Religious Tolerance: Message from Rev. Joseph Chusak Sirisut
The 1st Interfaith Dialogue of Religious Leaders for Peace in Asean Community On Religious Tolerance
26 September 2014 at Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University Wangnoi, Ayudhaya
(address of opening session)
Excellences, Venerable Phiksu, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am greatly honoured to take part in the first Interfaith Dialogue of Religious Leaders for Peace in the ASEAN Community hosted by Mahachulalongkorn-rajavidyalaya University and the National Office of Buddhism. I would like to express my sincere thanks for having been invited to address the assembly at this opening ceremony.
2. Christianity is one of the five major religions recognized by Thai government. I can say that we, the followers of these five religions, have lived together peacefully for more than four hundred years. But over the past decade we have experienced violence in the southern part of our country. Shootings and bombings occur almost every day, causing much damage and many casualties. Here, as elsewhere throughout the world, these conflicts are often connected to or arose by religious beliefs. If we want to put a stop to this insanity, if we really want peace, we will have to work together to ensure that the ASEAN community that will come into being next year will be peaceful and harmonious.
3. The Catholic Church is committed to encourage understanding among the different cultures, traditions and forms of religious worship in the hope that mutual understanding and respect will increase, especially where tensions are high, where freedom is denied, where respect for others lacking and where men and women suffer the consequences of intolerance and misunderstanding.
4. It is clear that we are living in a world marked by many paradoxes. Many societies proclaim their tolerance for religion, but in many parts of the world, religion is relegated to the private domain and not permitted to play any role in public life. At the same time, however, religion is often a major concern and a constant topic of discussion. We believe that the human person is a religious being, and therefore religion is not something extrinsic to the person. However, religion is expressed through many different beliefs, rules, rituals, and customs we face common challenges, but they are seen from many different points of view.
5. “Nostra Aetate”, the document issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1964, exhorted Catholics to “recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values” found among the followers of other religions (cf. n. 2). Over the fifty years following its publication, we have seen a significant loss of religious fervour, and, at the same time, a movement towards religious extremism. Some groups not only do not respect people with beliefs other than their own, they actually persecute them and do not allow them to live their rightful place in society.
6. In society at large, labelling people according to prejudices — a practice exacerbated by the anonymity of urbanisation — belies any claim to believe in the dignity of each person. Moreover, the precarious economic imbalance of the last few years has created insecurity about the future, and this, in turn, has led to increased relativism, that is to say, to an unwillingness to accept any values or truths as absolute. Religion is often the only voice in society that teaches people the necessity of working together to bring about harmony, peaceful co-existence, justice, love, honesty, care of God’s creation, and defence of the inherent dignity and basic human rights of every person.
7. The challenge to respect the diversity of cultures and religions, even as we adapt our rituals and the way we express our convictions to the needs of the present, is especially demanding vis-?-vis the young people of today. Every religion, culture, and nation knows how important young people are; they are “the future and hope of humanity”. The young are especially in need of solid grounding in their own religious tradition. They also need accurate knowledge about the beliefs and practices of other religious traditions. Only then they will be well prepared to engage in interreligious dialogue. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “If it is to be authentic, this dialogue must be a journey of faith. How necessary it is for its promoters to be well-formed in their own beliefs and well informed about those of others” (Address of Pope Benedict XVI to Participants in the Tenth Plenary Assembly of the PCID, 7 June 2008).
8. We are faced with a world marked by suffering and uncertainty. This situation is nothing new, but it is especially apparent in many places around the globe today. Promoting the values of goodwill, peace, humility and non-violence is more than ever incumbent upon all religious people. The Catholic Church commits itself to collaborating with other spiritual traditions to help all people come to a fuller awareness of their responsibility to work for the well-being of the human society.
9. Let us strive then to make our ASEAN communities, communities of compassion, communities that foster the virtues and values of pardon, reconciliation and justice in the society. It is our sincere desire and hope that this Round Table Seminar will enrich the quality of inter-religious dialogue among all believers, so that, working together, we may become real catalysts for our ASEAN societies, harbingers of authentic community built on mutual understanding, compassion and forgiveness for the greater good of human society. I can assure you that we Catholics will do our best to work closely with other religions leaders in Thailand and in other ASEAN countries. I personally believe that dialogue and understanding are critical to peace. And we all believe that religions leaders can use their moral authority to promote respect and understanding.
10. As we now inaugurate the first Interfaith Dialogue of Religious Leaders for Peace in the ASEAN Community, I offer my sincere thanks once again to Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University and the National Office of Buddhism for taking the initiative to organize this Round Table Seminar on “Religious Tolerance”. Over 70 scholars of from a wide range of backgrounds, religions and cultures have been invited to participate in this Seminar. Let us use this time together to strengthen the bonds of friendship that already exists, to create new bonds, and to find ways to work more closely together for the common good. I wish you a successful seminar. May Almighty God bless you all.
Bishop Joseph Chusak SIRISUT
Bishop of Nakhonratchasima
& Chairman of the Episcopal Conference for Ecumenism & Interreligious Dialogue
of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand (CBCT)