Mexican Gulf has been polluting every sea of the globe. It is a sign of the pollution of evil and of a crazy economy, which kills every form and value of life, reducing everything to the laws of the market. If humankind craves to manipulate everything and do violence to nature itself, from hell, from the heart of the earth, a rebellion against him rises. We need a new human ecology, we need a new purity, which delivers us from every pollution.

Religions will recover the power of purity and communicate it to the world, if they are capable of giving voice and dignity to the lives of the poor. Only then will they provide a crucial contribution to the construction of a more human and livable society for everybody. To build the society starting with the poor is to build a livable society for everyone.

Zygmunt Bauman explains it well, and with his words I wish to conclude: “…if you take a bridge and try to establish what is its carrying power, you don’t take the carrying power of every pillar, add them together and then divide by the number of pillars – you don’t take the average carrying power of an average pillar. But you measure the carrying power of the bridge by the carrying power of the weakest pillar. And unfortunately in our societies, you measure the well-being of a society by G.N.P and G.N.P. is precisely like measuring the carrying power of the bridge according to the average carrying power, the medium pillar. It is wrong because the quality that you judge a society by is the decency of living of the weakest”. We, leaders of the world religions and spiritual traditions, have to build our society as a bridge, to carry us and the new generations into a more humane 3rd millennium.