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Religious leadership vs. extremism

July 9, 2006
From the Toronto Sun
Last Sunday, during his weekly address at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI called for peace and justice in the Middle East.
"In the face of the blind violence that causes atrocious killings on one hand, and on the other, the threat of the aggravation of the crisis which for the past few days has been even more tragic," he said, "justice is necessary, and a serious and credible commitment to peace -- which, unfortunately, are not perceived."
In his role as world leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Benedict is exercising strong moral and religious leadership in speaking of the seriousness of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the need for each person to respond to it.
His predecessor John Paul II spoke very often about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has dangerously been creating what he called the "politicization of the existence." He meant that by being reduced to political and economic dimensions, a human being is both dehumanized and desacralized.
What is the role of religious leadership in this crisis? It must show an equal sense for the dignity of every human being as a child of God, in order to give each one his part in the land of God. Exclusiveness or one-sidedness will harm both sides; it will harm the process of peace, the land itself and the church's vocation as bearer of salvation for humankind. Authentic religious leadership has to deal with religious extremism, wherever it is and from whomever it comes.
What we are witnessing today are extremists who try to monopolize the religious leadership, whether it is Christians, Jews or Muslims. We have heard much about Islamic and Israeli fundamentalists who are engaged in all-out war at present, in the name of God. But let us not forget that there are also Christian fundamentalists of many denominations who go to the Holy Land from superabundant, powerful societies, and who, in the name of God and with a naive and false sense of justice and peace, try to impose views and simplistic solutions.
Within Judaism, religious extremism presents its own way of liberation based on exclusivism. In Islam, fundamentalism projects itself as the liberating force, as the answer to other religious extremes, or to current political and economic injustices or oppressions.
Now more than ever, Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews, need truly to listen to each other's stories, including the pains and fears, with respect and compassion. No one has the right to confiscate each other's history or to stifle hopes for a common life together on the same land.
Jews, Christians and Muslims today venerate Abraham as their common "father of faith" in the one God who blesses all the peoples of the Earth. God does not permit his love for one people to become an injustice to other people. Believers who demand justice, respect and equality for themselves, in the name of God should demand the same for their neighbours.
The three communities of Abrahamic faith -- Muslims, Christians and Jews -- are witnessing among some adherents the exploitation and manipulation of religion, fostering fanaticism with crude idols shaped by what is evil in ourselves.
The entire world must now pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for peace in God's own lands.

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