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Religious differences enrich, pope says

Editor’s note: At press time, John Allen Jr., NCR’s Vatican correspondent, sent a copy of Pope John Paul II’s words of welcome on Sept. 7 to a new ambassador from Egypt. We find the text, released by the Vatican in its Daily Bulletin, interesting in light of the release just two days earlier of Dominus Iesus, the subject of our cover package in this issue.

Your presence brings back the joy of my days spent in your country last February, and once more I express my heartfelt thanks to President Mubarak and to the government for making that visit such a memorable and fruitful one.

In this year of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, it was a great grace for me to travel to places of vital significance for the religious history of the world. I recall especially Mount Sinai where I was able to commemorate the gift of the Law which God wrote long ago on tablets of stone and which he continues to write in every age on the human heart.

I have an especially warm recollection of my meeting with Grand Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi. We both expressed the wish for a new era of religious and cultural dialogue between Islam and Christianity.

It is in this context, Mr. Ambassador, that I am particularly pleased that you have spoken of Egypt as a land where unity and harmony are greatly valued and where differences of religion are seen not as barriers but as a means for mutual enrichment in rendering service to the nation. I trust most sincerely that this will always be the case, and that the difficulties that have arisen from time to time will be overcome, especially in view of the widespread willingness and positive conditions for interreligious dialogue and cooperation which can be found in Egypt.

In a world deeply marked by violence, it is bitterly ironic that even now some of the worst conflicts are between believers who worship the one God, who look to Abraham as a holy patriarch and who seek to follow the Law of Sinai. Each act of violence makes it more urgent for Muslims and Christians everywhere to recognize the things we have in common, to bear witness that we are all creatures of the one merciful God, and to agree once and for all that recourse to violence in the name of religion is completely unacceptable.

Especially when religious identity coincides with cultural and ethnic identity it is a solemn duty of believers to ensure that religious sentiment is not used as an excuse for hatred and conflict. Religion is the enemy of exclusion and discrimination; it seeks the good of everyone and therefore ought always to be a stimulus for solidarity and harmony between individuals and among peoples.

National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2000