Fr. Roger J. Landry
“Interfaith Harmony as a Key to Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals”
Event on “Interfaith Harmony: Implementing the Transformative Agenda of the SDGs”
Sponsored by the UN Alliance of Civilizations in partnership with the Committee of Religious NGOs
Conference Room 1, UN Headquarters, NY
February 3, 2016
Representing the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, I gave the following speech as part of a panel discussion sponsored by the UN Alliance of Civilizations in partnership with the Committee of Religious NGOs. It was preceded by a video with Pope Francis and his prayer intention for the month of January.
A copy of the flier of the event can be downloaded by clicking below:
To watch the address, please click below (The speech begins with a video from Pope Francis at 53:46 and ends at 1:04:22)
Your Excellency, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations,
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates and Panelists, Eminent Religious Leaders, Dear Friends,
On behalf of Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, I would like to thank the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the Committee of Religious NGOs for hosting this special World Interfaith Harmony Week event dedicated to Interfaith Harmony and Sustainable Development.
In the short video we just watched together announcing Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intention for January, we saw and heard an example of interfaith harmony in action. Believers in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Christianity respectively gave witness to two central realities: first, their faith; and second, the love that flows from their faith. Pope Francis noted the fact that “most of the planet’s inhabitants say they’re believers,” which is something he noted should lead to sincere and prayerful interreligious dialogue. Interreligious dialogue, he implied, should result in interreligious harmony grounded in believers’ jointly recognizing they’re sons and daughters of a God who cares for all his children. And the Pope is asking all believers to pray with him that that dialogue and harmony among believers produce the fruits of peace and justice.
Harmony is often said to refer to the “vertical” aspect of music, as distinguished from the melody, which is considered the “horizontal” aspect. And even though it’s true that the sacred texts of the various religions often contain unique melodies and lyrics, Pope Francis is encouraging believers across the spectrum to sing harmoniously two vertical tunes: a hymn of love for the God in whom they believe and a chant of charity for their neighbor who is infinitely dear to God. Such a tune, he’s convinced, would not only be music to the ears of God, but become an attractive anthem in a world that in several places has forgotten this vertical plane of the beauty, good, justice and peace that flows from those whose lives resonate with prayer, faith and charity.
The theme of this panel is “Interfaith Harmony as a Key to Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” a title that clearly suggests that without interfaith harmony the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would become much more arduous to achieve.
We could say that this is true, first, because we will never have the peaceful and inclusive, just and accountable societies necessary for sustainable development without peace, without a dialogue of words and life, without mutual understanding and cooperation, without harmony, among religious believers. Examples sadly abound of the obstacles to development that happen in those regions where interfaith harmony is absent.
But there’s a far more important second reason why interfaith harmony is key toward advancing the social, economic and environmental development of all, especially the poor and excluded: because religious believers have long been at the forefront of implementing an agenda of advancement for their needy neighbors at micro- and macro-scales. Long before the founding of the United Nations, long before the birth of many of the States represented here, religious believers have been helping to lift the poor out of privation, feed the hungry, build hospitals to care for the sick, found educational institutions for orphans, girls and boys from families without private tutors, care for our common home, foster moral markets and work environments, welcome strangers, reconcile warring factions and battle injustice, and advocate in manifold ways for the rights of those so often left behind. The successful implementation of any agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be accomplished by infinitely expanding local, regional and international bureaucracies. It will always necessarily involve the experience, energy, and inexhaustible efforts of individuals and non-governmental organizations on the ground, so many of whose fundamental motivation is the love of neighbor that flows from faith in God.
At the same time, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is an occasion for adherents of various religions to recognize that the efforts of individual faith groups alone have not been sufficient to remedy the immense suffering and needs of so many. This is not only a reason for all religious believers to look at the adoption of Transforming Our World by the nations of the world as an “important sign of hope,” as Pope Francis called it here last September, but it is also a call for religious believers to examine how their own efforts would be able to multiplied through a greater interfaith harmony and charitable alliances in development work.
There’s one other way that harmony among religious believers is key to the successful implementation of the development agenda. That’s because people of faith have so much to offer the world in terms of recognizing and seeking to protect the sacred dignity of every person, of the importance of the family as indispensable school and driver of development, of the moral responsibilities we have to care for our environment, of the necessity of forgiveness instead of vengeance in order to move past situations of conflict and war, of the inviolability of conscience as a special organ of moral sensitivity, as well as the virtues of courage, perseverance, humility, honesty, prudence and justice necessary to fix situations of endemic want or injustice. One, of course, does not need to be a believer to recognize these goods; they’re all accessible to reason and many non-believers see and defend them.
But the light contained in the sacred texts of the various religions can often allow believers to see these truths more readily and hold them with greater conviction. That purifying light is an important service to the world community. In order for it to shine, however, religious believers cannot allow it to be eclipsed by the scandalous darkness that comes when religious belief is sacrilegiously used to justify actions against the sacred dignity of others. Religious believers have a duty to help all people of good will to see easily that religious faith is part of the solution of what ails the world, not a cause of its ailments. They are meant to be builders of peaceful co-existence instead of those who spur strife. They are called to be the among the most compelling living commentaries of the Golden Rule — common in one form or another to all major religions. And religious leaders have a great duty to help their co-religionists recognize and fulfill this responsibility to be beacons instead of blinders.
Religious believers are ultimately meant to be leaven for a society. Harmony among believers of different religions ought to model and catalyze the harmony, understanding, respect, trust and solidarity among all people that are crucial to leaving no one behind and lifting everyone up.
That’s why this Interfaith Harmony Week is important not only for promoting the dialogue and cooperation among believers of different faiths but to help all people in society to appreciate how key the works of religious faith are to the promotion of the common good and the development of all persons and peoples.
Thank you once again, Mr. High Representative, for convening this important event.