Pope Benedict XVI and Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, yesterday condemned the use of religion to justify violence.
“In a world wounded by conflicts, where violence is committed in God’s name, it is important to repeat that religion should not be a vehicle of hatred,” said the pope to an audience of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Zoroastrians.
The 200-strong audience included the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Yona Metzger, Ayatollah Sayed Mohammed Mousavi Bojnourdi of Iran, and Bartholemew I, the ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church.
U Uttara, a Burmese monk and Din Syamsuddin, the president of Indonesia’s Muslim Council, were also guests at a three-day conference in Naples to promote peace, organised by the Sant’ Egidio community. Sant’ Egidio, a lay Catholic organisation, has been praised by President George Bush, among others, for its work on conflict resolution.
“Bad religion is a very powerful tool for bad people to use against each other, because it carries with it some of that absolutism that is rooted in a rather insecure kind of faith,” said Dr Williams. “It is all the more important that good religion comes to drive it out, you cannot do it just by secularism,” he added.
The two men called upon the world’s religious leaders to offer their “precious resources to build a peaceful humanity”. Earlier in the day, the Pope and the Archbishop embraced before an open-air mass in the main square of the city.
Pope Benedict was making the first papal trip to Naples for almost 30 years. He took the opportunity to denounce the city’s “disgraceful” mafia, the Camorra.
“The sad phenomenon of violence does not stop with the lamentable number of crimes committed by the Camorra, but also becomes part of the mentality, insinuating itself into social life, both in the centre of the city and in new and faceless suburbs,” said the pope. “The risk is that young people fall into it,” he warned.
Naples is one of Italy’s most violent cities, and there were calls for the army to be sent in last year to calm a gang war between warring Camorra factions. However, not everyone in Naples was pleased to see Benedict. Slogans proclaiming “Death to the pope” have been daubed on the city’s walls in the past few weeks.
Dr Williams added that he hoped to use the conference to start finding a “common Christian response” to a letter sent to the Pope by 138 Muslim scholars on the one-year-anniversary of Benedict’s controversial speech at Regensberg University.
The letter, sent on October 13, called for Christianity and Islam to unite in peace and love. “I would like to try to get a response which involved some proper face-to-face discussions,” said Dr Williams.