Denis Bright raises the growing profile of mainstream international religious leaders in political debate and even international relations. At Havana Airport en route to Mexico, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow conferred for the first time in a millennium of separation between the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches. Both leaders are seeking a higher profile in commitments to peace and social justice. Activism by some mainstream religious communities has extended to Australia in opposition to the federal LNP’s refugee policies and to the growing wealth divide.
Mainstream Religious Leaders Promise a Better Future on Earth
The peace initiatives against the war in Syria by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church have been supported by Fidel Castro in his honorary role as Leader of the Revolution. More activism in this genre is necessary to challenge the influence of military industrial complexes globally.
Pope Francis’ historical meeting with Patriarch Kirill comes just four months after Pope Francis’ extended tour last year.
This return visit was well received in Cuba and religious leaders have helped to pave the way for President Obama’s visit in March 2016.
Peace has been the golden dream of humanity, and the peoples’ aspiration, at every moment in history. Thousands of nuclear weapons are hanging over humanity’s head. Preventing the most brutal war that could be unleashed has undoubtedly been the fundamental objective of efforts by religious leaders of churches directed by men such as Pope Francis, Pontiff of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia.
To struggle for peace is the most sacred duty of all human beings, whatever their religion, country of origin, skin color, advanced or youthful age may be. (Fidel Castro Ruz, February 14, 2016).
Fidel Castro’s respect for Vatican diplomacy was of course forged in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 when Pope John XXIII’s gave the Soviet Union a respectable way out of armed conflict with the US.
Kennedy, the first (and still so far the only) Catholic president, then sent a message to Pope John XXIII. After reading the president’s note, the pope drafted a message, copies of which were delivered to both the American and Soviet embassies. The following day, John read his message on Vatican Radio. It said:
We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace. They will thus spare the world from the horrors of a war whose terrifying consequences no one can predict. That they continue discussions, as this loyal and open behaviour has great value as a witness of everyone’s conscience and before history. Promoting, favouring, accepting conversations, at all levels and in any time, is a rule of wisdom and prudence which attracts the blessings of heaven and earth.
The next day, the Pope’s message appeared in newspapers all around the world, including Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist party. The headline in that paper said: “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity.”
(Crisis Magazine 11 November 2011).
In Mexico, Pope Francis challenges this status quo with a dogged commitment to spirituality as a solution to every problem from personal alienation to the wealthy divide and threats to international peace.
Of particular importance to Pope Francis is a commitment to an ethical and sustainable social market as the foundation for human development.
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. (Evangelli Gaudium 2013).
Pope Francis has an ally in the Russian Orthodox Church.
The mutual understanding developed in Poland. The President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, and the Russian Patriarch signed a co-operative accord with the Polish Catholic Church at the Royal Castle in Warsaw on 12 August 2012.
This co-operation has extended to the first meeting in history on 12 February 2016 between the heads of the two churches. Ironically, the meeting place was Havana International Airport on the separate Episcopal tours of the two religious leaders.
In far off Syria, the Christians represent about 10 per cent of the population from a diversity of Orthodox, Roman Catholic and evangelical faith communities.
The Christian communities have generally good relationships with the regime of Bashar Assad and this positive accord is reciprocated by the Syrian News Agency (SANA):
Rome, SANA- The Chaldean Catholic Bishop of Aleppo, Antoine Audo warned Wednesday of the dangerous policies of Turkey, Saudi regime and Qatar in supporting terrorist organizations in Syria.
“Turkey gathers all terrorist organizations while Saudi Arabia and Qatar finance them for serving specific targets and agendas,” Audo said in a statement on the sideline of the opening of the General Assembly of the Catholic charitable organization Caritas in Rome.
He pointed out that bombardment of the Christian neighborhoods in Aleppo by the terrorist organizations backed by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia is a clear message to compel the Christians to abandon Aleppo as what has happened in Mosul when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) attacked the city last summer.
Roman Catholic humanitarian assistance within Syria targets the 7 million people who are internally displaced largely by terrorist activity funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States in support of regime change against the Assad Government.
Caritas in Syria offers this interpretation of its outreach activities.
In Syria, Caritas is operating in six regions: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, the coastal region, Djézireh and Horan. The main aim of the mission is to offer food aid and rental assistance, as the war has deprived most Syrians of all sources of income. Another vital aspect of the Caritas mission is provision of medical support and distribution of non-food aid, such as blankets, clothing and other items as required.
In Damascus, Caritas Syria has several centres that look after displaced Syrians (and Iraqi refugees who are still present). It also distributes food parcels and provides medical treatment and preventive healthcare. In Aleppo, several centres have been spontaneously created or set up thanks to the initiative of a person or a local community. Small groups of volunteers look after schools and provide assistance and care. In Homs, despite the violent conflict, Caritas Syria is still managing to work via local Christian communities (Catholic and Orthodox) and serve people in need.
Caritas Syria works with religious communities, such as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Caritas also cooperates with Shia and Sunni humanitarian organisations in order to reach the maximum number of people in need.
Expect more involvement by mainstream religious leaders when other forms of political diplomacy and social policies are faltering.
Oxfam Australia has drawn attention to the growing wealth divide in market-economies.
In Australia, just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people — the poorer half of humanity. As recently as 2010, it was 388 individuals with the same wealth as those 3.6 billion.
When the local Uniting Church pickets the office of the LNP Member for Ryan on refugee issues, these activists are helping to break down our collective apathy.
In the emerging post-capitalist era, the voice of responsible religious leaders who are committed to peace and social justice is always welcome.
Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing progressive public policies in a social market that is quite compatible with contemporary globalization.
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