by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
at the G20 Interfaith Forum
(Riyadh, October 13-17, 2020)
We wish you blessings for the start of the work of this year’s G20 Interfaith Forum, which is being broadcasted from Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from October 13th-17th this year. We appreciate the efforts of the Saudi Arabian authorities to provide an open space for interreligious and intercultural dialogue and to host this distinguished online gathering.
The G20 Interfaith Forum represents an extraordinary opportunity for political leaders to come together to consider major policy initiatives at a global level that can draw on the influence of the world’s largest economies. It has been our privilege to greet you on the occasion of previous Forums, and we congratulate the organizers on attracting such an extensive gathering of religious leaders, government officials, academic and civil society experts. We are pleased to see that substantial attention in the program has always been paid to environmental issues, both in plenary and concurrent sessions.
We only wish we could have been there physically, knowing and appreciating the generosity of our Saudi Arabian hosts, who had sincerely hoped that we would be able to participate in such a historic Forum. Unfortunately, our situation is different this year than ever before, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The year 2020 has been a very challenging period for many people due to the coronavirus disease. We are very sad to witness that many people have died, that this new situation has widened the gap between rich and poor, has complicated health care services, and has impeded access to the basic necessities of food, water and shelter.
We have also witnessed once again the situation of many migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea and suffering a lot of tribulations. As it is said in the Bible, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12.26).
Such all too everyday scenes continue to call for true solidarity. Public words need to be translated into public deeds, following the Gospel account of the good Samaritan. The central point of our Orthodox theology is the protection of human dignity reflected in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1.26).
We would like to remind everyone who is attending this session now, that human dignity does not have color, gender, age, ethnicity, or religion. Everyone has the same value and therefore respect for and equal treatment of human persons must be provided at every time and every place.
This year we have also been witnessing the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA. We stand with black people and people of color all over the world to affirm every human being’s God-given infinite worth, which cannot be reduced to market value, to a mere product for exchange. To put it in the words of a famous philosopher, “everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price, can be replaced; what, on the other hand, is raised above all price, and therefore admits of no equivalent [and this is the human person], has a dignity.”
We would like to use this opportunity to raise our voice against structural inequalities, any form and expression of racism, ethnocentrism, tribalism, casteism, and classism. The policy makers and those who do policy implementation need to know that we call for zero tolerance of injustice and any other form of discriminatory practice.
Also, we wish to express our satisfaction in seeing that the organizers have decided to tackle the issue of the preservation and protection of the religious and cultural heritage. We need to understand and remember that sacred sites are closely tied to our religious identity and piety. Unfortunately, we have experienced that such treasured places can become weapons or targets in spreading ethnic and religious intolerance. For this reason, we must try for the promotion of solidarity, tolerance and cooperation, building bridges, openness and confidence. Together with the raising of the awareness and the sensitization of consciences, we are called to launch concrete common initiatives and actions. A stronger mobilization on the action level is really needed by all of us.
Therefore, we urge those participating in this Forum to support the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites. We would also like to encourage the drafting of policy recommendations that will highlight the interdependence between the protection of religious and cultural heritage and the enhancement of mutual understanding and respect, and interfaith rapprochement. All these diminish the possibility of a dangerous clash of civilizations and eliminate unjustifiable suspicion among peoples of different religious and cultural backgrounds, contributing, thus, to the journey toward peace, founded in justice and solidarity.
We are aware that there is complexity in administering sacred sites in non-conflictual ways, but we strongly believe that our religious and cultural monuments can function as vital starting points for an honest dialogue. They provide places where neighbors, citizens and nations can come together in fruitful ways. Therefore, you will have accomplished something truly significant if you can develop such good policy recommendations that can be beneficial even for the G20 economies to support an enhanced environmental quality and to strengthen the sustainable protection of religious identity and cultural heritage worldwide.
In this spirit, we wish you productive deliberations and inspiring outcomes. You will be addressing issues of tremendous consequence for our planet, for our life together, and for humankind and its spiritual values. We extend our warmest greetings and prayers, and wish you every success.
Thank you for your kind attention!