The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

United in dialogue

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca Sunday, 17 February 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 29 days ago

It was a proud moment for me to welcome so many representatives of the diverse faith communities in Malta to Sant Anton Palace. Together, our faith community leaders engaged in constructive discussions and approved the first national Declaration for Interfaith Harmony Week.

By endorsing this historical declaration, the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and other faith communities of our country have made a powerful statement of friendship. I am also convinced that this tangible example of successful interfaith dialogue will have a positive effect throughout our country, as well as a model for our Mediterranean Region in general.

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This declaration is the direct result of various interfaith fora held during my Presidency over the years and, in particular, a constructive interfaith dialogue that took place at the Grand Masters Palace in Valletta, in October 2018.

During this meeting, it was highlighted that underlying the diverse faith traditions practised in our islands are the values of love, peace, and respect. It was inspiring to see such a united commitment for solidarity which had been exchanged among the faith communities during our various meetings.

The signing of the interfaith Harmony Declaration is also a reminder of the universal human right to freedom of religion and belief, which must be a cornerstone of our Maltese democracy. Let me share the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion in a report that was presented to the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The report states that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are twin rights, because "they both protect unconditionally a person's inner realm of thinking and believing, where no restrictions can be justified on whatsoever grounds".

This report states that these rights should exist in synergy, and should be practically implemented whenever interfaith dialogue takes place. This same report emphasises that interfaith dialogue should be an ongoing process to promote peace and understanding and combat violence, intolerance and conflict.

These are precisely the values that we celebrated with the signing of the Declaration and throughout the discussions we are holding with the diverse faith communities in our society.

This year is also one for special celebration for the Christian and Muslim communities in Malta, and around the world. Eight hundred years ago, Saint Francis of Assisi met Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt. Saint Francis was one of the first people to create an opportunity for dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Both of these inspiring men were connected by their attitude of mutual respect and understanding, as well as their belief in the importance of prayer, care for the poor, and the value of peace. I believe that these three important issues should be championed among us, among our human family today and always.

At a period in our history when the world is facing increasing uncertainties and social tensions, I believe that our religious leaders have a collective responsibility to encourage a spirit of dialogue among our respective communities. It is by promoting dialogue and exploring opportunities for cooperation that we can all achieve the greatest good for our society as a whole.

We must also give importance to the participation of our children and young people in order to nurture a culture of dialogue. Dialogue safeguards human dignity and promotes an inclusive and participative democracy.

On the other hand, let me highlight a demographic study conducted by the Pew Research Centre last year which states that many countries are showing an increasing pattern of a decrease in religious observance among younger generations.

Whether this is the effect of secularisation, or disaffection with institutions in general, I believe it is important for us to take note of this global trend. Our communities of faith have the responsibility to highlight the rich heritage and the important values of our diverse traditions, which still retain so much of their relevance, and give a message of hope.

I believe that the values of respect and inclusion provide us with the necessary strength to be active contributors to peace and prosperity. I also believe that our young people can be the most vocal activists for positive change.

For example, whenever I visit schools and institutions of higher education, I discuss the importance of the United Nations' Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals with students.

Agenda 2030 is a road map for the future of our world. It addresses the challenges of poverty, environmental degradation, gender inequalities, and so many other issues. I believe that this road map can be achieved with the full support of our faith communities.

In fact, in 2016, the German Minister for Economic Co-operation and Development, Dr Gerd Müller, said, and I quote, "We will only be able to implement this pact on the world's future, known as the Agenda 2030, in co-operation with religious faiths."

I share these sentiments. Let me therefore take this opportunity to urge our faith communities to make Agenda 2030 a visible part of their work.

In this way, we will all be making a powerful contribution, to both national and international efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. This is the only way that we can, together, leave a positive impact for the benefit of our entire human family.

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca is President of Malta

 

 

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