Lay leader says civilisation clash a political choice

Speaking at a seminar for dialogue between European, Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf cultures, St Egidio community founder and leader, Professor Andrea Riccardi, said that intercultural shock was not inevitable despite attempts to create a worldwide culture of conflict.

Speaking at the "Europe-Mediterranean-Gulf Culture Workshop," held in Paris yesterday, Professor Riccardi pointed out that there have been attempts to create a worldwide culture of conflict, the Turkish paper Zaman reports.

"We distance ourselves from those who do not resemble us," Professor Riccardi said. "Extreme nationalist movements and those who do not respect differences have been harmful to this world. A civilisation dies when it purifies itself."

Criticising the conflict approach, which he described as a pure political choice, Professor Riccardi said that it is necessary to refuse the assertion that an intercultural shock was inevitable and that conflict was history's engine.

French President Jacques Chirac also warned at the meeting of the threat of a separation between cultures had emerged from recent events, drawing attention to growing instances of intolerance and disrespect worldwide.

Citing developments since the 11 September attacks, such as the situation that emerged after the publication of offensive cartoons of Islam's prophet Muhammad, Chirac said there had been attempts to create rifts between the West and Islam, secular and religious people and the North and the South.

Pointing out that the West had been portrayed as "the devil" and Islam as being opposed to modernity, Chirac also stressed that the use of force would not solve any problem.

Also participating the meeting attended by nearly 300 invitees from European, Mediterranean and Gulf countries, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul spoke of an alienation between civilisations.

Drawing attention to the fact that the differences between civilisations have been exploited throughout history, Gul said progress was made in the periods when differences were perceived as richness.

UN an instrument of peace

Meanwhile, addressing similar concerns across the Atlantic at a New York prayer service this week to remember 11 September, the Holy See nuncio to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, insisted that the international body is an instrument of peace that stands with the peoples of the world and directs its resources to the service of nations.

"We salute all the efforts made to build the capacity, working mechanisms, institutions of the UN, and above all its willingness to stand with the peoples of the world and put its resources at their service," he said, according to an Catholic Online report.

Yet, the apostolic nuncio stressed, the effectiveness of "these tools and instruments" requires "human minds and hearts, together with a firm political will" of the international community of nations to make them productive.

"This is why we gather this evening in prayer," which is an opportunity "to publicly acknowledge the privilege God has entrusted to us to work on behalf of the greater good of the family of nations," he said.

"Prayer is addressed to God. In it we question him and, by implication, prayer also questions ourselves," he added.

In his address, Archbishop Migliore read a message sent in Pope Benedict's name by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the outgoing Vatican Secretary of State.

Pope Benedict sees "the progress made in the past year towards a more effective presence and activity of the United Nations organisation in the areas of global peacekeeping and the protection of basic human rights," Archbishop Migliore said, reading the message from Cardinal Sodano.

The Pope pointed to the work being done to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals to seek to cut the numbers of people living in extreme poverty by half by 2015, and noted that international migration and development of the "least developed countries" are "two of the most serious political and ethical questions facing the international community at the present time."

Summit in Paris Warns of Intercultural Clash (Zaman Online, 14/9/06)
U.N. is an instrument of peace, Vatican nuncio says at prayer service (Catholic Online, 13/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Community of St Egidio
Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See To the United Nations
United Nations

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15 Sep 2006