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18 December, 2001
Defying the increasingly popular notion of late propagating a so-called "clash of civilizations", Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos reiterated on Monday that the Patriarchate's initiative for an "all-faiths dialogue" and the peaceful co-existence of religions remains eminently timely in the world.
In an interview here with the Athens News Agency (ANA), Vartholomeos, the "Primus inter pares" among Orthodox Patriarchs representing approximately 250 million Eastern Orthodox faithful around the world, also stressed that the initiative for an international conference amongst the world's religious leaders has been universally endorsed, something which, as he said, demonstrates the respect and trust the Patriarchate commands within the international community.
"We consider this undertaking very useful and necessary because it conveys an impression that religions are factors for unity, cooperation and solidarity for individuals and peoples, and not a divisive factor," the Patriarch said, stressing:
"After Sept., 11 I considered what religions must do to demonstrate their unity and their desire for cooperation against terrorism and in support of universal peace, just as we pray in every one of our Church's liturgies ... A view identifying Islam with terrorism was even momentarily given, something that for me is unjust," Vartholomeos said.
He countered that "extremist elements are everywhere", and that they should not be identified with any specific religion.
In backing his view, the Patriarch referred to other religious extremists, including ultra-traditional Orthodox Jewish sects as well as the practitioners of the medieval "Holy Inquisition" by the Catholic Church.
"Let us remember what happened with the Holy Inquisition, where they tortured and burned in the Middle Ages," he said.
"But even if we do not physically injure our fellow man, there are (Eastern) Orthodox zealots, extreme fundamentalists, who smear and revile - and this is a form of fundamentalism, of spiritual terrorism. They believe that in this way they will dissuade us, prevent us from holding a dialogue with the pope," Vartholomeos said in reference to extremist elements within the ancient Orthodox Church as well.
"In Brussels let us adopt a common text that includes all the principles and values shared by all religions so that the representatives of the religions will be able to sign it ... this will comprise a sort of plea towards our faithful, but also towards the rest of the world and to each and every person of good will to cooperate so that extreme and tragic incidents such as the ones of Sept. 11 are not repeated," he said only hours before departing for the Belgian capital to chair an inter-denominational conference entitled "Peaceful Co-existence and Dialogue Amongst the Major Monotheistic Religions."
The conference will bring together several high-ranking clerics and religious leaders representing the world's three major mono-theistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
While in Brussels, Vartholomeos is scheduled to meet with Prodi and Euro-parliament president Nicole Fontaine. He returns to Istanbul on Dec. 21.
Initiative in the making:
Vartholomeos said an initial thought was to hold such an "all-faiths" conference in Istanbul, similar to the "Peace and Tolerance" meeting of 1994 that also attracted representatives of the world's three major monotheistic religions.
The Patriarchate's initiative for such a conference gained momentum when Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou proposed an identical idea, while later promoting it with his counterparts in the European Union as well as garnering the backing of EU Commission President Romano Prodi.
The Patriarch said the Turkish government's director of religious affairs, Mehmet Nouri Yilmaz, was also approached by a Patriarchate emissary on the issue.
Vartholomeos added that the Patriarchate immediately adopted Papandreou's proposal "without any hesitation, because I believed in the usefulness of this initiative," he said, noting:
"The EU has placed our effort under its auspices, adding its prestige".
Source: Athens News Agency