The Vatican hosted a panel of high-level United Nations representatives and religious leaders on 22 February to address the ever-increasing humanitarian needs presently outstripping the capabilities of the UN and other global aid organizations. Titled, “Reaffirming Global Solidarity, Restoring Humanity,” the event brought together leaders from religious and secular institutions to demonstrate their solidarity, discuss potential areas for collaboration and to inspire leaders to take action.
International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) Board Member, His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel, spoke on the pivotal role of faith-based organizations and religious leaders in humanitarian action and their key role in mediation and leading local initiatives. He called on religious leaders to maintain fraternity at all levels as well as to support initiatives by public authorities and civil society.
“Faith-based organizations and religious leaders: partners in humanitarian action?”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start this short communication by mentioning a clear example of cooperation between faith-based organizations and political institutions in humanitarian action. As you all know, Europe in general, and Greece in particular are facing the very complex issue of migration. In the first place, it is perceived in its most urgent aspect with regard to the incessant, for more than a year now, flows of migrants from the war-torn Syria, but the problem is of a much larger scope: apart from the Syrians, there is a constant, numerous number of Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese—and it is some time now that Pakistani and Bangladesh have started flowing again towards the European borders in the S.E. Mediterranean and East Aegean sea borders of Greece. In 2015, almost 900,000 migrants tried to cross EU borders. In the middle of this terrible situation, we have seen moments of true and genuine solidarity albeit the financial crisis. The recent nomination of Greek islanders for Peace Nobel Prize is not a surprise. For its part, the dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Greece, as well as the Orthodox Church of Greece, supported by its NGO Apostoli, serve tens of thousands of meals every day. There are synergies not only on a local level but also in the international scene, with political organizations as well as ecumenical.
We should think of religion as a lever for social inclusion, which reveals another responsibility that we should pursue. The challenge of religious cooperation is to find the right balance between a metaphysical discourse that transcends the societal framework, in Christian theology we call believers the “soul of the world,” and simultaneously, the social activity of religions being more inclusive. In other words, we are called to reconcile the formal distinction between the sacred and the secular through our synergies. Our role, as religious leaders, is to facilitate the representation of the “other” and to support the initiatives of the public authorities and civil society. Religions share a “savoir-faire,” especially in terms of mediation, that is useful in many contexts. We need to promote the skills we have been developing through the centuries: dialogue, mutual recognition, interculturality, etc.
As per humanitarian actions, the Charta Oecumenica of the Conference of European Churches, is a clear example of inter-Christian cooperation regarding the dignity protection of the most vulnerable people, and more specifically of the migrants. In an effort for peace and dialogue the text states: “Together we will do our part towards giving migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers a humane reception in Europe.” This desire, or even better, this prayer, can only be envisioned if an inclusive approach to diversity is promoted. Thus, our task is to promote and to provide the tools necessary for a reconciliation of peoples and cultures. Indeed, behind the term reconciliation we can find the reality of living together, deeply rooted in the acceptance of our differences and even more so, since it concerns diversity in constant mutation, according to an ever-evolving change in migrants.
Migration is at the heart of the European agenda. However, the assistance that needs to be provided to the migrants should not be limited just to the European continent. We must also dedicate ourselves to fighting illegal immigration. For in addition to the tragic reality of the people who are subject to illegal immigration, malicious networks make fortunes out of the misfortune of the most vulnerable. This is unbearable. Solutions have been proposed, including initiatives for the development of the countries of origin of illegal immigrants. This, however, is a long process that cannot exist without strong actions taken against the violence that profits of such operations and also dealing with the management of state borders. Thus, our perspective on migration issues, as a key concept for humanitarian actions, should not be limited to Europe’s borders, but it should be open to the spectrum of its action in the interests of greater efficiency and multireligious cooperation should be part of this urgent issue.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There are no humanitarian actions without sustainable changes, especially in terms of global solidarity, including the protection of environment. A structural transformation of our lifestyles and consumption patterns cannot be achieved unless all stakeholders commit themselves to this purpose, which means citizens, NGOs, social movements, businesses and communities, as well as church and spiritual movements… It has to do with questioning one’s self on the appropriateness of each level of decision taking and organization, from the local to the regional, from the national to the international. The evidence of the current emergency forces us to develop a new imagination, new alternatives and new forms of commitment: recruiting policymakers’ support for change, involvement in local projects, a call for the accountability of the political and economic actors, local and communitarian solutions. It has to do with putting politics back in the service of the community, but also putting citizens at the center of politics and decision-making mechanisms, with the common good as its main goal and horizon. Faced with the international and globalized crisis, which is exactly what, for instance, the climate crisis is, the religions must renew the Word they transmit: they must remind the world of Fraternity as the essential foundation of an unconditional acceptance, of Justice for the humblest horizon of all forms of solidarity, of Peace for all as a condition for good Life, of Simplicity and Gratitude as seeds of a renewed Hope. In that case, solidarity is identical to humanity.
I have no time to get into more details, but I would like to summarize my thought underlining three possible partnerships in humanitarian actions with faith-based organizations and religious leaders:
- To foster local expertise and initiatives of faith-based organizations;
- To promote Ecumenical and inter-faith commitment and cooperation;
- To support the mediation mission of religions.
Finally, on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and of the KAICIID Dialogue Center, I would like to congratulate you on the occasion of this Conference that brings us together today and to share with you these words of His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew: “Solidarity is the term, which contains the very essence of social ethos, referring to the pillars of freedom, love and justice. It means steadiness in the struggle for a just society, the respect of human dignity beyond any division of social classes. We are convinced that the future of humanity is related to the establishment of the culture of solidarity.”