Christians and Muslims must take on the “challenge to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason”: thus showing that religion “is not necessarily the cause for division in our world” and that it is “disfigured when it is forced to serve ignorance, prejudice, violence and abuse”. On the second day of his journey to the Holy Land, in Jordan, a land which he has repeatedly lauded for its leadership in promoting tolerance and dialogue and education, Benedict XVI dealt with one of his dearest themes, the relationship between faith and reason and the role that religions have to play: affirm, along with their love for God, their dignity and value of every human being. At the same time he also reaffirmed “the inseparable link that unites the Church and Jewish people”.
This morning was rich in appointments starting with the visit to Mount Nebo, from which Moses was shown the Promised Land, followed by the blessing of the foundation stone for the future Catholic University of the Latin Patriarchate in Madaba, and finally the visit to the al-Hussein bin-Talal in Amman.
Mount Nebo, where the Pope began the day’s events rises 800 metres above sea level. The last chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses first saw the Promised Land that the prophet would never enter. On a clear day – today’s sky was overcast- you can see the Dead Sea, parts of t eh Jordan Valley, Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. “Let me have a look”, Benedict XVI told the photographers who called out to him, as he made his way to the terrace that dominates the valley.
“From the earliest times, – he then said – Christians have come on pilgrimage to the sites linked to the history of the Chosen People, the events of Christ’s life and the nascent Church”. “The ancient tradition of pilgrimage to the holy places also reminds us of the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people. From the beginning, the Church in these lands has commemorated in her liturgy the great figures of the Patriarchs and Prophets, as a sign of her profound appreciation of the unity of the two Testaments. May our encounter today inspire in us a renewed love for the canon of Sacred Scripture and a desire to overcome all obstacles to the reconciliation of Christians and Jews in mutual respect and cooperation in the service of that peace to which the word of God calls us!”.
In Madaba, where there is a consistent Christian minority, for the most part Orthodox, Benedict XVI crossed the Christian quarter to make his way to the plane where the University will be built. The University is the brainchild of the current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal, who was born here in 1940. In praising the initiative which is needed “for personal development and for the progress of peace in the region”, the Pope stressed that “religion, of course, like science and technology, philosophy and all expressions of our search for truth, can be corrupted. Religion is disfigured when pressed into the service of ignorance or prejudice, contempt, violence and abuse. In this case we see not only a perversion of religion but also a corruption of human freedom, a narrowing and blindness of the mind. Clearly, such an outcome is not inevitable. Indeed, when we promote education, we proclaim our confidence in the gift of freedom. The human heart can be hardened by the limits of its environment, by interests and passions. But every person is also called to wisdom and integrity, to the basic and all-important choice of good over evil, truth over dishonesty, and can be assisted in this task.”.
“The call to moral integrity is perceived by the genuinely religious person, since the God of truth and love and beauty cannot be served in any other way. Mature belief in God serves greatly to guide the acquisition and proper application of knowledge. Science and technology offer extraordinary benefits to society and have greatly improved the quality of life of many human beings. Undoubtedly this is one of the hopes of those who are promoting this University, whose motto is Sapientia et Scientia. At the same time the sciences have their limitations. They cannot answer all the questions about man and his existence. Indeed the human person, his place and purpose in the universe cannot be contained within the confines of science. “Humanity’s intellectual nature finds its perfection ultimately in wisdom, which gently draws the human mind to seek and to love what is true and good” (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 15). The use of scientific knowledge needs the guiding light of ethical wisdom. Such is the wisdom that inspired the Hippocratic Oath, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other laudable international codes of conduct. Hence religious and ethical wisdom, by answering questions of meaning and value, play a central role in professional formation. And consequently, those universities where the quest for truth goes hand in hand with the search for what is good and noble offer an indispensable service to society”.
This relationship between faith and reason, with consequential respect for the dignity of man, was first addressed by Benedict XVI in the Regensburg conference of 2006, as was the cause of a “misunderstanding” with part of the Muslim world and to this very day with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s strongest (but not numerically) opposition party, who are boycotting the Popes visit and demanding an “apology”. For his part he returned again to this theme in his visit to the “al-Hussein bin-Talal” mosque in Amman. It is the largest in all Jordan with a capacity of 5,500 worshippers and was inaugurated only three years ago by King Abdullah II. The complex includes a library, Koranic school and the Hashemite History Museum, which was also visited by the Pope. Here a Mohammad’s Letter to Heraclius I the emperor of Byzantium, (written on antelope skin) before 629, in which he asks him to convert to Islam, a request that was put forward in the same period to other sovereigns.
Speaking in front of the Mosque, welcomed by Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammed Bin Talal – one of the promoters of the Letter by the 138 Muslim scholars – and addressing an assembly that included religious leaders, diplomats and University rectors, the Pope observed that, today “with increasing insistency, some maintain that religion fails in its claim to be, by nature, a builder of unity and harmony, an expression of communion between persons and with God. Indeed some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world; and so they argue that the less attention given to religion in the public sphere the better. Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied. However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society? In the face of this situation, where the opponents of religion seek not simply to silence its voice but to replace it with their own, the need for believers to be true to their principles and beliefs is felt all the more keenly. Muslims and Christians, precisely because of the burden of our common history so often marked by misunderstanding, must today strive to be known and recognized as worshippers of God faithful to prayer, eager to uphold and live by the Almighty’s decrees, merciful and compassionate, consistent in bearing witness to all that is true and good, and ever mindful of the common origin and dignity of all human persons, who remain at the apex of God’s creative design for the world and for history.”.
“Today – he continued – I wish to refer to a task which I have addressed on a number of occasions and which I firmly believe Christians and Muslims can embrace, particularly through our respective contributions to learning and scholarship, and public service. That task is the challenge to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason. Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance with what is good. Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth. In fact, when human reason humbly allows itself to be purified by faith, it is far from weakened; rather, it is strengthened to resist presumption and to reach beyond its own limitations. In this way, human reason is emboldened to pursue its noble purpose of serving mankind, giving expression to our deepest common aspirations and extending, rather than manipulating or confining, public debate. Thus, genuine adherence to religion – far from narrowing our minds – widens the horizon of human understanding. It protects civil society from the excesses of the unbridled ego which tend to absolutize the finite and eclipse the infinite; it ensures that freedom is exercised hand in hand with truth, and it adorns culture with insights concerning all that is true, good and beautiful”.
“This understanding of reason, which continually draws the human mind beyond itself in the quest for the Absolute, poses a challenge; it contains a sense of both hope and caution. Together, Christians and Muslims are impelled to seek all that is just and right. We are bound to step beyond our particular interests and to encourage others, civil servants and leaders in particular, to do likewise in order to embrace the profound satisfaction of serving the common good, even at personal cost. And we are reminded that because it is our common human dignity which gives rise to universal human rights, they hold equally for every man and woman, irrespective of his or her religious, social or ethnic group. In this regard, we must note that the right of religious freedom extends beyond the question of worship and includes the right – especially of minorities – to fair access to the employment market and other spheres of civic life”.
Finally, Benedict XVI underlined the presence of the Patriarch of Baghdad Emmanuel III Delly. “His presence brings to mind the people of neighbouring Iraq many of whom have found welcome refuge here in Jordan. The international community’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation, together with those of the local leaders, must continue in order to bear fruit in the lives of Iraqis. I wish to express my appreciation for all those who are assisting in the endeavours to deepen trust and to rebuild the institutions and infrastructure essential to the well-being of that society. And once again, I urge diplomats and the international community they represent together with local political and religious leaders to do everything possible to ensure the ancient Christian community of that noble land its fundamental right to peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens.”
Franco Pisano writes for AsiaNews.